Weight vests are an underrated training tool for strength and speed. Wearing a vest automatically makes an exercise or drill more difficult by increasing the weight of your body. But the beauty of it is that a vest allows you to move freely without having to hold onto a barbell, dumbbells or other types of weight.
This opens up a number of new ways to challenge your body that simply aren’t possible with traditional training tools.
In the article below, we’ll cover everything you need to know to build strength and speed with a weight vest workout.
Weight Vest Strength Workouts
Evan Longoria performing Bulgarian Split-Squats with a weighted vest.
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, you will 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.
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, but heavier, reps.
You can add a weight vest to virtually any bodyweight exercise. However, we asked four strength and conditioning 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 and co-owner of the Strength House (Worcester, 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.”
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 the development of both strength and conditioning for the shoulder joint and core.”
3. Depth Drops
Brandon McGill, strength coach and chief operating officer at Gloveworx USA, recommends using weight vests for Depth Drops, which trains eccentric strength when you step off a box and land softly on the ground.
“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.”
4. Ali Shuffle Lowering
Ali Shuffle Lowering 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 adds 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. Barbell Squats and Deadlifts
Granted, you’re already loading up with weight for Squats and Deadlifts. But according to Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training, 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. Just make sure you use proper Burpee form.
Weight Vest Workouts for Running and Speed
A weighted vest can be the missing piece for enhancing explosive speed, but be advised: using it incorrectly can slow you down, ruin your technique and lead to injuries.
Follow these five rules to help you prevent a vest speed training faux pas.
Use the 10 Percent Rule
One size does not fit all: the general rule of thumb for selecting the appropriate amount of weight is not to exceed 10 percent of your body weight. For example, a 150-pound athlete should use no more than 15 pounds of external load in the weighted vest.
Work for Speed, Not Endurance
Unlike some speed training tools, a weight vest allows you to sprint without compromising form. Nevertheless, your speed muscles will fatigue faster when you’re vested up, which can lead to flaws in your mechanics.
To get the best from your vest, Louisiana Tech director of sports performance Kurt Hester recommends performing 20-Yard Weighted Sprints for three to five reps. Distances beyond 20 yards tend to become more of a conditioning workout, says Hester, and “you don’t want to do anything that may hamper your stride length or stride frequency.”
“Typically with free sprints, the rest time is one minute for every 10 yards sprinted,” Hester says. When speed training with the weighted vest, he recommends 80 seconds per 10 yards.
Lose the Vest
Generating explosive movements requires more ground force production when you’re wearing a weighted vest. Once you’ve trained your speed muscles to fire in an explosive manner, transfer that ability by performing free sprints following a series of weighted sprints.
“We like to end speed sessions with the vests off so the athletes get a feeling of being quick at the end of the workout,” says retired San Antonio Spurs strength coach Mike Brungardt.
When speed training, athletes are at greatest risk for injury when decelerating. The external load of the weight vest increases the risk, which is why you must pay special attention to bending your knees, lowering your body and slowly decelerating, says Danny Arnold, owner of the Texas-based Plex training facilities.