By Linnea Zielinski
Weighted vests can be a boon to your workouts, adding extra resistance to help to improve strength and performance. And because they're wearable, they can add resistance to almost any exercise you perform — even cardio exercises.
Before adding a weighted vest to any movements, however, it's important to establish good form. And be aware that jumping and sprinting with external weights (like a vest) may not be appropriate for everybody. Additional weight translates to additional force when you hit the ground, so if you can't control your body weight during these exercises, you may do some damage to your joints, especially with added weight.
One more caveat: Weighted vests aren't right for everyone. Skip them if you have neck or spine issues, especially disc-related problems or injuries, advises Ben Walker, CPT, founder of Anywhere Fitness.
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"Wearing a weighted vest is very efficient for developing strength, improving cardio conditioning, and losing weight," Walker says. They can potentially benefit your workouts in a few ways:
Carrying that extra weight challenges your body, so your heart rate during aerobic exercise may be higher than it typically would be. This helps to improve your cardiovascular fitness over time.
It also means a more significant calorie burn during your sweat session. One study confirmed that wearing a weighted vest while walking on a treadmill increased energy expenditure.
Weighted vests add resistance to your workout, which can help you build muscle. Bonus: Research suggests strength training may boost your energy expenditure for up to 72 hours after a workout, which may help with weight loss.
There's some evidence that suggests walking and jumping with a weighted vest may help maintain bone strength in postmenopausal women, who are at a higher risk of developing bone conditions like osteoporosis.
One of the most significant benefits of weighted vests is versatility. Since the weight is strapped to your body and distributed evenly, it "allows you to stay agile while performing complex movements," Walker says.
That means you can add weight to movements where dumbbells might be unwieldy, such as running, weighted planks, and plyometric activities like jumping during high-impact interval training (HIIT).
And if holding weights makes it harder for you to balance during moves such as Bulgarian split squats, a weighted vest can help shift the focus back to building strength.
Weighted vests are ideally only used to improve your performance, not get into shape, Walker explains. He uses push-ups as an example: Hold off on adding a weighted vest into the movement until you can handle multiple sets with good form. Jump in too early, and your form will probably break down, which may lead to injury.
But you don't have to be an advanced athlete to use them, either.
You'll likely see the most benefit from using a weighted vest to improve explosive power (like jumping) or burn more calories during cardio. Adding them to circuits, Crossfit-type workouts, walking, or running are prime opportunities to use this equipment.
If you're trying to isolate individual leg or arm muscles, you may want to skip the vest since it's strapped to your chest and won't be helpful. Walker suggests opting for ankle weights or resistance bands for these types of workouts instead.
"There are no proven studies to show what exact weight a person should carry in a weighted vest," Walker explains. Many studies use somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of a person's body weight. If you're not sure where to start, consider an option that comes with weight vest plates so you can dial your workout up or down as needed.
This snug, low-profile vest has a unique criss-cross design and reflective safety strips, making it a great choice if you're looking for a weighted running vest.
This one is slim and sits close to your chest, making it a comfy option for walking, running, and rock climbing workouts. Adjustable straps keep it from slipping while you move.
You can add or remove weight vest plates, which come in 3-pound increments, to personalize the load you're carrying with this vest.
The heaviest weighted vest on our list, this includes pockets for your phone, keys, and wallet, as well as a pouch for your water bottle.
Another great heavyweight option, the RUNmax Pro features removable weights and is available with or without shoulder pads.