Weighted Vest Benefits Found In Sports Performance Research

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In this article I discuss the benefits weighted vests have demonstrated in several sports performance studies.

The main benefits a weighted vest can provide are:

  • Improved bone cell growth
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Increased calorie burning
  • Improved running & athletic performance
  • Increased strength, particularly leg strength

Training with a weighted vest improved athletic & functional performance in a number of areas, and I cover them all here.

Importantly, the benefits provided by the weighted vest training were passed on not only to athletes, but to regular people too, including seniors.

 

Weighted vest workouts included too

Below the research studies, the article has a section on several ways to get a great weighted vest workout, along with a list of weighted vest bodyweight exercises.

I  also included a bonus section for advanced workout people, focused on training for increasing one’s strength through the use of plyometric drills wearing a weighted vest.

This strength study was done with a NCAA Division 1 football team and achieved amazing results, and I explain their training program in full.

 

 

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Science resources included

As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.

 

Research Studies On Weighted Vest Benefits

Weighted Vest Benefits - sports science research - heydayDo image

 

Here are the research studies I mentioned earlier.

I provide the % of bodyweight that the vests weighed in each study if it was listed.

I grouped them into these categories:

  • Bone Cell Growth vs. Osteoporosis
  • Cardio & Calories
  • Running & Athletic Performance
  • Strength

 

Weight vests help bone cell growth

There are encouraging signs that wearing a weighted vest while exercising can join the fight against bone density loss – osteopenia – and its more severe version, osteoporosis.

It’s been shown in scientific research that strength/resistance training is effective at slowing bone cell loss.

In some cases, strength/resistance training has reversed this process by stimulating new bone cell growth.

Exercising with a weighted vest is a form of resistance training, thanks to the additional load in the vest.

 

The findings of these three studies support a weighted vest’s use in this area.

Here, researchers concluded:

“A 5-year program of weighted vest plus jumping exercise maintains hip Bone Mineral Density by preventing significant bone loss in older postmenopausal women”. 

 

In this study, participants with osteoporosis who performed aerobic exercise wearing weighted vests benefited from:

  • stimulated bone synthesis & decreased bone resorption
  • significant fat decrease and fat-free mass increase
  • significant balance improvement

Vest weight: 4-8% of body weight

 

And here’s another weighted vest + aerobic exercise study.

After 12 weeks researchers noted that the group exercising with the weighted vest benefitted from:

  • NTX levels (a serum marker where a high number indicates a greater risk for fracture) decreasing by 15%
  • a 40% improvement in ankle plantar-flexion strength
  • Significantly decreased body fat & increased fat-free mass (like the previous study indicated)

Vest weight: 15% of body weight (at its max in the study’s last stage)


 

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Improves cardio capacity & calorie burn

Published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, this weighted vest study using endurance athletes stated that those with the vests:

“improved running time to exhaustion, improved vertical velocity when running up stairs, & increased VO2” 

(VO2 – the body’s ability to use oxygen).

Vest weight: 9-10%

 

This study of treadmill walkers compared metabolic responses between those with weighted vests and those without.

Here’s their conclusion, with my ‘translation’ in parantheses:

“Using a weighted vest can increase the

  • metabolic costs (amount of calories burned)
  • relative exercise intensity (oxygen consumption)
  • loading of the skeletal system (stimulation of bone mass growth)

during walking.”

Vest weight: 10-20%

 

Here’s a similar treadmill walking study. This one was commissioned by the American Council on Exercise. Experimenting with vests of different weights, the investigators noted that

“the 15% (of the user’s body weight) vest was needed to yield a significant increase in metabolic cost” (calories burned).

Vest weight: 10-15%

 

muscular man doing push ups wearing a camo colored weighted vest

 

Weighted vests improve athletic performance

Three clinical studies in this section.

The first two here tested weighted vests as an addition to the warmup routine for athletes.

In both cases, the weighted vest group outperformed the control groups, who warmed up in their usual manner.

 

This one used well-trained distance runners, and stated that

“The weighted-vest condition resulted in a very-large enhancement of peak running speed and a large improvement in running economy”.

