Weight Vest Training: When It Pays to Put on Pounds

Grabbing a heavier dumbbell or kettlebell isn’t the only way to step up your weight game. When you find yourself breezing through bodyweight workouts, one of the simplest ways to add resistance is with a weighted vest. By packing on an extra eight (to 150!) pounds around your torso, basic movements like burpees and pull-ups become a whole lot more of a challenge — without throwing you off balance. “The extra load of a weighted vest also allows you to add resistance to conditioning drills you typically wouldn’t use weight during, like sprints and footwork drills,” explains Curtis Williams, former professional NFL player and owner of Team Training C.A.M.P. in New York City.

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The Benefits of Weight Vests

Another upside to the heavy pack? It’s great for sports-specific training. “Most sports utilize training with a weighted vest at some capacity, especially basketball, football and soccer,” Williams says. “You’re bound to jump higher, run faster, and have quicker feet when you remove 10 to 15 pounds of resistance from your body.”

Will Hinkson, CrossFit trainer and owner of Huron River CrossFit in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was first introduced to weight vest training in the armed services. But instead of hanging up his 40-pound bulletproof vest post-retirement, he says, “I started using it as a weight vest for CrossFit.” Hinkson explains that the extra layer lets you easily add weight to movements where it’s impractical to hold a barbell or dumbbells, like push-ups, pull-ups or running.

Caution: Heavy When Weighted

It’s important to use good judgment and ease into weighted training — especially for newbies. “I would start conservatively and limit vest work at first to someone that has at least six months of training experience,” Hinkson says. “Walk or jog an easy mile or do three sets of weighted pull-ups and push-ups. See how you recover from that, then up the time, sets and reps accordingly.”

Adding resistance to poor technique will only exacerbate the problem, so make sure you’ve got your form down, Williams says. “I don’t recommend that someone train with a weighted vest until he or she can perform basic bodyweight movements,” he says. “Adding any piece of fitness equipment without establishing your foundation will only make your imbalances worse which is when injuries happen.”

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The Weight Vest CrossFit Workout

When you get your form down and become comfortable with the added pounds, it’s time to put your strength and conditioning to the test.

“There are only a few CrossFit workouts that require a vest, and they’re all Hero WODs, [a workout of the day named after people who have fallen in the line of duty],” Hinkson says. Here’s one bodyweight WOD that’ll get way more intense with a weight vest. (If you’re up to the task, Hinkson recommends a 20-pound vest.)

Weight Vest Workout: The Brenton CrossFit WOD
Photo: Pond5

Time to In-Vest?

Some gyms will keep a vest or two on hand, otherwise you’ll have to shop around.“You want to be able to move in your vest as naturally as possible — without having to focus on constantly adjusting it throughout your workout,” Williams says.

Compression vests are one solution, as they hold weight especially close to the body and minimize movement. The Matrixx Power Suit ($500 for men’s, $400 for women’s) is a combination of a weighted compression vest and weighted forearm and calf sleeves, adding up to 15 pounds. If you want your weight to sit mostly against your core, Titin Tech offers an eight-pound compression shirt ($250) and four-and-a-half-pound compression shorts. Looking for a more versatile option? The HumanX by Harbinger 40-pound Weight Vest ($150) can go from two to 40-pounds in two-pound increments. It doesn’t offer the same compression as the others, but it allow you to up the scale more (and for half the price).

Also, consider the comfort of the people working around you — you’re going to be doing some sweating in this piece, so it’ll help if you can clean the vest from time to time. “This will assure you keep your skin safe and you don’t smell offensive to those you’re training around,” says Williams. “You do not want to be that person in the gym.”

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