Weighted Vest Workouts For Maximum Effectiveness

Working out in a weighted vest

Working out in a weighted vestThe use of weighted vests is becoming more and more popular.

But actually, exercising in weighted clothing is nothing new. Knights did the same thing, when they trained for battle in their heavy armor, to get used to wearing the extra weight.

Granted, the weighted vest is much less of a necessity than armor was for knights. It’s not going to protect you from a sword. But the principle of training while wearing added bodyweight still holds true.

Weighted vests aren’t as cumbersome as a full suit of heavy armor. They are a simple vest that features a number of pockets that can hold weights. The best weighted vests are comfortable and don’t hinder your movement.

Usually, the added weights come in the form of small sandbags. Generally, these vests can hold a maximum weight of 20 to 50 pounds.

Let’s take a quick look at the benefits of using a weight vest and then cover some general tips, before getting into the best workouts to do while wearing one.


Benefits Of Using A Weighted Vest

Push-ups with a weighted vest


1. Increased Strength For Bodyweight Exercises.

Typically, body weight exercises are limited when it comes to progression. You can increase the number of total reps you perform or you can find a variation that is slightly harder.

Aside from those two variables, there really isn’t many other ways to make body weight exercises more intense in order to drive progression. Once you have found the very hardest variation of an exercise, you are pretty much stuck with adding more reps.

Eventually, you get to a point where adding more reps helps your endurance but has limited impact on your strength.

By putting on a weighted vest for those body weight movements, you can begin to make them more challenging again.

The added resistance will allow you to keep the number of reps in a more strength-focused range, while still keeping the exercise technique the same.

Over time, you can continue to add weight and build strength to any body weight exercise.


2. Burn More Calories.

Carrying around extra weight makes your entire body work harder. When your body is working harder, it is burning more calories.

One of the reasons that people stop losing weight after they have been successful for a while with a weight loss diet, is that their muscles don’t need to work as hard to move their body mass around anymore.

For example, your leg muscles have to work much harder to move your body up a flight of stairs if you weigh 300 lbs versus weighing 150 lbs. Working your legs harder means burning more calories.

Wearing a weight vest has that very same effect. You can wear them to increase calorie burn of any activity you wish.


3. More Effective Cardio Workouts.

Similarly to how your muscles have to work harder when wearing a weighted vest, your heart and lungs will also be tested more.

During cardiovascular activities, wearing added weight and forcing your muscles to workout harder, also forces your heart and lungs to become more effective at supplying those muscles with oxygenated blood.

After your cardiovascular system adapts to working under those more strenuous conditions, any work you do without wearing the vest will feel a whole lot easier.

A study performed by Finnish exercise scientist, Heikki Rusko, showed the improvement that weighted vest training can have on running.

Rusko had twelve subjects wear a weighted vest totaling ten percent of their body weight. The subjects wore the vest throughout the day and for at least three workouts each week.

The initial results, after four weeks, were not promising. The effects were actually negative.

However, after taking the weight vests off and continuing a further two week period of normal training, the results were quite different.

It seems the body needed time to adapt and realize the effects of the training. A 25% rise in sprint endurance and a 3% rise in stair running speed were seen upon retesting the subjects.


Tips For Using A Weighted Vest

Pull-ups with a weight vest


Start Slowly In The Beginning

This tip goes for most new exercise and fitness protocols. Load the vest up with around 2% of your total body weight to start with.

Get used to working with the added external weight by walking with it before building up to jogging and running.For resistance exercises like push-ups and squats, begin with just a few reps and sets to analyze how your body reacts and recovers from them.


Be Sure To Drink More Water

Working harder as a result of the added weight means you will sweat more.It is very easy to forget that the extra sweating means you have to replace more lost fluid than usual. Be sure you increase fluid intake to account for it.


Pull The Vest Tight To Your Body

Weighted vests are usually made of very rugged materials.If the vest is loose on your body and has room to move around, chafing and blisters can occur quite easily. Pulling the vest tight and wearing a suitable shirt underneath will help to combat the problem.

Adding a total of 10-15% of your body weight should be enough. Adding too much weight can cause harmful stresses on your joints.Secondly, a high amount of extra weight could change the technique of the exercises you are performing. Running style, push up form and other exercises could all be altered if the weight is too heavy.Carrying 10-15% of your own body weight will be enough to make a workout very challenging while still maintaining normal technique.


Weighted Vest Workouts

As mentioned, a weighted vest can be added to pretty much any kind of workout to make it more challenging.

To give you some ideas of different methods that you could incorporate into your routine, we have come up with a list of sample weighted vest workouts below.

Before any workout, make sure you are performing a solid warmup routine that gets your heart rate up and works all of the muscles needed for your main workout.


