Everything You Need to Know About Weighted Vests

Looking for a way to take your workouts to the next level, or simply incorporate some added calorie-burning into your daily routine while doing simple tasks? Weighted vests are one of the few pieces of exercise equipment that can easily do both.

Although there always seems to be some new fitness machine or fad exercise coming out every few months—and usually touted as the next big thing in the fitness world—weighted vests are a simple, effective, and incredibly versatile tool that can be implemented into a vast number of workouts and exercises.

While it may be true that weighted vests are simple and versatile, in order to get the most out of them, you need to know how they work — and how to use them safely and properly.

Fortunately, we’re here to help.

Below, we’ll go over all of the core essentials you need to know about weighted vests, including their benefits, easy ways to incorporate them into your routines, workouts you can use them with, and how to find the weighted vest best suited for you.

What is a Weighted Vest?

Weighted vests obviously have a rather self-explanatory name, but let’s dig a little further. A weighted vest is an external weight system that you wear on your upper body, which instantly adds extra weight, causing your body to work harder than it would without the weight.

These vests are typically made from durable, breathable material, and have an even distribution of weight on each end. Some vests may be adjustable, allowing you to either add or reduce weight as needed.

How Do Weighted Vests Work?

The purpose of a weighted vest is to safely add more weight to your body’s load, instantly. This creates a response from your muscular and skeletal systems, resulting in growth and increased density with both.

The idea behind weighted vests comes from the fact that your body naturally responds to added weight by providing increased muscle and bone mass to carry the load. Normally, this comes from gaining actual weight within your body, but weighted vests offer a shortcut to this reaction — without the detrimental effects that come from physically gaining weight.

This is a very simple theory that can provide substantial benefits in practically every realm of fitness.

Now, the idea of wearing added weight on your body is not entirely new, nor exclusive to weighted vests. For instance, you can purchase items like weighted belts, weighted arm sleeves, and ankle weights.

All of those products have their own uses and advantages, but they are not nearly as versatile as weighted vests. The reason? They provide added weight to specific targeted areas.

With weighted vests, the weight is centered on your upper body in a more natural way, which provides a more encompassing feeling of added weight that causes a full body reaction, rather than just on the legs, lower body, or arms.

By wearing centered weight with a vest, you are distributing the load evenly, and thus able to incorporate the vest into practically any type of exercise or physical activity. The centered weight aspect also causes more of your body to react in a streamline manner, which results in positive effects to more areas of your body at one time.

Who Can Wear Weighted Vests?

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One of the best things about weighted vests is how they can be used by nearly anyone, on any level of fitness.

These vests are incredibly popular with college and professional athletes, helping them improve everything from muscle mass and cardio, to better explosiveness and deceleration.

But you don’t have to be a full-time athlete to appreciate the benefits of weighted vests. They can be used for rehabilitation and physical therapy, improved calorie burning during low and moderate impact activities, incorporated into aerobic exercises, used for body weight workouts, and much more.

What Advantages do Weighted Vests Provide?

Depending on how they are utilized, weighted vests have the potential to improve nearly every aspect of your personal fitness, whether you’re already well into being in shape, or just starting your own fitness journey to reach your goals.

  • Improved Muscle Strength

The concept with using a weighted vest is the same as doing weight training with items like bench presses, dumb bells, etc. When training to build muscle strength, the idea is to use weights while increasing your strength, which is why you may be able to bicep curl 30 lbs one month, and eventually be able to curl with 40 lbs the following month.

Using a weighted vest to add weight to your body for certain workouts is highly effective for adding muscle strength. This is especially true for body weight exercises, which are often the most benefited by weighted vests.

A great example of this would be someone who may have plateaued on their gains from doing pushups on a regular basis. Eventually, your body adjusts and builds muscle over time, so doing pushups may not be creating gains in strength in your muscle mass once you’ve reached a certain point.

However, if you start doing pushups with the weighted vest on, your body will go back into strength-building mode again due to the increased load. Even if you haven’t plateaued with certain bodyweight exercises, a weighted vests can speed up your gains, and make these exercises more efficient in general.

  • Boost Explosiveness

One particularly popular reason to use weighted vests for many athletes is to boost their overall explosiveness. As we mentioned earlier, wearing a weighted vests during basic exercises can have a widespread effect on certain areas of the body.

Think of it like this: imagine that you had reached a certain level of explosiveness with your current weight. What if you had that same level of strength, but suddenly lost 15 lbs? That first step would noticeably improve in an instant.

That’s the advantage with a weighted vest for this type of training. By tricking your body into thinking you’re heavier than you actually are, it will eventually begin to boost muscle, nerve, and cardio strength in these areas when doing exercises intended to benefit explosiveness, whether that’s the first step off the line in a race, jumping into the air, and so on.

