It’s not often that I recommend packing on the pounds.
But when I do, it’s either in the form of muscle or … drumroll … a weighted vest.
Now, I know you’re probably picturing an intimidating miltary-esque person wearing a 50-pound weighted vest while performing brutal bootcamp-style workouts and thinking, “I’m definitely not cut out for that.”
However, before you write them off, know that weighted vests have evolved a lot in the last few years, giving you a range of weight levels and styles so you don’t have to feel like the Hulk when you’re wearing one (unless you want to, of course!).
Not to mention, there are serious benefits to adding some extra bodyweight to your workouts, and vests can be one of the most convenient ways to do so.
Take a look below at some of the major weighted vest benefits you’ll see when adding vests to your workout arsenal.
4 Major Weighted Vest Benefits
1. Boost Fat Burn
As we all know, intensity is everything when it comes to fast, efficient fat loss.
While walking or jogging for hours at an easy pace on a treadmill might seem like a great way to burn calories, studies have proven that it’s actually one of the least effective ways to burn fat (unless you’re wearing a weighted vest of course).
On the other hand, short, high-intensity interval-style workouts involving resistance training have shown time and time again to be the quickest and most effective way to blast fat and build muscle (1).
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The main reason for this is the intensity of these workouts, which forces our body to create lasting changes in our cells that promote fat burn and leanness.
So, what’s the quickest way to increase the intensity of any workout (aside from throwing in an insane number of burpees)?
Add a weighted vest.
This will force your body to increase the amount of energy (aka: calories) it’s consuming to keep you going at a heavier weight. In fact, one study showed that wearing a weighted vest while performing a standing workout increases calorie burn by up to 12 percent (2).
2. Increase Muscle and Bone Strength
Adding a weighted vest to your frame is a sneaky way of pushing your muscles to grow to support your “new” weight.
But the growing doesn’t stop there. When you use a weighted vest during your workouts, your bones respond to the strain by building more bone mass. This creates denser bones, connective tissue, and an overall stronger musculoskeletal system.
When your musculoskeletal system is strengthened, future workouts and movements become much easier, and your chance of injury decreases significantly due to enhanced stability and support.
Not to mention, having strong bones also helps combat degenerative bone diseases, such as osteoarthritis, as you age.
3. Boost Cardiovascular Benefits
While cardio exercises such as running and skipping are excellent for working your heart and cardiovascular system, they aren’t the only way to get in a great cardio workout.
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You may have noticed that even while lifting weights, your heart rate increases significantly and you may even become short of breath.
This is because no matter what the activity, adding additional weight increases its metabolic cost, or “energy cost.”
In response to this increased need for energy, the body sends the cardiovascular system into overdrive, strengthening the heart and lungs and increasing our body’s ability to consume oxygen efficiently.
Wearing a weighted vest during workouts can increase this effect, and even ramp up bodyweight workout intensity so that you’re getting a full-on cardiovascular workout.
The benefits of challenging your heart and lungs will then trickle down through other areas of your training as a result.
For instance, a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology found that endurance athletes who wore weighted vests during training ran longer until exhaustion, ran up stairs better, and had increased VO2 max (a measure of fitness) when compared to study participants who didn’t wear a weighted vest (3).
4. Boost Core Strength
If you thought maintaining your balance or holding a plank without a weighted vest on was difficult, try doing it with one.
The additional weight above your torso is essentially going to wake up your abdominals by challenging your core to carry and balance a heavier load.
Since we use the stabilizer muscles of our core to perform even the most basic of movements, such as bending over, you’ll notice the difference wearing a weighted vest has on your ab region even if you’re not doing a core workout.
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Weighted Vest How-To
Before we get into what type of vest is best, remember to make sure that you can perform all of these exercises easily and correctly without additional weight first.
I say this because, yes, while vest workouts are supposed to be challenging, they shouldn’t be so challenging that they end up sidelining you with an injury.
You need to develop base strength in your muscles and ligaments before pushing yourself to new intensities, otherwise you risk going to bed instead of going to the gym.