Workout #1 – Bodyweight Strength Circuit

Perform the following exercises in a circuit fashion, one after the other. Each exercise should be performed with good technique, using the full range of motion and under control.

Each exercise is to be done for 40 seconds. Take 60-90 seconds rest between circuits. Complete a total of 5 full circuits.


With your knees around shoulder width, drop down into a bodyweight squat. You should descend low enough for your hip crease to be below the top of your knee cap at the bottom. Focus on keeping your knees out, heels down and chest facing forward.


This is a standard push up. Start with your hands directly below your shoulders. Keep your abs braced for the entire movement and make sure your whole body is moving up and down as a single unit.


Grab a bar with your hands outside of shoulder width and your palms facing away from you. Each rep should start with your arms completely straight. Get your chin above the bar for every rep without craning your neck.


Keeping your chest facing forward, descend into a forward stepping lunge. Your front thigh should be parallel to the ground with your back knee a couple of inches away from the ground. Forcefully drive off of your front leg back to the start position. Alternate legs each rep.


Hold a plank position from your forearms. Keep your abs and glutes braced, flex your quads and focus on maintaining a straight line with your body.

Russian Twists

Begin seated on the floor. Lean your upper body backward until you feel your abs engage. Lift your legs off of the floor. Rotate your entire upper body to one side and lightly touch your hands on the ground before rotating to the opposite side. Repeat the movement from side to side in a controlled fashion


Workout #2 – Hill sprint intervals

Hill sprints are great for improving acceleration, speed, and cardiovascular endurance. Sprinting is also very effective for burning fat and adding a hill into the mix makes it even better.

This workout focuses on using short intervals that allow you to push for maximum speed on each one.

The rest times are given in ranges. If your goal is to improve your speed and acceleration, make sure you are fully recovered between sprints by taking longer rest periods.

If the goal is cardio and fat burning based, use shorter rests to keep your heart rate elevated.

The actual workout is ridiculously simple:

Sprint as hard as you can up the hill for 15 seconds, take between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to recover. Repeat the drill for 8-12 total sprints.


Workout #3 – Crossfit’s “Murph” Hero WOD

This one is not for the beginner, it is extremely tough. You can adjust the number of reps and distance for the run to cater for your individual fitness level.

This is a good example of how weighted vests can even be used for CrossFit style workouts to present a whole different challenge.

The Murph workout is traditionally done by cross fitters on Memorial day in the US. The workout honors Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, who was killed in action in 2005.

The workout was originally created by Lt. Murphy for his own use. He would perform it in his tactical vest, which weighed 20 lbs. For that reason, a weighted vest of 20 lbs is suggested for the workout. However, feel free to use less for your first time trying this one.

The workout:

  1. Run 1 mile
  2. Perform: 100 push-ups, 200 pull-ups, and 300 squats
  3. Finish by running another mile.

The bodyweight exercises can be broken down however you like, as long as the total number is completed for each by the end of the workout.

Just to warn you, an elite time for this is around 30 minutes. So, it will probably take a while.

Again, this isn’t recommended for beginners.


Workout #4 – Cardio And Strength Combination

This one is another circuit style workout. It combines cardio and strength based exercises into one routine.

Perform each exercise for the stated time or reps. Rest 60-90 seconds after each round. A total of 4-6 full rounds is to be completed.

Treadmill or bike – 60 seconds

Shuffle push-ups – Perform a regular push-up. At the top of the rep, shuffle both of your hands around to one side. Keep your feet in place, your body should now be at an angle of roughly 20 degrees from where you started. Perform another push-up before shuffling your hands to the opposite side. Repeat. – 12 reps

Squat jumps – Quickly descend into a half-squat position then reverse it and propel yourself hard into the air. Land as soft as possible by absorbing the landing with bent knees – 12 reps

Treadmill or bike – 60 seconds

Pull-ups – Grab a pull-up bar with your hands outside of shoulder width and your palms facing away from you. Each rep should start with your arms completely straight. Get your chin above the bar for every rep without craning your neck. – 12 reps

Skater jumps – Starting your right leg, take a lateral jump over to your left and land softly on your left leg. Try to get as much distance as you can with each jump while keeping one leg off of the floor at all times. – 12 reps total/ 6 from each leg

Treadmill or bike – 60 seconds


Best Weighted Vest Workouts: Final Thoughts

As you can tell from the numerous different methods explained above and in the example workouts, weighted vests are a versatile piece of equipment.

Almost any workout can be adapted to be done while wearing a weighted vest for an added challenge.

It should be noted that weighted vest workouts should be treated the same as any other kind of workout. They must be planned properly for both progression and recovery time.

It is also wise to keep you workout program varied by going through periods of training with and without the weighted vest.

All in all, weight vests are another tool that can be added to your training arsenal in order to enhance your progress. They are affordable, versatile and effective, which makes them well worth trying out.

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