Wearing a Weighted Vest for Cardio: Pros and Cons

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Weight vests can help with building stamina and endurance.
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If your training runs are lacking in the intensity department, it might be time to ramp up your workout by wearing a weighted vest. Running with a weighted vest can help increase strength, improve speed and boost endurance. Here's what you need to know about the pros and cons.

Benefits of Weighted Vests

A weighted vest is a wearable fitness tool that adds resistance to your workouts. They're often used for cardiovascular exercises such as walking, running or aerobics classes. "In general, training in a weighted vest makes you heavier, which in turn, makes the movements you're attempting more difficult," says Steve Stonehouse, director of education for STRIDE, an indoor running franchise, in Orange County, California.

Because the body is adaptive, Stonehouse says, you can reap such benefits as overall strength gains, increased bone density and improved cardiorespiratory function from the overall demand increase.

The additional added weight of the vest will make your heart will pump harder, increasing your aerobic capacity and the amount of oxygen you can use, called your VO2 max, says Allen Conrad, DC, a chiropractor and strength and conditioning specialist with the Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pennsylvania. The added weight also will affect your postural muscles, the ones that keep you balanced and upright, helping build core strength while you run, he adds.

Also, a small study published in the journal Rheumatology International in February 2013 found that postmenopausal women who walked on a treadmill three times a week for six weeks while wearing a weighted vest improved their balance more than the groups that did not wear the vests.

Read more: How to Build Up Your Stamina in Just 3 Days

The Negative Side

No fitness tool or piece of equipment is perfect. So even though a weighted vest may have some benefits, there are also a few downsides you should know about before you throw one on and head out the door.

The most obvious con, says Stonehouse, is that you're adding weight, which means you will most likely not be able to run as fast. "Running slower and adding weight with a vest will most certainly change your running mechanics," he says.

You need to be aware of this mechanical compensation and be careful, he says, because a lot of running-related injuries happen gradually, over time. "Without even knowing, you could start to put stress in areas that aren't used to it," Stonehouse says.

Additionally, Conrad says that overloading the upper body with a weighted vest could lead to injuries of the spine. "The additional axial pressure on the spinal column may irritate a previous degenerative spinal condition due to the additional weight and torsion associated with running," he says. This means that anyone with an underlying degenerative arthritic condition of the knees, hips or spine should avoid using a weighted vest.

What Else You Should Know

There's no doubt that a weighted vest adds intensity to your training, which is great news if you're trying to up your speed and boost performance. But does running with a weight vest build muscle?

"In most cases, depending on the weight of the vest, I'd say no," says Stonehouse. However, he does say that it can be an effective way to build strength, but not necessarily muscle. That's because the vest "would need to be extremely heavy to see any legitimate muscle growth, and if it were that heavy, the cons would outweigh the pros," he says.

If you're curious about buying a weighted vest, but not sure which size or weight to purchase, Harvard Health Publishing says a good guideline to follow is to not exceed 10 percent of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should stick with a weighted vest that is 15 pounds or less.

Also, talk with your doctor about running with a weighted vest to make sure that adding weight to your frame is a healthy and safe option for you. Once you get the go-ahead, consider working with a physical therapist to help you find the right vest and show you how to use it properly.

Read more: The Best Stamina-Increasing Exercises

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