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5 Ways to Use a Weighted Vest

Have you tried a weighted vest? If you haven't, this might the time to try adding one to your workout for an additional fitness building edge. Get-Fit Guy explains how.

By
Brock Armstrong
6-minute read
Episode #520
The Quick And Dirty
  • Using a weighted vest during body weight exercises or lifting weights can make the workout significantly more challenging.
  • Going for a walk or hike wearing a weighted vest is a great way to trun an easy walk into a major workout.
  • Wearing a weighted vest on a bike may feel odd but it can boost the already great benefits of cycling.
  • Simply wearing a weighted vest while you do your chores or running errands can turn every day activities into a workout.

A few years ago, a friend of mine took me up on a challenge and raced a Spartan obstacle race wearing a weighted vest. It’s not an exaggeration to say that doing so made an already intense race a million times harder. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but you get my point.

After the race, he said that he “literally felt like he was dragging an entire extra body around the racecourse.” After looking at the data from his wrist-worn activity tracker during a debriefing later that day, we could see that his heart rate shot up, his lungs and muscles were burning, and his body temperature went through the roof. The next day he was so sore and fatigued that his walking gait reminded me of a zombie in an old horror film.

Weighted vests are a potent tool for enhancing the difficulty of an aerobic workout, building extra strength and muscle, and turning up the intensity of bodyweight exercise.

While I certainly don’t think you need to do an obstacle race in a weighted vest, this piece of fitness gear can come in quite handy as a potent tool for enhancing the difficulty of an aerobic workout, building extra strength and muscle, and turning up the intensity of bodyweight exercise.

What is a weighted vest?

A weighted vest is simply a vest that is either made from a heavy material or equipped with small pockets that can be filled with tiny sandbags, custom-sized steel bars, or a variety of other weighted objects. The general purpose of a weighted vest is to add extra weight for bodyweight exercises, walking, distance running, or speed, agility and quickness drills.

When it comes to performance, research has shown that using this type of extra load during sprinting or speedwork requires your lower-body muscles to generate more force against the ground. This can lead to improvements in strength, power, and acceleration during running, as well as increased strength and efficiency during speed, power, and agility drills.

Simply doing your daily activities with a bit of extra weight can significantly increase the metabolic cost (or how much fuel you use).

But even if you’re not a professional athlete, another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has shown that you can still benefit from using a weighted vest. In fact, simply doing your daily activities with a bit of extra weight can significantly increase the metabolic cost (or how much fuel you use). It can also increase the intensity of an activity or exercise that would normally be easy and even help with bone density by loading the skeletal system.

Whether you decide to get a light 10-pound vest, an intermediate 20-30-pound vest, or a serious 40-50-pound vest, here are 5 quick and dirty tips to keep in mind.

Tip #1: Do bodyweight exercises with a weighted vest

It’s very simple to turn a bodyweight workout into a much more difficult routine by simply putting on a weighted vest. For example, here’s one routine that I have done while wearing my weighted vest a few times a month:

  • 2 minutes of jump rope (no vest)

  • 20 weighted vest push-ups

  • 20 weighted vest squats

  • 20 weighted vest “get-ups” (simply lie on your back on the ground, then do a sit-up motion and stand. Here is a video showing you how to do this.)

  • 20 weighted vest reverse lunges

Simply repeat these five moves as a circuit three to five times through.

Make sure you do this routine without a vest first as a warm-up and as a way to decide how much weight you can safely put in your vest.

If you want an even more advanced version, throw in a round of pull-ups too.

Tip #2: Go on weighted vest walks and hikes

Simply getting out on a nice hiking trail or taking a walk through your neighborhood is always great. But you may have some loftier fitness goals in mind and want a more intense workout. To do that, simply put on a weighted vest over your shirt (and under your coat if it's the middle of winter, like it is right now for me.)

For hiking and walking, you can be a little more adventurous and try a heavier 30-50-pound vest. But don’t go straight to 50. Make sure you ease up to your maximum weight. As I always say, it is better to “waste a workout” than it is to hurt yourself and have to take a bunch of time off to recover.

As I always say, it is better to 'waste a workout' than it is to hurt yourself and have to take a bunch of time off to recover.

Of course, you don’t have to simply wear a weighted vest during a hike or long walk. You can also wear it at the park, on a school field, while shopping for groceries, or even as you're doing stair repeats in your office or home. The sky’s the limit.

Another way to use your weighted vest is for a warm-up. A 2013 study looked at wearing a weighted-vest during a warm-up on endurance running performance and its potential neuromuscular and metabolic mediators. They found that the runners who warmed up (or did “strides”) wearing a weighted vest could experience a higher peak running speed.

Tip #3: Ride your bike with a weighted vest

Hitting the trail with your bike while sporting a weighted vest is another great strategy. It works well on a route with some rolling hills, especially when you alternate between standing and riding in a seated position to also get an upper-body workout. If outdoor biking feels too weird or even dangerous, you can also wear a weighted vest when you ride an indoor stationary bike or during a spin class that's starting to feel a little too easy.

Here's a bike workout you can do outdoors or in. Put on your weighted vest and do the following:

  • 1 mile (or 2km) easy pedaling warm-up

  • Alternate between 30 seconds of riding while standing and 30 seconds or riding while sitting, 10 times through

  • Finish with 4 minutes of standing, then ride for 1 mile (or 1.6 km) as hard as possible in a seated position

  • 1 mile (or 2km) easy spin cool-down.

Tip #4: Do weighted vest chores

Whether you’re doing laundry, gardening, walking up and down the stairs while cleaning, or any other household chore, you can get some “free” exercise (through incidental movement) by adding a little extra weight to your meat sack body.

If you are really ambitious, you can even amplify the benefits of a weighted vest by wearing ankle weights or wrist weights.

In the year-long Weighless Program, we often talk about building more meaningful movement into your day by becoming less efficient with your everyday tasks (instead of becoming more efficient, as all the productivity gurus advise). Wearing some weights on your torso and limbs is likely the least efficient way I can think of to move through your life. But ...

The key to building fitness lies in challenging your muscles, cardiovascular system, balance, flexibility, and mobility.

The useful part about a weighted vest is that no matter where or how you move, it’s going to make every aspect of getting from point A to point B just a little bit more inefficient and challenging. And that's the key to building fitness—challenging your muscles, cardiovascular system, balance, flexibility, and mobility.

Tip #5: Lift weights with a weighted vest

This is the ultimate—you can add an intense twist to just about any weight training routine by putting on a weighted vest.

For example, my favorite Push-Pull Workout gets seriously amplified when it’s done wearing a weighted vest. The main thing you’ll notice is that your core, lower back, and inspiratory and expiratory muscles have to work way harder at the same time as all the other muscles you’re specifically working on. This gives you an added fitness boost by challenging your small postural and core muscles.

Use caution with a weighted vest

It's important to use caution when you try something new, and using a weighted vest is no exception.

One common issue with some weighted vests (especially the heavy ones) is that they can place a large amount of pressure on your upper back and shoulders, and for very long walks or upper body movements such pull-ups or push-ups, this can cause muscle stiffness, tightness, and even knots in the neck and upper back. The movement of the vest can also cause skin chafing and even joint injuries.

If you use a weighted vest for very intense workouts, you may feel like your breathing is constricted. You may also feel like you're overheating due to the heavy, non-breathable materials (like nylon and neoprene) often used in the construction of the vests. This means you need to hydrate more or be prepared to take more breaks.

Ultimately, using a weighted vest in your movement routines can be a great way to amp up the difficulty of your workout. Just make sure you take it easy, take your time, and always listen to your body!

Sources +
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.