  • Increased Cardio Strength

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The same logic applies here as well. Adding weight to your body’s load will make it work harder, which has an impact on your cardio abilities. When your body senses the added weight and increased difficulty of the exercises, it responds with an increase in heart rate and blood circulation.

This added intensity can go a long way in creating more efficient cardio workouts, such as running or jogging. You get all the benefits of an improved cardio system in a shorter amount of time, without adding any real weight to your actual body.

  • Higher Calorie Burning

Calorie-burning is a rather simple concept — the harder you work your body, the more calories you burn. That’s why it’s possible to burn the same amount of calories with an intense 15-minute bike ride as it is with a low-intensity walk lasting around an hour.

The moment you put a weighted vest on, you’re already causing your body to work harder, even if you’re just walking around the house. However, if you implement that same vest into your exercise routine, you’re going to ensure a substantial boost to your calorie burning.

Simple Ways to Incorporate Weighted Vests

One of the best things about a weighted vest is how easy it easy to use for a number of exercises and activities. Just slip it on, and you’re all set.

Below are just a few easy ways to use your weighted vest.

(Note: If you’re looking for some training tips and methods for using a weighted vest, we will address that further down in the article.)

  • Walking

Walking is something most anyone can do, which is why adding a weighted vest to the mix can make a low-impact and easy activity much more efficient with burning calories and improving cardio.

There are endless ways you can use weighted vests with walking, including using one every other time you walk, wearing one during more strenuous walks such as hiking, or using one while doing walks on a treadmill at your home or gym.

  • Running

Wearing a weight vest for running is definitely one of the most utilized methods, since it can help in a number of different ways.

By wearing a weighted vest on your daily runs, you’ll build up your strength and endurance much faster, and feel incredibly light and nimble on the days you choose to go without it. This can be especially useful for athletes who compete in long-distance running, and track & field style sprints.

Weighted vests are for much more than just basic running exercises. They can be hugely beneficial when implemented into short sprints, agility drills, and running exercises that include stairs, small jumps, and inclines.

  • Biking

One of the more overlooked ways to use a weighted vest is during biking. Whether you’re a road cyclist, or rie the occasional mountain bike trail, implementing a weighted vest increases the load your body is carrying, which translates to improved leg strength, better cardio abilities, and even better balancing.

  • Aerobic Exercises

If you’re a fan of aerobic exercises at the home or gym, wearing a weighted vest during these workouts can take your abilities to a much higher level, and much faster. Everything from stair step aerobics, to more intensive workouts like the popular P90X can all be benefitted by wearing a weighted vest, for all of the reasons we’ve already gone over so far.

  • Wearing Around the House

Not every use of a weighted vest has to include intense workouts. By simply wearing a weighted vest when you’re going about your business around the house, you can still build strength, burn calories, and even improve your cardio levels.

If you have a long day of cleaning ahead, or need to do things like mow the lawn and do some landscaping, wearing a weighted vest is an easy and simple way to put some extra work in during the process, without exerting yourself too much.

This can be beneficial to practically anyone, but is especially good for those who may not be able to exercise, or are rehabbing from an injury or medical situation.

  • Most Bodyweight Exercises

We’ve already touched on this somewhat, but bodyweight exercises are definitely one of the best ways to use weighted vests.

These exercises are already one of the most efficient ways to improve strength, burn fat, and create a toned and sculpted body with little to no additional equipment, but they can lose their effectiveness and efficiency over time as you get stronger.

If you feel like bodyweight exercises are no longer providing the effect they did prior, a weighted vest can take them to the next level.

Simple Weight Vest Exercises

Looking for some great weighted vest workouts? We’ve got you covered. Although weighted vests can be used with a number of different exercises, the ones listed below are especially benefited by a weighted vest.

  • Pushups

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Pushups are one of the oldest and most effective bodyweight exercises, working the chest, shoulder, back, and arm areas.

You have a number of options available with pushups, which includes aspects like the spacing of your hands, the angle of your feet, and so on. Regardless of your preferred type, using a weighted vest for most or all of your reps will result in a very noticeable burn, and help you get faster results. Just remember to be careful with your form!

  • Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are another great bodyweight exercise with a ton of different variations, and some like to do them with ankle weights, or a weighted belt. These can still add some weight and make the pull-ups harder, but the location of the weight can create strain on these areas, leading to added muscle soreness.

A weighted vest keeps the weight centered and on the upper body area, which is exactly where you should want it. Like any other exercise, you can use the weighted vest for certain portions, on days in between, or for every rep — whatever works best for you.

