I’ve been training while wearing a weight vest (20-40 lbs.) for about two years now. I even wear it for hours at a time while training my clients. I’ve noticed some profound benefits that the vest has brought that I would like to share with you now.
The first thing I’ve seen is a head to toe strength gain in all of my supporting/ stabilizing musculature. This makes sense because my body is being challenged to support more weight than it’s been accustomed. My nervous system has also adapted to carrying more weight, so my body feels lighter whenever I move. I have noticed my breathing muscles (the diaphragm and rib cage muscles, called intercostals, think BBQ ribs, we have rib meat too) have gotten much stronger than they use to be. The rib cage has to expand against the vest, strengthening these muscles, allowing for more powerful breathing. Additionally, my bones even feel denser while I’m lifting (yes, I can tell) and my core strength has improved dramatically. My cardiovascular conditioning has improved even though I now do next to no cardio. I go on a 30-minute bike ride to the beach about once a week, but this is more for fresh air and sunshine than exercise. In fact, I now NEED to wear the vest because my workouts are now no longer hard enough without it. I also have lost about a third of the body fat I had before vest training without trying, just from the metabolic boost and caloric increase the vest has provided. I haven’t increased the amount of time I spend training, and my workouts are very similar to what they were before I started wearing the vest, but my body has adapted to a much higher level than it was at before. In fact, outside of adding the vest, I haven’t changed anything, and I am just plain more fit across the board than I use to be. All I had to do was purchase the vest and put it on.
Here are a few recommendations-
Buy quality. Spend more up front and get a comfortable vest. A cheap vest will dig into your traps and strain your neck. I recommend Ironwear Fitness vests ( I am not affiliated with them, this just happens to be the best brand I have ever used). They are not inexpensive but feel like a quilt vs. canvas luggage straps (like a cheaper brand I have). Pay a little more up front and always have a comfortable vest you will want to use long term.
Practice self-care with self-massage from day one. You should be doing this anyway. Buy a foam roller ($20) and a lacrosse ball($5-10). The vest will place resistance on your entire body’s musculature for extended periods of time, and that can have a tendency to lock up certain muscles over time, especially along your spine. This can be easily remedied with a little daily self-massage but if you are training with a vest regularly and not massaging you will probably experience some issues down the road.
Start slow. I recommend you purchase an adjustable vest and start lighter than you think you need to at first. I noticed when I first started training with the vest that unexpected areas like my Achilles tendons or muscles deep in my hips took a little time to adjust. Remember a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so start accordingly. You will feel great while you are warmed up, but if you overuse something you most likely won’t know it until you wake up the next day.
If you notice any one muscle starting to burn or fatigue while wearing the vest take it off and roll out (foam roller, lacrosse/ tennis ball) the offending muscle immediately.
Make sure you are healthy and have no medical conditions that could be negatively impacted by the vest. Get a doctor’s approval before purchasing a vest if you are not sure.
A fit man could start with around 20 lbs.
A fit woman could start with around 10 lbs.
If you are not fit, get fit before adding a vest.
The weight vest is perfect for body weight exercises, weight training, cardio (I don’t wear it while riding a bike, not safe for myself or those around me) or even just wearing around the house. It isn’t for everyone, but for those fit, healthy, injury free individuals who want to get the maximum benefit with the least amount of time invested, the weight vest is a great and simple addition to your workouts. I train with my vest religiously and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. It takes a little time to get used to it, and you need to train with it regularly, but if you do, you will see a strength gain from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Literally.