Weighted vests are specialized fitness garments worn over the upper torso. They are typically used for strength training, particularly when doing high-intensity workouts like CrossFit, circuit training, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
The weights inside of the vest are used to increase the overall weight that a person’s body must carry and/or lift during an exercise. This additional load triggers physiological changes in your muscles and connective tissues which can help you generate more strength and improve your endurance over time.
Vests typically range from 10 lbs to as much as 40 lbs (5 kg) or 50 lbs (23 kg). Though this may seem like a small amount on paper, keep in mind that adding on just 5 or 10 pounds to each workout can be challenging for those new to using weighted vests.
What are weighted vests good for?
The answer is anybody looking to increase their muscular strength and endurance! This is a training aid that can help a wide range of athletes, from power lifters to 100 meter sprinters.
There are a number of pros (and a few cons) to using weighted vests as part of your training regime, and it’s important to choose the right type if you are looking to see gains without the risk of injury.
In this guide, we’ll run you through the main benefits and downsides go weighted vest training:
- Who Uses Weighted Vests?
- Top Benefits of Using Weighted Vests
- Downsides of Using Weighted Vests
- What To Consider When Choosing a Weighted Vest
- How Much Weight Will It Carry?
Who Uses Weighted Vests?
Weighted vests are often used by sports athletes, who have found that adding resistance to their weight training routine has helped them build upper body strength and increase endurance.
This is particularly useful for footballers, rugby players and MMA fighters. These kinds of athletes need a lot of strength in their upper bodies to take on opponents, but they also need to be able to sprint quickly and change direction while carrying this extra weight.
Crossfitters like wearing vests too because the additional load encourages better form and more muscle activation during workouts. This can help you get fitter and stronger while minimizing injury risk .
Many aerobic athletes also benefit from using weighted vests. Swimmers, for example, can wear vests while doing laps to increase their endurance and develop important stabilization muscles in the torso (like core strength).
Weighted vests are commonly used by power lifters, who use them during deadlifts, shoulder shrugs and other exercises where they can really maximize the additional load on their body. This extra weight triggers muscle development more effectively than without it.
Athletes like cyclist Bradley Wiggins (who wears a weighted vest while cycling) claim that using a vest helps get your heart rate up quicker when you get on your bike, which may help get ahead of competitors sooner during races.
As you can see, these training vests are multi-purpose.
It’s hard to think of an active sport where a weighted vest couldn’t be used in some form or another to seek out a performance advantage.
Let’s take a further look at those advantages…
Top Benefits of Using Weighted Vests
Various studies have been carried out to assess the benefits of weighted vests.
There are two widely accepted benefits (that we’ll see below), and one theory around fat metabolism that has only limited data to support it from a small study.
Can Improve Blood Lactate Thresholds For Runners
Studies have shown wearing a weighted vest can improve your blood lactate threshold and ultimately how long you can run for.
Blood lactate is a substance produced by the body when it’s working really hard against a load that requires effort, like lifting weights or running up hills. The harder you exercise, the more blood lactate your body produces. When you cross over from an easy pace to a high intensity workout (like sprinting), your body will go through this shift in metabolic state where it needs to produce greater amounts of energy from carbohydrates.
In turn, this means it also needs to break down more lactic acid/lactate which builds up in the muscles faster than necessary in the environment created during high-intensity training.
This shift in metabolic state can temporarily slow down your performance, making it difficult to maintain high intensity levels. It’s known as your blood lactate threshold.
The shift happens because you’re running out of oxygen supplied by the body for energy production – and this is why it’s hard to hold a sprint if you don’t have enough aerobic capacity.
Over time, regular training with a weighted vest has been able to help athletes increase their maximum heart rate (maximal oxygen uptake or VO2 max) and improve their blood lactate thresholds.
This means they are able to run at higher intensities for longer without fatiguing as quickly as before.
As you might imagine – a very useful and practical skill to have!
Can Improve Muscular Strength
Studies have found that using a weighted vest can provide an overload to the muscles and help increase their strength and endurance.
This is particularly important for powerlifters and other athletes who need maximal force output over short periods of time (like throwing a javelin or hitting a fastball).
This news shouldn’t really come as a surprise. If you have any experience using a weighted vest, you’ll know first-hand how it can have a remarkable effect on the intensity of each exercise.
The heavier the vest, the harder your body will have to work to cope with the additional strain.
May Improve Metabolism And Help Burn Fat
Wearing a weighted vest can help increase your body’s metabolic rate, which means that you’ll burn more calories after working out.
It’s thought that this is because extra weight on the body requires greater work from an athlete – and if the exercise done with the vest continues to burn calories for some time after you take it off, then there will be an increase in calorie expenditure over a 24-hour period.
