Weighted Vests – Perfect for Low Impact Cardio?

Call them battle armour or weighted vests. Actually, it doesn’t really matter what you call them because the end result remains the same. Weighted vests make for the best low impact cardio that you’re not doing.

Man jogging on the beach wearing a weighted vest

It’s true that you often see bro-dudes wearing them in the gym and making sure everyone notices. That’s one of the many reasons it’s easy to write off the idea of wearing a vest as overkill. The truth is, in some cases, they might be too much. (This is especially true if you don a vest to make your workout go faster. Spoiler: it doesn’t work like that.) But, when you use them the right way, say for a low-key low-impact active rest day, you’re going to reap all kinds of benefits. Let’s take a look at how and when to wear a vest and a sample low-impact cardio session.

But wait, what exactly is a weighted vest, and what are the benefits?

Weight vests are exactly as they sound: a vest that has added weight nestled inside of it, worn during cardio conditioning and explosive movement exercises. Weights vary depending on your own personal preference and are either in the shape of plates (like those found in military/police body armour) or as bars (found most often in fitness-centric vest). No matter the shape, the result is the same: more weight on your frame, which forces your body to work harder to perform movements.

Benefits

Training with weight vests is especially useful for Olympic lifters, cross-functional athletes, and power athletes who want to acclimate their body to working under heavier loads. We often think about wearing vests for squat jumps and box jumps or sprints to work on strength and explosive power. But there are plenty of other instances in which wearing a weight vest is extra productive.

Increase and develop strength, endurance, and cardio can all be achieved while wearing a vest. Then again, you can achieve all of those benchmarks without wearing one. So what’s the point? Well, adding mass influences the way your muscles stretch, strain, and stress during a workout. Added weight leads to faster energy depletion, which ultimately changes your breathing patterns and how much oxygen you need to perform the movements. This needed oxygen, also called VO2 max, ultimately retrains your body to adjust to the new stressors, and over time your heart becomes stronger (which increases cardio and endurance).

Do they really work?

As with all things fitness, your personal experience with vests is going to be measured by your own personal metrics. In other words, the science about the benefits of vests is still very mixed.

Some studies show that wearing a vest can help with VO2 max, as well as speed and the time it takes to reach fatigue. That’s promising, right? Other studies have shown that wearing a vest doesn’t do much more for you than you’d experience during a regular training session. There are so many variables in the research relating to vests and their benefits that it’s impossible to say conclusively whether wearing one will make you more explosive in the gym.

How to Incorporate Vests to Your Active Rest Days

No matter how hard you push in the gym or for how many years you’ve been lifting the barbell, your muscles will eventually experience fatigue, and you’ll need to take a rest day. Rather than having a lie-in on the sofa in front of the telly, it’s a much better idea to get out and move. This concept of active rest allows your body to begin recovering from your lifts and primes you for the next workout.

Active rest will mean something different to everyone, but generally involves something low-impact that doesn’t place a lot of stress on the body. The most simplistic form of active rest is walking. When you wear a vest while actively recovering, you achieve two things. First, you’re working on your VO2 max, and secondly, you’re increasing your caloric burn without ramping up the intensity of your “workout.”

Weight bests load weight directly onto your shoulders and upper body, so they tax your respiratory muscles faster, which makes it difficult to breathe, so your heart has to work harder and practice working on your autonomic nervous function to counter a fight-or-flight response. That means you’re getting a great calorie burn, strengthening your mental muscles, and getting a metabolism boost – all from walking around.

Risks

As with anything fitness-related, there are some risks you should consider when wearing a vest for your recovery days. Adding weight will change your center of gravity, which can alter your natural gait. If you strap on a vest and feel like your steps are out of sync, then you might not be ready to carry so much weight. Lightening your load can help improve your personal body mechanics, and then you’ll be able to move on to carrying more weight over time. The great thing is that your body adapts quickly and will learn how to distribute the weight properly.

How to Train Properly With a Weighted Vest and When to Wear One

Incorporating weighted vests into your active recovery days gives you the option of doing something new, fun, and different. Vest training is challenging because it forces you not only to confront your ability to carry heavy loads but also to explore your flight-or-fight response if your vest has plates that constrict your breathing.

Head out for some low-impact cardio any time you feel like you need a break from the gym. The frequency will look different for everyone depending on the type of training you enjoy most. Generally, one rest day for every six days of exercise is sufficient. However, if you’re just getting settled in a fitness program, you might need more active recovery days.

To make the most of wearing your vest, set a goal before you set out. This could be a distance you want to cover, a calorie related goal, or even a time goal. The point is here that you create a plan first and then head out on your walk. This way you’re not tempted to call it quits early and goals tend to encourage all of us to work a little harder – especially if we want to give up.

As part of your overall fitness programming, a vest can offer you a physical and mental challenge that’s not excessive taxing. In turn, you’re on the way to becoming a stronger, more dynamic, and powerful athlete.

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