The best workouts for men are the ones that you actually do. If that means investing in tons of home gym equipment or paying for personal training sessions, then have at it! If you want to invest a little more, shall we say, wisely, it’s time to get a weighted vest. These simple tools will run you $50-$100 and improve your calorie-burn potential by 12 percent (when wearing a vest weighted at 15 percent of your body weight), according to a study from the University of New Mexico and American Council on Exercise. That’s one effective piece of equipment.
Once a tool used by pro sports teams during practices, weighted vests are going mainstream these days. The secret’s out. “We generally see anywhere from five to 10 percent higher heart rates in people wearing a vest, and there are (albeit limited) studies that show increases in VO₂ max in non-athletic populations,” says Darin Hulslander, a certified functional strength and performance coach at This Is Performance in Chicago. “It adds weight to any bodyweight strength movement, but one of the lesser-known benefits is that it helps people that may not be able to tolerate a bar on their back or a weight at their chest and provides a higher level of benefit than a machine typically would.”
Find Your Fit
You can find weighted vests everywhere from Walmart (this one, at $30, is 20 pounds and features a minimalist design that makes it easy it run in) to Amazon (go with this camo version for $37 if you prefer the traditional full-coverage fit). If you’re feeling extra-flush with cash, splurge and get yourself the TRX XD Kevlar Weight Vest. It comes in 20- and 40-pound versions with extra padding and a cross-strap system for comfort and support, and will set you back $220.
Once you’ve got your new fitness buddy, you might be wondering exactly what to do with it. In theory, you can do all the workouts you did before—just with more weight. But exercises that call gravity into play (think burpees, box jumps, and squats) will help you maximize the vest’s contribution to your workout. “Lower body movements are the safest,” says Hulslander. What not to do? Hulslander cautions against planks, where the additional weight can cause hyperextension in the back, and sit ups, where bulky vests can make the movement uncomfortable.
Get Started With This Weighted Vest Workout
You don’t need a ton of weight to see results; in fact, too much weight can cause you to start using your body in weird ways that raise the risk of injury. Choose a vest weighted at about 5 percent of your total body weight, and work your way up to around 10-15 percent, advises Hulslander. “This is why I am fond of the interchangeable weight vests, so you can adjust as you get stronger and more balanced,” he adds. When you start using the vest in your workouts, reduce your exercise time and increase your rest time between sets or reps until you start feeling comfortable (the extra weight will cause your heart rate to rise faster and stay elevated longer). These are a few of the moves you might want to try.
Imagine taking four one-gallon jugs of water, looping a rope through the handles, slinging it across your shoulder, and going for a run. That’s basically the weight you’re wearing in a 16-pound vest (about 9 percent body weight if you weigh 180 pounds), and while it’s less cumbersome than the gallon jugs, it’s still a lot of extra cargo.
Put another way, research shows that the forces traveling through your body when you run are up to five times your body weight. So if you add an extra 20 pounds to your body via a weighted vest, that’s 100 more pounds of force traveling through your joints and ligaments—and that, if you’re not careful, is a recipe for injury. In addition, “wearing a weighted vest compresses your breathing muscles—and we find most people have trouble with these muscles as is,” says Hulslander.
So start by walking, or at least jogging extra-slow. Go for 5 minutes; remove your vest, then run to your heart’s desire. Repeat for one week; on week two, start with 10 minutes of easy jogging in the vest, then complete the workout un-weighted. Up your time each week until you reach 60 minutes of easy vest action; then start ramping up the pace. When you can sustain your desired pace, start adding more weight.
There are few exercises that can get your blood pumping and heart rate elevated faster than going to the bottom of an office or apartment building stairwell, and starting to climb flights. (You can do this on a stairclimbing machine as well, although the benefits may be slightly less.)
If you’re like most of us, you’ll be breathing hard by the third flight, even without the vest. So take it easy until you get used to things. “People that wear the vest too long at first find that their respiratory muscles and the pesky ones around it, like your traps and neck muscles, get fatigued and sore as a result,” says Hulslander. “Remember, it’s five-ish minutes max at first, and work you’re way up from there.”
If you’ve ever tried doing pushups with one of those 45-pound plates placed on your back, you know how tricky it can be. The beauty of the vest: It won’t slide off and smash your hand. “Pushups are also a good option in a weighted vest since it’s harder to add weight generally to a pushup,” says Hulslander.
Start with a set of five. Make sure you keep your back flat, not arched, and that you go through the full range of motion, from straight arms to arms bent and chest two inches from the floor. It’s better to do three correctly than 10 with bad form. Rest a full minute between sets, aiming for five sets of five. Reduce your rest time as the move becomes easier.
The staple of most strength workouts, traditional squats become infinitely harder with a 20-pound monkey on your back. If you’re used to doing squats while holding free weights, leave those behind for your first day with the vest. Instead focus on form. “Our only real rule is to make sure you are breathing properly—think blowing up a balloon or blowing to warm your hands when it’s cold—so that your neck and breathing muscles don’t work too hard,” says Hulslander.
Do 10 reps of air squats; rest a minute. Go again. For the rest of the week, add more reps and/or less rest as you get used to the vest. In week two, add the dumbbells back in, if you were using them before. Again, start conservatively: 10 reps x two sets. Add sets until you are back to your pre-vest standards.