Vest weight: 20% of bodyweight

 

A study of female high school athletes compared athletic performances following two different warmup routines: one used dynamic stretches with a weighted vest, the other was a standard static stretching routine.

Both vertical jump and long jump performances were “significantly greater” by the weighted vest group.

Vest weight: 2-6% of bodyweight (the 2% group performed the best)

 

And here, researchers looked at the effect that training with a weighted vest had on running performance (max speed & time) in the 50m sprint.

Depending on the different vest weights, the weighted vest group outperformed the non-vest runners by 5-10%.

Vest weight: 8-15% of bodyweight

 

 

Weighted vest used to increase strength

One 6-week study involved members of the Texas Tech University football team.

I provide the entire training program for this strength study down near the end of the article, if you’re interested.

As I said at the top, the results were impressive.

 

The group using the weighted vests while performing plyometric drills in addition to their weight lifting program had much greater strength increases over the course of the study, compared to the control group that only weight lifted.

Vest weight: 10-12% of bodyweight

 

 

A strength study using senior citizen participants over a 12-week period tested leg power, balance, and mobility.

The weighted vest group outperformed the control group in all three areas, showing

  • “significant improvements in leg power & gait speed” 

and

  • “significantly greater changes in chair stand time” (a balance measurement).

 

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Workout ideas next

I list several weighted vest workout suggestions below.

If you need a vest, I product-tested several of the most popular models and wrote about it in this article here on heydayDo.

The best of the bunch comes from CrossFit® equipment kings Rogue Fitness; it’s their excellent TacTec Plate Carrier…which you can check out in action here:

Rogue TacTec Plate Carrier - heydayDo image

 

 

Weighted Vest Workouts

I’ll share several general ideas on ways to put a weighted vest to use for your fitness benefit.

First though, as a gentle reminder:

  • use an appropriate weight for your fitness level and the type of activity
  • make sure the weighted vest is sitting snug & comfortable
  • always use the correct form for all exercises, including walking & running posture
  • for bodyweight routines, establish a workout baseline (of sets & reps) of what you can do while using good form – without the weighted vest first
  • as this is a type of weight training – you must allow for the appropriate amount of recovery time between workouts
  • if you have any health issues at all, get your doctor’s OK before you begin any workout program

 

OK, here are a few weighted vest workout ideas for you.

Tailor them to your goals, make up your own program…that’s what I do.

 

Walking With A Weighted Vest

There are a number of benefits of walking with a weighted vest, and some have been mentioned earlier in this article.

Take your daily walk’s intensity up a notch by wearing a weighted vest.

As with regular walking, a brisk pace is preferred over a leisurely one.

 

Wearing A Weight Vest While Running

The same goes for your running routine.

As studies with runners have shown, improvements in cardio endurance, VO2 max, running speed & running economy are some of the benefits of running with a weighted vest.

 

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Bodyweight Exercises With A Weighted Vest

There are several bodyweight exercises that are well-suited for building your own weighted vest workout. Here are some…

 

Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises

Push Ups, Clap Push Ups

Pull Ups

Dips (use the edge of a secure chair or low table if you don’t have a power tower or belong to a gym – but save your shoulders, don’t go too deep)

Planks

 

Lower Body Bodyweight Exercises

Squats, Split Squats, Sumo Squats, Side Squats

Lunges, Side Lunges

Single Leg Bridge

 

Plyometric Exercises

  • Box Jumps
  • Jump Squats
  • Lateral Jumps
  • Jump rope
  • Hopping
  • Skipping
  • Bounding
  • Burpees

 

Active Warmup Bodyweight Exercises

  • Jog In Place
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Jog In Place With High Knees

Weighted vest research summary

There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of the weighted vest, and I’ve presented some of those results here in this article.

As a review, the four main areas of weighted vest benefits are:

  • Stimulating bone cell growth, even in older people
  • Improving running & athletic performance
  • Increasing aerobic capacity & calorie burning
  • Increasing muscle strength, especially leg strength

 

Benefits spread across a range of different groups

The studies we looked at here demonstrated how the weighted vest has benefitted a wide range of people.

