The Complete Runners Guide To Weighted Vests

Two friends run together at sunset

If you’re thinking about adding a weighted vest into your workout schedule but don’t how to get started, you’re in the right place.

Weight vests have gathered a lot of steam over the past few years as a resistance training tool.

Strapping on one will instantly amp up your training intensity, whether you’re doing sprints or bodyweight exercises for resistance.

Fyi, it’s not only for soldiers. The vests are also available virtually everywhere and can be bought at sporting goods stores and online.

But when it comes to choosing the best weighted vest, there are so many features, benefits, and safety concerns to consider before using one.

Fret no more.

To help you find and the ideal weighted vest for running (and training in general), today’s guide will put you on the right path.

By the end, you’ll learn more about:

  • The benefits of training with weighted vests
  • Types of weighted vest
  • Different uses of weighted vests
  • How to choose a weight vest
  • How to start training
  • And so much more.

Sounds great?

Let’s get started.

What is A Weighted Vest?

If you have no idea what weighted vests are all about, know that’s not overly complicated.

As the name implies, weighted vests consist of a vest-like garment that’s worn over clothing during training for increased cardio and resistance conditioning.

Since it’s harder to exercise while using the vest, your body starts to adapt to the extra resistance, making it easier to move around when you are not wearing the vest.

Weighted vests work the same way as ankle weights, but the extra load is centered on your core instead of your ankles.

The most popular design for a weight vest is similar to armor or life jacket with many small pockets, front and back.  These pockets can be filled with small weights such as steel weights (specifically designed to fit inside), sand, and so on.

The vest sits over the shoulders, back, chest, and core like any vest you’d wear under a suit or a life vest for swimming.

This helps keep the weight secure, preventing any moving around or shifting with minimal bounce while working out, whether you’re running, doing intense bodyweight exercises, or whatever.

The load intensity varies by product. Most weighted vests can accommodate additional weight for extra resistance.

The heavier the load, the more resistance you’ll experience. How much weight you should use is a question I’ll answer later on.

Most experts recommend starting training with a vest that’s about 5 percent of body weight, then work up from there. How you choose to train with one depends on your goals and fitness. Again, more on this later.

But what exactly does a weight vest accomplishes? Does it help you increase strength? Lose weight? Improve Your endurance?

The answer is, of course, yes. But it also largely depends on how you use it.

Let’s unpack this first.

The Benefits of Using Weighted Vests

Here are a few things you stand to gain when working out with a weighted vest.

Increased Intensity

The main benefit of wearing a weight vest is to force your body to work harder during exercise.

Whether you choose to run, do bodyweight exercise, or whatever, using a weighted vest will amplify your effort, triggering further stress adaptation.

Improved Cardiovascular Function

One of the measurements of cardiovascular function is VO2max.

VO2 Max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that your body’s cardiovascular system can absorb during training.

The harder you push yourself, the more oxygen is needed to sustain your activity.

By using a weight vest, you force your muscles to work harder, which increases oxygen needs. This, in turn, translates to an improved cardiovascular function in order to sustain the increased load.

Improved Speed

If you’re looking to improve your speed or athletic explosiveness in general, using a weighted vest is a step in the right direction.

Don’t take my word for it. Research has reported that long-distance runners were able to increase their speed by roughly three percent after weighted vest training.

When you put on a weighted vest, you force your body to exert more force during your training. Once you remove the added weight, you’ll notice a big difference in your speed and power.

Burn More Calories

The increased intensity translates to higher energy expenditure. That’s why wearing a weighted vest burns a lot more calories than performing the same routine without the added weight.

For example, let’s consider someone weighing 160 pounds and running at a challenging pace (9:00 minute per mile) for 30 minutes. According to science, they’ll burn roughly 460 calories during their session.

Another person weighing 180 pounds and running at exactly the same pace and time will burn nearly 500 calories. The differences may seem minor, but over time they do add up.

Why is the 180-pound runner burning more calories?

. And according to simple physics, it takes much more energy to move a heavier object.

When you’re training with a weighted vest, you’re adding more bulk to your body, making it heavier than it should be. For this reason, your body exerts more calories to keep pushing you forward.

Increased Bone Density

Wearing a weighted vest not only improves your cardiovascular and muscular gains but might also increase your bone density.

Any type of resistance helps improve bone density and strength—wearing a weighted vest is all the same. A Weight vest allows more bone remodeling.

Again, don’t take my word for it. Research has revealed that performing regular exercise while wearing a weighted vest may help prevent hip bone loss in postmenopausal women.

