A weighted vest — yep, an actual vest that contains weights ranging from 4 to 50 pounds — is a great tool to up the intensity of any exercise. And the best part? You can wear the vest any time, whether you're in the gym or not, so even walking the dog can turn into a challenging workout.
Before you strap one on, though, it's important to not carry more weight than you're safely able to. First, make sure you've mastered the basic, body-weight version of any exercise with good form.
Then, start on the lighter side (even 5 or 10 pounds can really make a difference) and give yourself time to build up to heavier weights. Adding too much weight too quickly can cause stress and injury to your joints. Slow and steady wins the race!
Benefits of Using a Weighted Vest
If used properly, a weighted vest can help you build endurance and strength as well as maintain muscle while losing fat. Another benefit of using a weighted vest is how it improves athletic performance.
According to a January 2015 study from the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, your body adapts to the weight added by the vest, so when you remove the vest, your body is still performing according to the extra weight. This means being able to run faster and jump higher.
San Francisco-based personal trainer Holly Roser is a big fan of using weighted vests, especially as a way to amp up your usual workouts. According to Roser, using a vest is especially useful for people who have difficulty with more traditional weight-training exercises, like those with carpal tunnel or other grip or wrist issues.
6 Exercises to Try With a Weighted Vest
Because a weighted vest is something you wear as opposed to something you hold, you can incorporate one into pretty much any aspect of your workout.
"I like using a vest if someone wants to increase their sprinting speed or a certain move is difficult to perform with dumbbells or a barbell," Roser says. "The weighted vest sits perfectly on your shoulders so you don't have to worry about so much pull coming from the shoulder joint as heavy dumbbells."
But if you're looking for some specific guidance on how to use one, Roser recommends the following six low-impact exercises to do while wearing a weighted vest. Just remember to choose a starting weight you're comfortable with before gradually building up to a higher weight (if you want to).
1. Weighted Vest Step-Ups
Doing step-ups using a weight vest frees up your hands, helping drive your weight up the step and give you an even distribution of weight.
- Stand in front of a step or box that's knee height.
- Put one foot on top of the box and press through that foot as you straighten the leg to lift your body up.
- Focus on pushing through your heel and engaging your core for the entire movement.
- Once your lead leg is straight, bend it and lower back down to the start.
Reps: 3 sets of 15 on each leg
2. Power Walking Uphill
"I love adding a weighted vest to a power walk if a client doesn't like running and needs an extra challenge," Roser says. "This is the ultimate glute and hamstring burn and will provide an extra calorie burn as your heart rate will increase faster, giving you a harder workout in half the time."
- Keep your posture straight and engage your core while walking
- Pump your arms while walking, keeping a slight bend in the elbow
- Walk at a brisk pace.
Do: 20 minutes for beginners and 45 minutes for more advanced fitness buffs
3. Walking Lunges
- Stand with your feet together, then step forward with your right leg.
- Bend both knees to 90-degree angles as you lower your back knee toward the floor.
- Make sure your front knee is directly over the ankle, while the back knee is pointing toward the ground.
- Step the left foot to meet the right as you stand up.
- With each rep, alternate which leg steps forward, just as if you were walking.
Reps: 3 sets of 20 (10 on each leg)
When regular push-ups become too easy, adding a weighted vest to the move adds resistance to the best body-weight move on the planet.
- Start in a plank with your hands under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to toes. (Or lower to your knees.)
- Contract your ab muscles so that your hips don't sag and your back doesn't arch.
- Bend your elbows as you lower your chest to the ground, keeping your hips level. Your elbows should be about a 45 degree angle away from your body.
- Once you lower as far as you can, push yourself back up to a plank.
Reps: 3 sets of 15
5. Side Lunges
"Side lunges are tough to hold weights with, it always feels as though the weights are going to bang into your hips or knees," Roser says. "I love weighted vests for this move as it adds resistance while not blocking the movement."
- Start with your feet hip-width apart.
- Take a step to the right, bending your right knee into a half squat and keeping your left leg straight. Sit your hips back as much as
- Pressing through your right heel, come back up to the starting position and repeat.
Reps: 3 sets of 15 on each leg
6.Weighted Vest Squat Jumps
- Start with your feet hip-width apart and sit your hips back and down like you're tapping a
chair behind you.
- Swing your arms up overhead as you straighten your legs and jump as high as you can.
- Land softly on your feet with knees slightly bent.
Reps: 2 sets of 8