  • Burpees

Burpees were made popular by Crossfit, which makes them a perfect part of any Crossfit weight vest routine. This exercise is already grueling enough on its own, so adding more weight can really push your body to new levels, especially if you are using it as part of high-intensity interval training.

Just in case you need some guidance with proper burpee form, check out the video below:

  • Squats

If you’re trying to build muscle and tone your lower body, squats are one of the best ways to do so. There are a number of ways to add more weight to squats, such as simply holding weights in each hand during your reps. However, wearing a weighted vest centers the extra weight, and leaves your hands free.

  • Plank

Planking is a highly-underrated bodyweight workout that requires no movement at all. To perform a plank, you simply get into a position to do a pushup, but instead of holding yourself up with your hands, you place your elbows and forearms on the ground, pointing straight ahead.

From there, just hold your body in that position, keeping your back flat. After about 10 seconds, you’ll begin to feel your chest, arrns, shoulders, back, and abs being engaged.

Hold the position for 20-30 seconds, and repeat a few more times. After you’ve built up strength, add in a weighted vest for a more pronounced effect.

Weighted Vest Safety & Training Methods

In order to get the most out of your weighted vest, you need to know how to properly use it. Although these vests are simple pieces of equipment, certain safety measures and methods need to be applied to their usage to not only avoid injury and strains, but to maximize what you get out of weight vest training.

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  • Form Matters

Using proper form is always crucial with any exercise, otherwise you risk injury. Weighted vests can have an instant effect on your form if you aren't careful. When introducing the vest to your workouts, always be extra vigilant with your form on each rep. If it’s too hard for you to retain proper form, either reduce the weight, take the vest off, or try it again the next workout.

  • Watch Your Body’s Mechanics

The load added by a weighted vest can mess with your body’s mechanics, even if you’re doing your best to make sure it doesn’t. For example, using a vest for long periods while running may cause your body to change its stride mechanics, which may not be noticeable at first, but can be harmful over time.

Because of this, it’s best to use it for short periods of time when running, and try to end your runs and sprints by doing a few minutes without it so your body recalibrates.

  • Introduce the Vest Slowly

While it may seem like a good idea to strap the vest on and go as hard as possible, you may end up straining your body, or overworking it. If you’re new to weighted vests, introduce the vest to your workouts slowly at first, and gradually use it for longer periods as you go.

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  • Use Proper Weight

This follows the same logic as the previous point. When first starting out with a weighted vest, try using 5% of your bodyweight, and then gradually move to 10%. After a longer period of time, you may eventually move on to 15% and 20% of your weight on the vest.

  • Take Longer Rests

Weighted vests work your body harder, so you need to be careful with your rest times in between exercises. Be sure to include some added rest time when moving between reps and workouts, and also utilize longer cool down periods when running and biking with a vest.

Choosing a Weighted Vest

When shopping for a new weighted vest, there are a few core aspects to keep in mind that will help steer you to the product that’s best for you.

  • Fit

This is obviously the most important. You don’t want to use a vest that fits loosely and moves around, but you also don’t want one that can feel too tight, and put pressure on your chest that makes breathing overly difficult — and dangerous.

Always pay attention to the manufacturer's information on fit and measurement.

  • Material

Weighted vests are practically an added layer of clothing, so you’ll want to select material that is not only soft, but also breathable. Look for materials that are also durable so they can hold up to years of use.

  • Adjustability

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Some weighted vests only offer one weight, while others let you add and reduce weight by using weighted plates you can slide in and out of the vest. Having a level of adjustability give you more versatility with the vest over time, allowing you to tailor the weight to your fitness level or workout.

Although many will probably prefer adjustable weights on the vest, sometimes it’s also nice to have a set weight that you don’t have to ever worry about messing with, and designate certain vests for certain workouts and activities. This may simply be a matter of preference for some.

  • Weight Load

If you’re going to opt for an adjustable weighted vest, pay attention to the overall weight load it can be equipped with, which also includes a minimum weight amount due to the fact that the weight always needs to be distributed evenly on the vest.

  • Style

This is obviously a trivial aspect, but aesthetics are certainly important to many. Some weighted vests looks like bulky bulletproof vests worn by SWAT teams, while others are much more under pronounced and sleek. Some vests may have additional color options as well, allowing you to match their colors to your workout gear.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, weighted vests are a great way to improve efficiency and add variety to your workouts, and can also play a large role for those who may not be physically capable of intense workouts to begin with.

Weighted vests are inexpensive, easy to use, and have countless uses. If you have been considering a weighted vest, now is the time to see what using one can do for your fitness.

Looking to buy a weighted vest? We can help. Click here to take a look at our weighted vest buying guide, which highlights some of the best weighted vests on the market for any fitness level, along with some helpful buying advice!