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Why Use a Weighted Vest? Benefits and How to Choose

Weighted vests have become a popular addition to fitness routines and therapy programs. Once mainly used by athletes and the armed forces, these vests are now embraced by gym-goers and physical therapists. Their fast-growing popularity is due to the benefits they offer, such as helping you build strength, endurance, and aerobic fitness.

What are weighted vests?

Weighted vests are training devices designed to add extra weight to your body, making your workouts more challenging. They are essentially vests packed with evenly distributed weights that stay in place for exercise. These vests can increase the intensity of various exercises, from running and walking to strength training and bodyweight workouts.

There are two main types of weighted vests:

  • Adjustable weighted vests. These allow you to add or remove weights as needed. Such flexibility makes them great for different workout routines and fitness levels. You can start with a lighter weight and gradually increase it as you get stronger, making them ideal for progressive training. Lighter weighted vests may work well for strength training workouts for beginners.
  • Fixed-weight vests. These vests have a set weight and are ready to be used right out of the box. They’re straightforward and hassle-free, which is perfect for those who want a simple way to add resistance training to their workouts without the need to adjust weights.

Potential benefits of using a weighted vest

Weighted vests offer many potential benefits that may take your fitness routine to the next level. Below, we review some of the top proposed benefits of weighted vests.

Greater strength and endurance

Wearing a weighted vest may boost your strength and endurance. Adding extra weight forces your muscles to work harder during exercise, whether you’re doing squats and push-ups or just walking around the house.

This added resistance helps build muscle strength and may improve muscular endurance over time. As you progress, you can increase the weight loading to continue challenging your muscles.

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity examined the impact of a 12-week exercise program using weighted vests on postmenopausal women. The program improved ankle strength and reduced relative body fat, supporting the use of weighted vests to improve health in this patient group.

Enhanced cardiovascular health

Weighted vests have proposed heart health benefits. Adding weight to your body increases the intensity of running, walking, and hiking.

This extra effort makes your heart work harder during endurance training, which has the potential to improve cardiovascular health. Over time, this may lead to better heart and lung function and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Interestingly, a research study on male runners suggested that warming up with a weighted vest was linked to the improvement of leg stiffness, running speed, and small to moderate reductions in cardiorespiratory measures. Nonetheless, further studies in humans are essential to support cardiovascular benefits.

Improved bone density

One study suggested that a weighted vest may attenuate the loss of bone density in older adults with obesity. This intervention can be particularly beneficial for older adults and people at risk of osteoporosis (bone density loss). However, further clinical trials are needed to examine the efficacy of weighted vests in bone health.

Increased calorie burn

Since the extra weight makes your body work harder, this may result in a higher calorie burn. Using a weighted vest may be particularly helpful if you’re looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. However, it is important not to overtrain and keep a balanced diet.

What are the negatives of weighted vests?

While weighted vests offer many proposed benefits, they also come with potential downsides. They can put extra strain on your joints and muscles, potentially increasing the risk of injury, although research has not yet substantiated this theory.

Like all types of strength training, there is an overtraining risk. Overloading the vest or using it for prolonged periods may lead to back pain. Although not specifically tested on weighted vests, research shows that carrying heavier backpacks increases the risk of lower back pain. It’s possible that a similar effect may be seen when weighted vests are overused.

Furthermore, badly-fitting vests or an uneven weight distribution may cause discomfort and affect your posture. The mechanics of how you move can change when you wear a weighted vest, so you’ll need to make postural adjustments to reduce the risk of injury. Gradually build up use and make sure the weight is evenly distributed for a safer workout​.

How to choose the right weighted vest

When selecting a weighted vest, follow these tips to find one that’s a great fit for you:

  1. Choose a vest that allows you to add or remove weights to match your fitness level and goals. Adjustable vests provide flexibility for progressive training.
  2. Make sure the vest fits snugly but comfortably. Look for adjustable straps and padding to avoid discomfort while you’re working out.
  3. Opt for a vest made from high-quality, durable materials that can withstand regular use and washing. Reinforced stitching and strong fasteners will help your vest withstand the test of time.

How to use weighted vests safely

Research suggests a vest weighing 5–10% of your body weight, worn during up to 50% of training sessions is a good place to start for the first three or four weeks of training. However, this may vary based on individual differences.

Start with a weight that feels comfortable and gradually build up, ideally under the supervision of a fitness professional. If the workout feels too intense, take a break, have some water, then remove the vest or adjust it to a lower weight.

No longer confined to the world of high-level sport and military training, weighted vests are now available to regular gym goers and people of all ages looking to improve their exercise routine. Their potential to boost strength, endurance, and improve overall health has solidified their place as an essential piece of fitness kit.

It’s important to remember that less is more, especially when getting started. Picking a vest that fits you well and starting with a lower weight may help you avoid injuries and make the process more enjoyable — helping you stick with it long-term.

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