- Weighted vests are designed to be worn over your torso and can add intensity to your workouts.
- Wearing a vest while running or doing bodyweight workouts can greatly impact your fitness.
- Benefits include improved full-body strength, boosted cardio capacity, and greater bone density.
A weighted vest may sound like a Gen Z idiom for a down-vest, or the love-child of a weighted blanket and a cozy outer layer.
But they’re actually more like if you took the look of a bulletproof vest and combined it with the function of a set of ankle weights. In other words, they’re a versatile strength training tool that can have a big impact on your workout routines.
Certified strength and conditioning specialist, Seamus Sullivan, says that a weighted workout vest “can increase the strength you gain” during exercise while also benefiting your posture and improving your VO2 max.
I spoke with two fitness experts, including Sullivan, about the other many benefits of a weighted vest. Whether you’re incorporating them into your HIIT or CrossFit workouts or you’re adding them to your bodyweight exercises, here are seven reasons to consider a weighted vest.
1. Improved strength
If you want to build full-body strength, look no further than the weight vest.
Sullivan says that “the added weight of a weight vest places extra demand on a wearer’s body,” which leads to greater demand on their muscles during each rep. He adds that this can then translate into greater strength gains.
The specific muscle groups a weight vest trains varies based on the kinds of exercises you do but in general, it forces your entire body to adapt to the added weight no matter the exercise.
And wearing a weight vest isn’t necessarily the same thing as just lifting heavier weights. Since the vest drapes across your body, you work different muscle groups than simply lifting a heavier dumbbell or adding more weight plates to a barbell.
Your body compensates for the added weight across your shoulders and chest whereas lifting something heavier only focuses on that muscle group the specific exercise is targeting. Plus, you can wear a weight vets while also lifting a heavier weight to add even more intensity to your routine.
2. Supports bone health
Resistance training doesn’t just make your muscles stronger, it makes your bones stronger, too. As a resistant training tool, weight vests have the capacity to support the health of your entire skeletal frame.
Whether it’s in the form of a weight vest, ankle weights, or dumbbells, load-bearing exercises put stress on your bones that nudge bone-forming cells (called osteocytes) into action. The result is stronger, denser bones that are more resilient against breaking and chronic bone diseases like osteoporosis and sarcopenia.
While one workout in a weight vest isn’t adequate to experience bone health benefits, just 15 to 20 minutes of resistance training three days per week can help, according to The Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Institute. So, wear the vest for a two-mile run a few times a week and you’ll easily hit that quota.
“Strengthening bones is important at any age,” says Sullivan. “But preserving bone strength is especially important as you age because it helps maintain independence.”
In other words, if you’re on the latter right of 50, this benefit should be particularly appealing.
3. Builds a stronger core
The weight vest can help you build full-body strength but perhaps its most notable impact is how it can strengthen your midline (i.e. your core).
“Weight vests improve core strength because the body has to learn to balance a heavier weight that typically sits above the midline, due to the way weight vests are structured,” explains Kelly Froelich, certified personal trainer, NASM, ACE, and the co-founder of the digital fitness platform Balanced.
Froelich says that the weight essentially forces you to focus on your posture. Failure to do so can quickly lead to pain in your lower-back. Maintaining correct posture requires extra recruitment from your mid-body muscles, which leads to greater strength gains, Froelich says.
4. Better balance
Sound balance isn’t just important when you’re walking on a gymnastics beam or standing on a balance board — it’s something you make use of every time you walk, stand, and shift weight between your legs.
This is particularly important for folks as they age since a proper sense of balance (via a strong core) can be the difference between someone falling, hurting themselves, or ultimately losing their independence, says Sullivan.
5. Improved cardiovascular capacity
Don’t be surprised if it feels harder to breathe or like you’re breathing heavier when you wear a weight vest.
Moving your body with an additional 5 to 25 pounds is harder than moving your body with its normal weight, explains Sullivan. “You’re basically forcing your body to exercise as if you were a heavier person,” he says.
Your body has to work harder to travel the same distances, speeds, and intensities when you’re wearing a weight vest than when you aren’t, he explains.
“While it will be hard at first, over time, this will improve your markers of cardiovascular capacity like VO2 max,” he says.
6. Keeps you from getting bored
The best workout routine is the one you stick with. If you’re easily bored, occasionally adding a weight vest can help keep your routine fresh and exciting, Sullivan adds. “It really does add an element of spice to an exercise program,” he says.
I can also speak from experience that wearing one truly amplifies your workouts. Think about that run loop you always do or your go-to fitness routine. It will undoubtedly feel way different with a weight vest than it does without one.
7. Supports your CrossFit goals
Whether you’re an average member at your local gym or have your sights set on competing, if you CrossFit, you might consider investing in a weight vest.
This is because the weight vest is something that’s often used at CrossFit gyms for daily workouts. It’s also a tool that has been programmed into many of the workouts present at the CrossFit Games over the years.
Specific goals aside, the tool is another way to get a dose of the functional sport’s favorite thing to preach: variety.
Weighted workout vest recommendations
There are tons of workout weight vest options currently on the market. Ultimately, the best for you depends on your current fitness level, specific fitness goals, body weight, overall health, age, and budget.
If you’re a CrossFit athlete, for example, the best vests are the TacTec Plate Carrier or TacTec Trainer Weight Vest. Meanwhile, if you’re a runner the Hyper Vest Elite Weight Vest or Omorpho G-vest+ would be a better option.
Check out our guide to the best weighted workout vests
All told, the weight vest is a great addition to any workout routine or home gym set-up, no matter if you like to run, lift weights, do CrossFit, or all of it.
Weight vests are designed to add additional weight to your frame and can be used to help you build full-body strength, put on muscle mass, improve your cardio capacity, or support bone health. They aren’t something that has to be worn every time you break a sweat, but they are a great added tool for anyone looking to add some variety to their workout routine.