Referred to as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). It’s also known as afterburn when referring to fitness training. Studies show increases in EPOC when wearing weighted vests during high intensity interval training (HIIT). Most studies show VO2 max improvements in the 9-12% range for trained athletes.
It’s worth noting that the increase in EPOC may be reduced if you have high aerobic capacity – so it might not be very noticeable for highly fit individuals.
Some think this increase in metabolic rate is similar to the afterburn effect of taking pre-workout supplements.
By training with a weighted vest, you’re essentially increasing your body’s need for extra oxygen and energy during exercise – and that effect lingers on after you stop working out. This means your metabolism will keep going at a faster pace than normal while your body recovers from exercise (even if it’s an hour later).
Downsides of Using Weighted Vests
If you’re wondering why the weighted vest isn’t automatically strapped on to everybody who ever walks in to a gym – well, there’s a few reasons why not everybody is a fan.
There are three downsides or risks to using one:
Will Increase Stress Throughout Body
Suddenly adding additional weight in the form of a weighted vest will increase the stress on your body.
This stress on the body comes mainly from impact during running or increased pressure on joints and bones if exercising in a standing position.
Keep in mind, particularly if you are a runner – adding weight to yourself will always increase the force you experience when your foot strikes the ground with each stride, which can lead to a higher risk of injury.
Athletes usually need to spend time gradually building up their resistant to this type of stress through training (specifically their connective tissues like tendons).
May Aggravate Existing Injuries
The natural consequence of increased stress is that you stand a very high chance of aggravating existing stress-related injuries if you add extra weight with a training vest.
If you wear the vest for too long without taking this increased resistance into account – it could develop overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis or shin splints.
These are common injuries for many runners without a weighted vest. The risk of developing or aggravating them is much greater if you are carrying excess weight.
A Poor Fitting Vest Can Cause Harm
One of the worst mistakes you can make with a weightiest vest is to choose one that is too big.
While you might think that a loose vest would be more comfortable – it actually increases the likelihood of injury.
A poorly fitting weightvest will slip and slide around as you move (and if you’re running, it could end up falling down to your waist). This means that all the extra weight will drag on parts of your body like your chest and shoulders instead of staying evenly distributed across your torso.
This can easily lead to fatigue in those areas and leave the spine unprotected from the pressure (which is bad news for our lower back).
What To Consider When Choosing a Weighted Vest
Thinking of investing in a weighted training vest?
Here are some of the things to consider:
Adjustable vs Fixed Weight
Adjustable vests allow you to add and remove plates so that you can control how much extra weight you’re putting on yourself – this option gives more flexibility in what workouts you decide to do and how heavy of a training session that’s right for your body.
Fixed weight vests don’t let you remove any plates and they come with pre-set weights already attached. This means less customisation options but better quality control of the product.
How Much Weight Will It Carry?
For cardio training, aim for a training vest that is around 10% of your bodyweight.
- 150lbs = 15lb weighted vest
- 200lbs = 20lb weighted vest
For bodyweight training, we would recommend going with an adjustable vest so that you can gradually increase the weight as your training progresses.
One of the most common mistakes we see is people buying a heavy vest and jumping straight in to strength building workouts before their body can cope with the sudden additional weight.
The usual result?
Starting slow with an adjustable vest and gradually adding weight is the best way to go.
How To Choose The Correct Size
Choosing the proper size weight vest is important for safety and comfort. If you choose a vest that’s too big – it could slip off, making movement uncomfortable. If you try to make up for a poorly fitting vest by adding more weights, this can lead to an increased risk of injury.
You’ll notice that some vests are thinner than others.
The thin vests are great if you are going to need a full range of motion and mobility.
The bulkier vests are more uncomfortable to wear – but this is a necessary trade-off if you want to carry a lot of weight in the vest.
As a general rule:
- Light weight vests are great for cardio and endurance training.
- Heavy weight vests are great for building muscle.
Are The Materials Breathable?
Two main materials used for weighted vests are nylon and neoprene. Both of these materials offer a good amount of breathability, which is key if you plan on going for a run with your weightvest.
However – while the neoprene material is waterproof, nylon is not – so it will absorb sweat making the vest heavier.
How Much Am I Willing To Spend?
Weighted vests aren’t cheap. They can cost anywhere from $60 to over $300, depending on the quality of material and features you’re looking for.
If you really want to make the most out of your training – it might be worth spending a bit more than getting the cheapest option on the market.
The better designs are made from better materials, will last longer, and are less likely to restrict your mobility. Comfort is a big factor when you’re adding weight to a workout!
Make sure not to underestimate just how impactful this workout tool can be and factor it into your budget.