One of the most efficient and affordable ways to burn fat, build muscle and improve your overall fitness is to add resistance — a.k.a. weight — to your workouts.
However, it’s not always easy or safe to incorporate dumbbells or kettlebells into some of the best and most dynamic movements (think: burpees, plyometrics and jump training). That’s where a weighted vest comes in.
If you really want to up your CrossFit game and take your fitness to the next level, you may want to consider adding some extra “body” weight to your workouts. Here’s why.
How It Works
Most of us understand the value of good old-fashioned cardio (aerobic) exercise, but many are mislead by the concept of resistance (anaerobic) training, assuming it’s all heavy barbells and grunting. However, resistance can be applied to simple movements such as walking, climbing, pushing, pulling and simply holding your own bodyweight against gravity — movements that can be augmented by a weighted vest.
Strength training is both safe and effective for women and men of all ages, including those who are not in perfect health, with benefits incluidng increased strength, balance and bone density, decreased pain and risk of heart disease and improvements in sleep and emotional and mental health.
Adding extra weight in the form of a weighted vest turns nearly every exercise into a dual-purpose grinder. Want to apply the extra weight to a muscle-busting anaerobic activity? Your lungs should feel the burn, too. Hoping to melt off fat in a vest-assisted cardio workout? Get ready to add more lean muscle while you’re at it. Ultimately, you’re looking at more effective and sustained results all around.
Putting It Into Practice
“The benefits of resistance training are widely known, but challenges often arise when implementing it into someone’s fitness routine,” says Chad Landers, CSCS, owner of PUSH Private Fitness in Los Angeles. “There may not be a gym nearby, or it may be too expensive to join. Also, home gyms tend to have their own limitations regarding both space, variety of equipment and cost.”
Buying your own quality weighted vest need not cost more than $100. That’s less than a couple months worth of membership fees at the typical gym. And, unlike the squat rack in the weight room down the block, you get to keep the vest and use it whenever you like.
“Weighted vests offer a relatively inexpensive way to add resistance to a bodyweight routine and keep progress going,” Landers says. “Opt for adjustable vests that can vary from one to 20 pounds — some even go up to 70-plus pounds — rather than fixed-weight vests.”
Landers stresses the importance of ensuring a good fit when purchasing and using a vest — finding a product that fits snugly while still allowing the trainee to follow the same (proper) form recommended for exercises with no vest involved.
And about those exercises? The possibilities are virtually endless. The variety and no-hands nature of vest training translate to optimal engagement —both mentally and physiologically — and are limited only by the limits of your creativity. But in case you need a jump-start, here’s a basic primer:
Think of it this way: There isn’t an anaerobic bodyweight exercise that can’t be supercharged by a weighted vest. Whether it’s upper body (push-ups, pull-ups, inverted rows, dips), lower body (squats, lunges, calf raises) or plyometrics (long jumps, box jumps), a vest can provide the ideal boost when you find yourself stranded on a dreaded plateau.
“A dedicated trainee will quickly find there is a lack of progression beyond the adding of sets and reps to the routine,” says Landers. The vest’s adjustable weight builds in the variable resistance required in any periodization training, ensuring continued strength gains over the long haul.
Again, anything that allows gravity to work its magic is fair game — but think smaller than you would for resistance training.
“Adding a few extra pounds to a walk or hike is a great way to get a little extra calorie burn and work the core as well,” says Landers. “I like the vest better than wrist, ankle or hand weights for this reason, too. The weight is fairly evenly distributed close to the spine.”
Walking, jogging, biking and jumping rope are great places to get started, but take it easy on the additional weight for high-impact activities. A significant jump in poundage places significant stress on the joints and could lead to injury.
Planks, side planks, crunches and reverse back extensions are straightforward examples of exercises that can be dressed up with a vest to specifically target your midsection. But the reality is, most body weight exercises have at least a component that helps improve strength, balance and performance through core engagement. A weighted vest only amps up your results.
“A push-up is basically a moving plank,” Landers says, “So you get a lot of core-strength development as well.”
Weighted Vest Workout
Put on your vest and try these moves from Chad Landers, CSCS, owner of PUSH Private Fitness.
- Push-ups: Up to 20 reps
- Pull-ups (or inverted row): Up to 10 reps
- Alternating lunges: Up to 15 left/right reps
- Don’t rest between exercises. Take 60 to 90 seconds between circuits. Repeat for three to seven circuits total. If you can’t complete five reps of an exercise, remove the vest and do as many as you can with your own body-weight.
- Weighted vest planks: three sets, up to 60 seconds per plank.
- Rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets. If you can’t hold a plank for at least 20 seconds, remove the vest and hold it as long as you can.