Improvements in physical performance occurred with groups as diverse as older people with osteoporosis to strength training football players, from elite runners to a girls’ high school track team.

 

Another vest benefit: it’s easy to boost workout intensity

The weighted vest is a quick & convenient way to add intensity to many physical activities, including walking, jogging, body weight exercises…even household chores.

Intensity added to resistance exercise will signal your muscles and they will grow & get stronger.

This is turn will boost your body’s metabolism and it will become more efficient at burning calories.

As your fitness improves, so will your health-related quality of life, both for your mind as well as your body.

 

If you’re interested, I did a hands-on product evaluation of several weighted vests and shared my opinions on the best of the bunch in this article here on heydayDo.

 

 

Weighted vest benefits: bonus material

Vests & plyometric drills increase strength

The Texas Tech University research paper I shared earlier in this article was a 6-week strength training study using 90 or so members of their football team as the participants.

It was designed to determine:

  • if strength gains increased when plyometric drills were added to the strength training program, and/or

if strength gains increased when plyometric drills while wearing a weighted vest were added to the strength training program, and if so, by how much.

 

Amazing results

I was amazed at the results, especially since the study was only six weeks in length.

So I thought I’d share the study’s results with you, as well as the strength training & plyometric drill programs used in the study.

If you’re interested in making strength gains, especially leg strength, this program may be worth a look.

 

The results in a nutshell: 

  • The group using the weighted vests while performing plyometric drills in addition to their weightlifting program had greater strength increases over the course of the study vs. the control group that only did the weightlifting program.
  • The “plyo with no vest + weightlifting” group also got stronger than the weightlifting-only group, just not as much as the weighted vest group.
  • The weightlifting-only group got stronger too. Again, just not as much as the other two groups.

This tells me that the 6-week strength training portion of the program used in this study was effective by itself and is worth checking out.

 

Note:

Beginner weight lifters often post big gains in strength initially. 

However, these participants were not new to weightlifting.

The study notes that all were experienced lifters, not surprising since they all played for a prominent Division I collegiate football team.

 

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The strength training exercises

All participants were tested for 1-rep maxes before & after the study in the following four exercises:

  • Athletic Squat (start at 70 degree flexion, go to full standing)
  • Bench Press ( with a 1-2 second pause at the bottom)
  • Power Clean (pure, with no squat)
  • Military Press (seated, so no leg energy)

These were the same exercises that were part of the six week strength training program.

And these were the only four weightlifting exercises performed during those six weeks.

 

musuclar man doing pull ups wearing a camo colored weighted vest

 

The numbers

For the sake of brevity I’m just going to compare the “weightlifting + weighted vest” plyometrics guys with the weightlifting-only guys.

The following chart shows the lb. increases for both groups’ 1-rep maxes following the 6-week strength training program:

 

Increases in Pounds (lb.) Weight Training + Vest Plyometrics Weight Training Only
Squat 131 lb. 65 lb.
Bench 49 lb. 35 lb.
Military Press 35 lb. 25 lb.
Power Clean 35 lb. 24 lb.

 

Look at those gains in the squat poundages. In just six weeks.

By the way, the “plyos without vests” group finished in between these two for all lifts, and closer to the weightlifting-only group’s numbers.

 

The Weight Lifting Routine

Weightlifting days were Monday, Wednesday, & Friday.

There was a set/rep routine that was performed for three lifting days in a row, and then the fourth lifting day was a “max” set/rep routine.

This pattern was maintained throughout the study.

Cycle 1 Mon Wed Fri      Mon (max day)

Cycle 2 Wed Fri Mon     Wed (max day)

Cycle 3 Fri Mon Wed     Fri (max day)

…and so on, for 6 weeks.

 

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Their 3 Regular Days’ Sets & Reps Routine

5 sets x 5 reps for all 4 exercises = 20 sets/day

Poundages for each set were based on % of 1-rep maxes: set1 65% of 1-rep max, set2 70%, set3 75%, set4 75%, set5 75%.

The 1-rep maxes taken before the 6-week study began were used to establish the weight used for Cycle 1 lifts.

