Weight vest workouts are nothing new. In fact, to some extent, they’ve been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. You know all those knights in shining armor? They weren’t just wearing weighted vests, they were wearing weighted suits.
And you thought you were so cutting edge.
Luckily today’s weight vests don’t consist of 50 pounds of awkward, clanging metal. Most vests are sleek, body-hugging numbers covered in pockets that you can fill with specially-designed weight plates to increase resistance to help make bodyweight exercises more challenging.
Why You Should Use a Weight Vest When Warming Up
There’s a specific instance in which weight vest training appears to make some immediate and beneficial difference to performance: Your warmup routine.
I tracked down three different studies (here, here, and here) published between 2006 and 2013, each of which looked at a different demographic of individuals performing different types of exercise. In each case, wearing a weighted vest during a warmup appeared to improve jumping performance and running economy.
Unfortunately, because each study was looking at different measurements and using different amounts of weight when utilizing the weighted vests, it’s almost impossible to draw hard and fast conclusions about when, where and how (or more specifically, how much), exactly, you should use weighted vests.
But if you’re looking for an edge, particularly when it comes to speed and power, there’s no reason not to incorporate a weighted vest into your warmup.
Rules of Engagement
While weight vest training is considered safe, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Ease your way in. Because much of the weight of the vest is supported by your shoulders and back, it’s a good idea to start light and gradually add more weight. Consider starting with just 2% of your body weight.
Don’t go too heavy. Even though some weighted vests can hold as much as 150-pounds, there’s no reason to load up – there’s simply no evidence to indicate more is better. After you’ve grown accustomed to wearing your vest, gradually increase the weight to somewhere between 5-10% of your body weight. If you weigh 200-pounds, there’s no reason to ever wear a vest more than 20 pounds.
Keep it close. Tighten up your vest so it sits close to your body and won’t bounce or shift noticeably when performing exercises. The more it fits like a second skin, the less likely you are to make changes to natural movement economy.
Start with basic body weight exercises. We’ve all seen the crazy weight vest workouts where people perform insane plyometrics while wearing a vest. If one of your ultimate goals is to follow suit with your own awesome plyometrics, great, but start with the basics and focus on form. If you add weight to a challenging move and your form isn’t perfect? You’re only going to mess up your form more, opening yourself up to a greater likelihood of injury.
Weight Vest Workout Routine #1: 30 Second Cardio Circuit
This warmup routine should be done when you’re about to perform a running or sprint-based cardio workout. Give yourself about 20 yards to work with and perform each exercise for 30 seconds before continuing to the next exercise. Repeat the circuit four times.
High knee running: Run forward at a steady pace, pumping your arms and bringing your knees as high as you can in front of your body with each step.
Grapevine: Perform this classic warmup exercise by traveling laterally. Start by stepping laterally with your right leg, then cross your left leg behind it. Step your right leg out laterally again, then cross your left leg in front of it. Continue this lateral movement, traveling as fast as you can, swinging your arms as you go to help support the movement. Alternate sides after every circuit.
Lateral slides: Again working laterally, squat low to fire up your glutes and quads, and stay light on your feet to move quickly. Step your right leg to the side, bring your left leg to meet it, then step out to the right again. Don’t cross your legs as you slide. Switch your starting leg after every circuit.
Power burpee: For this burpee variation, you’ll start in a ready position before squatting down and planting your hands on the ground. Jump your feet behind you to a high plank and lower your body all the way to the ground. Press yourself back to high plank and jump your feet back to start. If you can, leap up into the air, pulling your knees high in front of you, touching your knees with your hands before landing. If the jump is too much, skip it and simply return to standing.
Mountain climbers: Start in a high plank position and draw one knee toward your chest, planting the ball of your foot on the ground. Hop your legs up and switch their position. Continue this hopping-switching movement for the 30-second split.
Weight Vest Workout #2: 60 Second Basic Burner
This series of warmup exercises is perfect before a strength training workout as it’s designed to target all of your major muscle groups through dynamic, functional exercises. Perform each of the following for 60 seconds. Repeat the circuit twice.
Stair climbs or step ups: Using a set of stairs or a single step, simply walk up the stairs or step up and down off the step for the first 60-seconds.
Prisoner squat: With your hands behind your head, your feet shoulder-width apart, perform a body weight squat for 60-seconds, focusing on keeping your weight in your heels, your torso tall and upright.
Spider pushup: Fire up your upper body and core with 60-seconds of spider pushups. As you bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor, draw your right knee to your right elbow. Place your right foot back on the ground as you press yourself back to start. Repeat on the other side and continue for the duration.
Side plank hold: Set up in a side plank, your right forearm under your right shoulder, your feet stacked and your hips lifted so your body forms a straight line. Hold the position for the full 60 seconds. If you must, release and rest every 20 seconds before continuing. Switch sides on the second circuit.
Modified pullup: Using a low bar for support, grasp the bar and step your legs underneath it, extending your arms and legs fully so your shoulders are under the bar. From this position, bend your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your chest toward the bar. Lower yourself steadily to the starting position and continue for the full 60 seconds.