Bodyweight exercises are fantastic. You can train your entire body and get a great workout with no equipment. However, they are limited in the amount of strength they can build.
At a certain point, athletes get too strong to make further strength gains with bodyweight exercises. For example, if you can do a set of 40 Push-Ups, you'll build muscular endurance more than strength. This is why when we lift weights, we always try to lift more—to challenge our muscles and promote strength gains.
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Wearing a weight vest increases the difficulty of bodyweight exercises, like adding more plates to a barbell or using heavier dumbbells. You're now lifting your weight plus the weight vest.
The vest allows you to perform bodyweight exercises that might normally be easy for you in ways that will build strength by focusing on fewer (less than 10) but heavier reps. Also, since you don't have to hold on to a barbell or other tool, you can perform dynamic exercises such as plyos or conditioning drills with an extra challenge.
You can add a weight vest to virtually any bodyweight exercise. We asked four STACK experts their favorite ways to incorporate weight vests into a training program. Here's what they recommended. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of each exercise.
1. Bulgarian Split-Squat
"I really like weight vests for Bulgarian Split-Squats, because it makes the setup much simpler," says Tony Bonvechio, strength coach at Cressey Sports Performance (Hudson, Massachusetts). "It's tough to get into position with your back leg, especially if you have a barbell on your back or in the front rack position You don't have to load the exercise very heavy to get a training effect either, so a weight vest works well."
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2. Lateral Crawl
Crawling exercises are tough. They improve your conditioning and cause your muscles to burn.
"Adding the weight vest puts more tension on the torso and shoulders when crawling," says Ben Boudro, owner of Xceleration Sports Performance. "This is huge for any throwing athlete, as it allows for development of both strength and conditioning for the shoulder joint and core."
3. Depth Drops
Brandon McGill, sports performance director at STACK Velocity Sports Performance, recommends using weight vests during movement training.
"One of the components of speed that often gets ignored is the eccentric action, or the ability to put on the brakes," he says. "That's where a lot of injuries happen, and being stronger eccentrically will help you avoid these injuries."
One of McGill's go-to exercises is the Depth Drop, which trains eccentric strength when you step off a box and land softly on the ground.
4. Ali Lowering Shuffle
This speed ladder drill works on footwork and deceleration. McGill says that like Depth Drops, it is perfect for using a weight vest, because your body has to slow down more weight as you lower into the Lunge, building eccentric strength.
5. Weighted Suspension Exercises
Boudro frequently uses weight vests to suspension exercises. Since suspension exercises use body weight, wearing a weight vest works the same as it does with other bodyweight moves—adding a higher load. Here are his go-to moves:
Suspended Weight Vest Push-Ups
"Adding the weight up top puts a lot more tension on the shoulders and chest," says Boudro. "Plus, the instability found in suspension exercises makes you engage your core at a high rate."
Suspended Weight Vest Single-Leg Rollouts
Rollouts are one of the best ways to build a strong core. This exercise is a more advanced variation. "Using a single leg takes away stability and forces your core to recruit muscles from all over your body to keep you standing upright," says Boudro. "The more weight your core can handle, the better."
Suspended Weight Vest Dips
"I like this one because I love doing dips. It simply adds more weight to the dip, which really nails the triceps and chest," says Boudro.
6. All Movement Training
Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training, uses weight vests for speed training. However, he cautions against using a weight load greater than 10-15 percent of your body weight. "Anything heavier changes your stride and biomechanical pattern, which won't increase your speed," he says.
7. Barbell Squats and Deadlifts
Granted, you're already loading up with weight for these exercises. But according to Scarpulla, adding a weight vest changes the center of gravity. He says, "It transfers differently than the traditional lift because of the position of the weight. You'll be surprised at how much more difficult it is."
Whoever invented the Burpee clearly enjoyed torturing people. They're brutal, even with just your body weight. Heck, doing only 10 full Burpees leaves all but the most conditioned athletes totally fatigued. Imagine doing them with extra weight. Now that's a challenge.