For example, if 200 lb. was the starting 1-rep max for an exercise, the 3 Regular Day routine for Cycle 1 would look like this:

3 Regular Days

If 200 lbs. is 1-rep max % of 1-rep max weight used
set 1 5x 65% 130
set 2 5x 70% 140
set 3 5x 75% 150
set 4 5x 75% 150
set 5 5x 75% 150

 

Day 4 Max Day Routine

Poundages still based on 1-rep max, but with different set/rep routine: set1 5x 65%, 3x 80%, 1x 90%, 1x 100%, 1x 105%

If the 105% lift is successful, then a set at 110% will be attempted. If it fails then the 105% lift becomes the new max to use on the next Cycle, and all set weights adjust upward accordingly.

If 110% was successful, another 5% of weight is added and another 1-rep set attempted. And so on, until failure.

Using our example – On Cycle 1’s 4th day (the max day), with 200 lb. still our 1-rep max, the routine looked like this:

Day 4 Max Day

set 1 5x 65% 130
set 2 3x 80% 160
set 3 1x 90% 180
set 4 1x 100% 200
set 5 1x 105% 210
set 6 1x 110% 220

if needed

When failure occurs, lifting for that exercise is done for the day.

The last successful 1-rep lift becomes the next cycle’s max weight that all sets’ poundages are based on.

 

 

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The plyometric drills wearing a weighted vest

For the groups assigned to the plyometrics, the drills were performed on all lifting days following the weight training portion.

There were three plyometric drills.

Each drill consisted of a few sets with rest intervals in between sets.

Each drill took 5-6 minutes to complete, including the rest intervals.

The vest weight load for the plyometric drills was 10-12% of bodyweight.

I weigh 180-185, so I’d load up 20 lb. in my Cross101.

 

Drill #1 – Running Drill

5 sets x 30 seconds each. 30 seconds recovery between sets.

“Subject ran in place with emphasis on: high knee lift & relaxation as well as good running style. Each set was done at a slightly higher intensity level until the 4th & 5th sets were ‘all out’ efforts.”

 

Drill #2 – Vertical Depth Jumps

3 sets x 10 down/up jumps each. 1 minute recovery between sets.

“The objective of this drill was to jump down from an 18 inch bench to the ground level facing the bench and explode back up to the bench. This was done 10 consecutive times to complete 1 set. Three sets of 10 reps were completed. The subjects were asked to jump with all the intensity they had. ”

 

Drill #3 – Horizontal Jump Drill

3 sets of 75 – 100 feet worth of horizontal jumps. 1 minute rest between sets.

“The objective was to bound 3 consecutive times across the exercise floor (25-33 feet) trying to jump horizontally as far as possible while under control. After crossing the floor a 3rd time, a 1 minute rest interval was taken. Three sets of 3 horizontal bounds were performed with a 1 minute rest between sets.”

 

Well, there you have it: a 6-week strength training & plyometric drill program incorporating a weighted vest.

A program that delivered some impressive strength gains, particularly in their legs.

 

 

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Wrapping up

I hope my investigation of sports science’s weighted vest research is of some benefit to you, and that the weighted vest strength training program is helpful too.

I wish you well on your fitness journey; let’s go.

– greg

January 2021

 

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About heydayDo

heydayDo author Greg Simon
Hi I’m Greg Simon. Fitness training & nutrition researching since 1982. Organic food & wine grower. Surfer. Congenital heart disease survivor (so far). Read more…
heydayDo is my “fitness after 50” website that’s about embracing the physically active lifestyle as we get older.
 
I write about the fitness and health research I’ve found concerning the quality of life benefits that exercise and good nutrition provide.
 
When I get curious about something, I’ll dig into whatever sports science & medical facts there are on the topic to learn what’s real & what’s only hype. I also post my experiences product-testing & evaluating home gym equipment & fitness supplements.
 
 It’s an information-sharing, personal opinion blog of mine.
 
So if you’re looking for medical or nutritional advice, please consult with your doctor or health professional for that, since heydayDo does not provide medical advice.