Better Options

Weighted vests are safer than any weighted clothing options.

For example, strapping on wrist, ankle, hand, or ankle weights places direct stress on the area applied. This not only increases injury risk but also impacts the way you run.

On the other hand, as I alluded to earlier, a weighted vest load is centered on your body. This allows for a better load distribution throughout your body which helps you maintain a proper posture.

The Downsides Of Using A Weighted Vest For Training

Just like any exercise equipment, weighted vests have certain downsides as well, which are key to pay attention to.

All in all, the risk degree depends on how you use the weighted vest.

Bad Form And Injuries

The main risk is that training with your technique. Bad exercise forms, such as weak posture, curved back, or whatever, can strain your muscles and joints and likely cause a tear or injury under the extra weight.

Not only that, strapping too much weight too soon could put stress on your muscles and joints before they can adapt, which results in injury. Bad form combine with weight does your spine no good. Your natural spine curvatures are designed to hold a certain load, but with bad form, the curvatures ain’t there anymore. Back pain is the main symptom.

What’s more?

A weighted vest may also throw you out of balance if you do not have it properly secured.

Get the technique first. Once you have, move to heavier loads. Don’t put the cart before the horse. It doesn’t work that way in the real world. Sorry!

Make Injuries Worse

Using a weighted vest can backfire if you have any current issues in your weight-bearing joints and muscles.

The added load may exacerbate existing conditions, and you don’t want that. This might be a back injury, knee pain, or whatever

Still want to use a weighted vest? Then at the very least, get the green light from your doctor or simply use a lightweight. Stop whenever you feel the pain getting worse.

Not For Everyone

Although weighted vests have a to offer, they’re not everyone. In fact, you can only start using a weighted vet once you already a base and want more from your workouts.

Wearing a weighted vest can stress your cardiovascular and musculature system—the reason why it works in the first place.

Keep in mind that if you have a history of hips, knees, feet, or ankle injuries, every additional pound puts more stress on those joints, which, in turn, increases injury risk. So tread carefully.

How to Choose A Running Weighted Vest

There are various products on the market, and each one of them has specific designs to suit different training goals.

Some brands tend to be unisex, some feature adjustable straps that can be customized according to the user’s preferences, whereas others are available in a one-size-fits-all style

So how do you make sense out of all this? Keep on reading.

Here are a few of the measures for choosing the best weight vest for you.

Choose The Right Weight

If this is your first time using a weighted vest, start small.

There is a reason why weighted vests come in various weight options, ranging from 1o pound to over 80 pounds. Everyone has different needs and training goals—runners are no exception.

Pick a load that will push you but still allows you to stay within your fitness skill.

When starting out, I’d recommend a vest of 5 to 10 pounds for both HIIT training and running.

Have no idea where to start?

  • Get a weighted vest that’s five percent of your weight. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, that roughly eight 8 to 12 pounds.
  • Strap it on and hop on a treadmill and start jogging at a mild speed for 15 to 20 minutes, then see.

This will help make sure that your speed and intensity stay consistent. It also provides you the opportunity to work on your breathing while using a vest, which is a skill in itself.

When using a weighted vest, you will want to learn how to breathe with the added load on your chest and core, so it is better to do it in a safe and controlled environment.

As long as you stay within a low to mild training intensity, feel free to use the weighted vest throughout your workout.

Keep in mind that weighted vests are workout equipment, not torture devices.

Progress Slowly

Proper progression is the key. Treat training with a weighed vested the same way you’d a free weight. If it doesn’t feel hard anymore, increase the weight.

Start with an extra five pounds and build from there.

Keep increasing the weight by three to five percent every three to four weeks until you reach at least 25 percent. Go beyond that, and you’ll definitely increase your injury risk.

Get The Right Fit

Improper fit is a common cause of injury.

So before you go sprinting or perform bodyweight exercises in a weighted vest, be sure to get the right fit. The vest should sit snugly to your body, snug but not too tight that it restricts breathing or movement.

It should not, at any moment, bounce around too much while you exercise.

What’s more?

The weight should also feel equally distributed over your torso and trunk.

All in all, I’d recommend that get an adjustable weighted vest. These work very well thanks to the straps allow you to adjust the weighted vest exactly to your body shape.

Just like when you buy running shoes, when shopping for a weighted vest, try on different shapes and styles and see which one fits the best.

Based on Activity

You can follow these recommendations based on activity type.

