You're probably used to walking and running-they are two of are the quickest ways to blast up to 25 percent more calories, boost your energy instantly, and get a workout in ASAP. And you're probably equally as familiar with wearing a vest while endurance running or as an added layer of warmth during the chillier months. But a weighted vest? Not so much. Yet walking, running, and working out with a weighted vest can boost your calorie burn and add a strength element to your routine-sans gym. Here's how.
What Exactly Is a Weighted Vest for Workouts?
Weighted vests are exactly what they sound like: Workout vests with small weights in them. "Most vests sit over the shoulders, chest, back, and core, like a vest you would wear under a suit or a life vest for swimming," says Astrid Swan, a celebrity trainer in Los Angeles. (Astrid knows a thing or two about weight training, BTW. She shared these six weighted abs exercises for a strong, sculpted core.)
The Benefits of Exercising with a Weighted Vest
Because weighted vests literally force you to carry extra weight on your body, they make any activity-from walking to running to pull-ups-a lot harder. Since you're moving more weight, you'll need to exert more effort to perform any exercise or activity compared to using just your body, says Swan. This can help improve your cardio capacity, muscular endurance, and overall strength, she says. (BTW, here's the difference between muscular endurance and strength.) Using a weighted vest is like exercising while holding dumbbells, but those dumbbells are dispersed across your torso in a piece of clothing.
Also, if you're deconditioned or out of shape, simply wearing a weighted vest while walking can be a way to increase calorie burn without cranking up the intensity too much. Researchers at the University of New Mexico asked untrained adult women to walk on a flat treadmill at 2.5 while wearing a vest weighing about 15 percent of their body weight. Women wearing the weighted vest burned about 12 percent more calories compared with the women who were not wearing a vest, according to the study, which was conducted for the American Council on Exercise.
"You'll also improve your cardiovascular endurance from carrying the extra weight while working out," says Swan. Wearing a vest will make cardio feel more challenging-and when you train without the vest, you'll be faster and more conditioned, she explains. In fact, runners who warmed up by doing strides (in this case, 10-second sprints) while wearing a weighted vest showed improvements in speed and performance during a treadmill test immediately after, according to a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
And you can use a weighted vest to increase the load on bodyweight moves such as squats, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups to increase the demand on your muscles and induce strength- and endurance-related muscle gains, too. (Plus, all the usual benefits of strength training.) Of course, while no exercises are really off limits with a weighted vest, tossing one on doesn't automatically equal a better workout. (Example: wearing a weighted vest during yoga or spin class likely isn't worth it.) Reserve it for exercise where you're responsible for moving your bodyweight, like climbing stairs, biking, running, and total bodyweight workouts, says Swan.
Make Sure Your Weighted Vest Is the Right Weight
When choosing your weight, start small. "This is all based on the individual, but I recommend starting off light and adding from there," says Swan. "The amount of weight varies from five pounds all the way up to 20, 50, 80 pounds and more. A vest of five to 10 pounds would be my recommendation for both HIIT training and running."
Like with any weight lifting, progression is always more beneficial than regression or risk of injury: "Think of using a weighted vest like you would pick out dumbbells. If you no longer feel challenged, up the weight. Start with an additional five pounds and continue from there," she says.
One older study from the University of Iowa in Iowa City also found that people who wore a vest that was about 20 percent of their body weight burned 14 percent more calories. Translation: a 140-pound woman might burn about 30 more calories on a 45-minute walk. But beginning by wearing three to five percent of your weight (for a 140-pound woman, that's four to seven pounds) and increasing by two to five percent every few weeks until you reach 20 percent (28 pounds) is your best bet for avoiding injury, experts say.
How to Train with a Weighted Vest
You want to challenge yourself. "You should experience some huffing and puffing, even if you're walking," says Vicki Harber, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Out with a friend? "You should be a bit breathless as you talk," says Harber.
Then, lean into each stride to increase momentum-it makes everything feel easier, even as you go faster. How far you lean depends on your pace. "Keep this forward-leaning position throughout your run or walk," says Zika Palmer, an exercise physiologist, and co-founder of ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, NC. "It should almost feel like you have to take a step to catch yourself from falling."
Also? Use your core. "All movement starts from your core, so it makes sense to keep it strong and engaged while you walk or run," says Ellie Herman, owner of Ellie Herman Pilates Studios and creator of the Walk-ilates system, which combines walking and Pilates. To actively engage your abs, imagine zipping up a pair of jeans from your pubic bone to your navel and keeping them tight during the walk or run.
Pulling your toes up as you step can also help you recruit more leg muscles and propel yourself forward to go faster, explains Dixie Stanforth, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist in the department of kinesiology at the University of Texas in Austin. Another way to pick up speed: Bend your elbows 90 degrees and keep them close to you, swinging from your shoulders. "This speeds up your arms so the legs will follow," says Stanforth.
How to Pick a Weighted Vest
While some brands only offer unisex, one-size-fits-all vests, others offer different sizes or adjustable straps to ensure minimal movement while you're working out. (They should fit snugly and not bounce around.) Many allow you to insert or remove the weights (usually small sandbags or steel bars) to change the overall load. Not sure where to start? Some great options include vests from Hyperwear, Zeyu Sports, Everlast, and Tone Fitness, says Swan. (Check out The Best Weighted Running Vests for more expert picks.)
Try a Walking and Running Upper Body Treadmill Routine Instead
Don't want to use a weighted vest while walking? No problem. Jeanette Soloma Hale, a personal trainer based in Saint Paul, MN suggests walking or running for 15 minutes at a moderate intensity then decreasing your speed to 3.0 to 3.6 mph, picking up some dumbbells, raising the incline to 6 percent, and doing the following moves for one minute each, without taking any rest. Even a two percent higher setting on the incline bumps up your calorie burn by 20 percent per minute, explains Mitchell Whaley, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. You'll not only burn more calories than you would on a flat surface, but you'll also strengthen your legs and glutes. (Related: This 15-Minute Treadmill Speed Workout Will Have You In and Out of the Gym In a Flash.)
- Alternate Punch: Keep hands at shoulder height, elbows bent at sides, and alternate forward punches with each arm.
- Hammer Curl: Straighten arms to sides, palms facing in. Curl weights toward shoulders, keeping elbows close to sides.
- Triceps Kickback: Bend elbows 90 degrees and keep arms tucked into ribs, then slowly straighten arms behind you.
- Lateral Raise: Keeping elbows slightly bent, raise arms out to sides until elbows are shoulder height.
- Triceps Rear Press: Bring arms back to sides, palms facing behind you. Keeping elbows straight, pulse arms back.
- By By Isadora Baum and Holly St. Lifer