WEIGHTED VEST WORKOUTS What, When to Wear & Why
Weighted vests have been utilized for numerous years as a means of rehabilitation for injury or training for police and firefighters. This has evolved to more usage by the general population. Recently, there is a surge of wearing weighted vests by any and all active people wanting, plus hoping, to boost burning calories. Similarly, strength/conditioning coaches and high performance athletes are always looking for different ways to enhance performance as well. Military and civilian recreational sports participants alike, have also taken on the touted benefits of added weight to the body, seeking physical improvement while exercising and working out. Over the past decade, weighted vests have been used in research studies as a tool to help prevent osteoporosis. However, before you jump on the “band wagon” to don a weighted vest, just realize that with any other modes of using training adjunct/equipment, there are both positive AND negative aspects.
First of all, NOT all weighted vests are equal, in both design and amount/adjustability of weights. Many are fabricated containing pockets fillable with weighted bags, while others are made of leaded material. Fabric composition can be rigid or stretchable type to better accommodate body contours. If you use one with adjustable weight pouches, make sure they are symmetric on either side before wearing. The removable weights are usually ½ pound, which can be added into built-in slots incrementally up to 20, 40, or even as heavy as 60 pounds. Prices range anywhere from about $40 to over $140 or more. Some models are unisex while other styles are tailored towards fitting women. Make sure you choose one that fits well on top of your shoulders and around your waist.
So how does wearing a weighted vest work? Well, it’s meant to fit snug on the torso/trunk, which will positively load the spine and hip to help build bones, better than just holding on to dumbbells. If worn loosely, it could throw the wearer off balance and cause joint injury. If a person is overweight or already has lower extremity issues, it is not recommended to add more weight to the body, which will contribute to 3-4 times excessive load/impact on the knees causing problems.
Research studies have focused on older females wearing weighted vests while walking/stair climbing, younger athletes jumping, and sports participants warming-up. Results have been mixed as far as building bone of the lower extremity; since it is possible that the weight bearing/training exercises themselves also add to bone density. What has been shown to be effective, is the increased intensity and higher metabolic rate during workout sessions, which translates to burning 10-15% more calories. The weight of vest worn must be at least 5-10% bodyweight to cause a positive benefit. Scientists have also found that using weighted vests seems to improve balance of the involved subjects, thus decreasing risk of falling in geriatric women. As for females wearing weighted vests during the warm-up, researchers found that the amount of weight must be between 2% and 8% bodyweight or heavier to improve leg power of up to 8%.
In summary, wearing a weighted vest of 5% bodyweight or more while warming up can help increase lower body muscle strength, possibly increase bone density, and raise metabolism thus will burn more calories. Do choose the type/style of weighted vest wisely, making sure it fits fairly snugly yet comfortably. The type of vest having removable weights is more versatile, allowing incremental increases thus controlling how heavy you can tolerate wearing it. Just be careful not to add weights too quickly or too much, so your body is able to adapt to the increased load. Do realize that more is not necessarily better, since too heavy of a vest will put added stress on your joints and could cause damage. Also remember that building muscle and bone on the body is limb/location specific, so the weighted vest will not affect the upper extremity, only the core and lower limbs. So if you need to heighten the intensity of your workouts, then purchase a weighted vest to wear while training. If nothing else, the extra added load on your trunk will force you to focus more on each physical task, and hopefully helps you to feel that much lighter and more powerful when engaged in actual competition, enabling you to cross the finish line with faster speed!