With that being said, I would say a get good, solid 4 to 6 months of strength training under your belt before attempting exercises with a vest.
Once you are ready for a vest, try starting with a 10-pound weight. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, your muscles will beg to differ.
The beauty of many vests on the market today is that you can add or remove weight in increments whenever you need to, so you aren’t stuck with one weight. Not sure which one is right for you? Check out this post to find the best vest for you.
Your vest should be tight enough that it’s difficult to put your fingers under it, yet not so tight that you have trouble breathing (no corsets, please!). You definitely don’t want it bouncing around during your workout.
Weighted Vest Workouts
Below are two sample weighted vest workouts that will not only give your muscles extra fire, but will also torch fat by getting your heart pumping.
Perform these workouts 2 to 3 times a week for maximum results. If you’d like, you can also wear a weighted vest during walking and other cardio sessions for extra calorie burn.
It’s crucial that you get those muscles nice and warm and your blood pumping before donning your vest. Start with a 10-minute dynamic warmup without your vest that involves some of these exercises.
Upper Body and Core Vest Workout
Push through this upper body and core circuit three times with minimal rest between exercises. Rest for one minute between rounds.
Exercise 1: Overhand Pull-Up (10-12 reps)
Beginners: Remove weight from your vest, and/or use a stool or chair to semi-assist your pull. Alternatively, you can do “negatives,” by only performing the lowering portion. Begin above the bar and very slowly lower. Use a chair to get back above the bar and repeat for 6 to 8 reps.
Intermediate and Advanced: Add weight to your vest if you’re easily knocking out 10 to 12 reps.
Exercise 2: Mountain Climbers (20 reps)
Beginners: Hold either a pushup or plank position.
Intermediate and Advanced: Add weight to your vest and/or add in a 30 second plank hold following your 20 reps.
Exercise 3: High Knees (30 seconds)
Beginners: Try jogging in place.
Advanced: Try box jumps or even jumping rope.
Exercise 4: Tricep Dips (8-12 reps)
Beginners: Remove weight from your vest for this one.
Advanced: Add weight to your vest.
Exercise 5: Plank with Shoulder Taps (20 seconds)
Beginners: Hold a plank without the shoulder taps.
Advanced: Add weight to your vest and/or perform weighted vest pushups instead.
Lower Body Vest Workout
Perform this killer lower body circuit three times through with minimal rest between exercises. Rest for one minute between rounds.
Exercise 1: Bulgarian Split-Squat (10 reps each leg)
Beginners: Remove weight from your vest and/or perform alternating reverse lunges instead.
Intermediate and Advanced: Add weight to your vest.
Exercise 2: Squats (10-15 reps)
Beginners: Use a lighter vest.
Intermediate and Advanced: Add weight to your vest and/or perform jump squats.
Exercise 3: Lateral Lunges (10 reps each leg)
Beginners: Remove weight from your vest.
Advanced: Add weight to your vest.
Exercise 4: Burpees (5-10 reps)
Beginners: Perform high knees for 30 seconds.
Advanced: Perform higher reps.
Exercise 5: Sumo Squats (10-15 reps)
Beginners: Use a lower vest weight.
Advanced: Choose a heavier vest.
Exercise 6: Single-Leg Bridge (10-15 reps each leg)
Beginners: Perform the bridge with both feet on the ground.
Intermediate and Advanced: Perform elevated single-leg bridges by propping your foot on a low bench or stability ball.
Vests with Benefits
When you’re ready, investing in a weighted vest is likely to be one of the best decisions you can make to take your workouts to the next level. From increasing fat burn to building stronger bones, the benefits far outweigh the negatives with this versatile piece.
Let’s get to packing on those pounds, shall we?
Bodyweight Circuit Fun
Do you love no-equipment workouts? Or maybe you’re looking for another workout you can rev up with a weight vest?
Try my free Bodyweight Workout, which is a 20-minute program designed to burn fat and build strength.
It includes an instructional video, workout tracker, and follow-along audio. A $29 value – it’s yours FREE!
Just click the image below to get instant access!
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.