For Running

When it comes to running a weighted vest, you’ll want a vest of lower weight capacity and with reflective material.

As a rule, start out with a vest at 5 percent of your total body weight.

I’d recommend wearing one during a long walk to figure out if you can handle the cardio load before you start adding it to your runs.

What’s more?

Choose a compact weighted vest that fits snugly when walking, jogging, and running. It should also allow for a wide range of motion.

For Bodyweight Training

If you are looking for a vest designed for building muscle and strength training, your best option is to go for an adjustable weighted vest that you can grow into.

The vest should feature a slender design and plenty of ventilation, so you don’t draw in your own sweat while exercising. It should also feature plenty of pockets and weights for added resistance.

The durability of the vest material is another important factor to consider.

Just keep in mind that these usually tend to be less comfortable to wear for a long time.

You will likely get more bang with a vest that tops out at about 80 pounds.

Secure The Weight

The last thing you want when using a weight vest is to get knocked off and lose your balance. This often occurs if the weighted vest is not preload and the load isn’t evenly spread on various parts of your torso and trunk.

To prevent this, make sure that the weight is properly secure and evenly distributed around your body. Any shifting or jerking of the weight while training could trip you over and result in injury. And you don’t want that.

Consider Your Body Type

As I explained earlier, weighted vests feature various designs and styles. Some are made for thinner trainees, while others are made for people with broader and wider shoulders. Pick the one that suits your body type.

What’s more?

Some weighted vests are made especially for women’s breasts and curves.

Pay attention to design and dimensions. This is key for your comfort and proper range of motion.

If you’re a woman, consider getting an X design weighted vest as this will better support your chest nicely and are ideal for optimal range of motion. Make sure that the vest doesn’t smother your breasts. Any excess fat jiggling around your armpit or over your breast indicates improper fit.

Material

When choosing a weighted vest, make sure it’s made of material that can withstand wear and tear.

As a rule, the vest should be both sweat and tear-resistant.

Worried about sweating? Choose a weighted vest with more ventilation and breathability.

All in all, a thinner weighted vest that covers less of your torso will ensure that you stay relatively dry and comfortable during training.

Listen to your body

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do to prevent injury is to pay attention to your body.

If something feels—or seems—off, stop doing it.  Consult your doctor if you have any chronic muscle or joint pains. Better be safe than sorry.

How To Use it

You got many options when it comes to training with a weighted vest—you can walk, run, sprint, or simply do bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, etc.

Here are three weighted vest workout routines to try.

The Weighted Vest Sprint Workout

Looking to increase your running speed? Then here’s how to use a weighted vest to help you achieve exactly that.

First, begin with a proper 10-minute dynamic warm-up. Some of you might need more time for warm-up, take your time. Then, without using the vest, perform a 2-3 sprint at maximum speed for 20-30 seconds.

Next, put on the vest and perform 4-5 sprints, running as fast as you can, for 20-30 seconds.  Then perform two more sprints but without the added weight (can you feel the difference?).

Finish the workout with a 5-minute slow jog cool down to bring your heart down to normal.

And that’s it.

Start with a weight that’s heavy enough to be challenging, but make sure it doesn’t move around.

As you get stronger, slowly add the smelly amount of weight—just make sure to keep good form the entire time.

The Weighted Vest CrossFit WOD

I believe a huge part of weighted vest success can be credited to the rise of CrossFit training programs over the last few years.

That’s why I have decided to add this CrossFit workout.

Perform the following exercises while using a weighted vest, and do as many as you can in 30 minutes. Record your rep count and try to beat it next time.

  • 200-meter run
  • 20 push-ups
  • 30 squats
  • Max pull-up
  • Ten burpees

Weighted Vest Long Walks

If you have never used a weighted vest before, your best course of action is to strap one on a walk or hike. By doing this, you will get your body used to the added load without compromising your form.

Focus on using proper arm motion and a more powerful stride. Your walking form is vital

How far you go depends on your pace and fitness level. I’d suggest 45 to 60 minutes if you are just starting out. Do more if you can do more but remember to stay safe throughout. Don’t chew more than you can swallow.

What’s more?

Focus on your core. All of your movement should generate from the core, so you should keep it activated while you walk—or perform any other form of exercise. Core activation will ease the work on your spine.

Conclusion

There you have it! Adding weight vest training to your workout routine shouldn’t be that complicated. It’s just a matter of choosing the best weight vest, then following sensible training guidelines with progression. The rest is just details.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

David D.