Weighted Vests - Fitness Fad?
Weighted vests have seen a surge in popularity over the past few years. You may have only seen it at the annual 'Murph', or worn by someone in the corner of the gym looking like a police officer, close to having a heart attack. Now, it is easy to write off vests as something only worn by the hardcore or perhaps people who like to pretend their wearing body armour...but they can come with some real benefits.
The truth is, the research into their effectiveness, is, at times, confusing. With so many variables at play in so many different and conflicting studies, it is easy to write off vests as yet another fitness fad that will come and go. Though, despite the murkiness of the waters surrounding the weighted vest's effectiveness, occasionally the water clears just enough so that some agreement can be found. It is difficult to argue with some of the 'facts' that are presented about weighted vests, like, "They improve your workouts by making it harder..." Well, I mean, obviously. At times the logic behind wearing a vest is a little weak, so here are our top benefits of wearing a weighted vest:
Endurance & Mindset:
It is funny how often those two things go hand-in-hand. How often do you find yourself out for a run, engaged in a mental war of attrition with that voice in your head telling you to quit? If you're like most people, one or two times that voice has won, you've stopped and 5 mins later you're kicking yourself because you know you could have pushed through. There are two ways to combat this battle: One, improve your cardio so that your internal voice doesn't start chirping until you're much further into your workout. Two, condition your mind to ignore that voice and have the strength to ignore it. Weighted vests can help with both. In studies where athletes wore weighted vests during cardiovascular workouts, it was found that their heart rate was between 5-10% higher than when they didn't. Not only did their heart rates reach new heights but they got to the top quicker than normal. "Nothing will spike your heart rate quicker than wearing a weighted vest and climbing on the treadmill or stair master", Joel Seedman, PhD, owner of Advanced Human Performance. Training closer to your true max has the benefit of increasing your rate of improvement and overall training efficiency.
Linked to this conditioning your body is the conditioning of your mind. Weighted vests, with their weight placement on the chest, are perfectly situated to hinder your normal breathing pattern and increase resistance on your diaphragm and deep intercostals. While this causes an athlete's heart rate to skyrocket it also makes it quite hard to breathe. This can be quite alarming and some people may start to panic. However, learning how to stay calm and push through can be an invaluable lesson and exercise in improving autonomic nervous function. Being able to activate your parasympathetic system to counter your fight-or-flight response will stand you in good stead.
The heightened mental and physical demands of working out with a weighted vest overall work to improve athlete's endurance. These benefits aren't reliant on massive weights either. Improvements begin with weights as low as 5% of bodyweight.
Weight Loading and Variability:
Weight placement is everything with vests, we've talked about the impact of this in terms of endurance and cardio but, as expected, it lends itself to a more expected conversation. Strength. Weight vests can turn bodyweight exercises into gruelling strength-based workouts. You thought you hated burpees before...
There are a few advantages to the weight placement being where it is while wearing a vest. The body is used to carrying its weight up top, so the placement of a weight vest is perfectly suited for exercises such as weighted pull-ups or dips. In fact, the placement of weight compared to the typical hanging position (while using a belt), means that athletes can typically lift more weight if it is loaded on the chest.
Another benefit that weight vests enjoy over traditional weights like dumbbells or kettlebells is that they don't rely on grip strength. In many cases, an athlete's grip will give out before they actually reach their max lift. Now, this is obviously more applicable to certain exercises, for example, farmer carries or kettlebell lunges and split squats. All of these factors help reduce athletes' overall improvement reliance on individual body parts.
They may seem wonderful but weighted vests, like most pieces of equipment, come with some risks. Most of the risks aren't unique to vests and can really be summarised in one line. If you don't have proper form or conditioning, weighted vests can be dangerous. If you haven't mastered the basics, adding weight in any form is likely to be dangerous.
Another possible issue is adding resistance to workouts that focus on agility or speed. For example, cone drills or shuttle sprints. The vest can change your centre of gravity which creates a different angle of body lean. This can alter your natural biomechanics. With weighted vests, because of the natural weight placement, the effect is more apparent on your neuromuscular firing patterns. A strange sensation that comes after your body has become used to the extra load. All that needs to be done is to give yourself some time and movement to warm down.
During this warm down period, you'll get to experience a sensation, not unique to weighted vests but undoubtedly very applicable. The weight isn't on your body to re-programme your nervous system but it is there long enough to trick it. If you've been doing weighted sprints and ditch the weight, the next sprint, you'll feel weightless. Just like when you were a kid, got home and ditched the schoolbag, you felt weightless. To get slightly more scientific, the minute changes in your muscles and neuron activity that accompanies heavy loading can lead to greater explosive performance for 2 to 20 minutes after you remove the weight.
Interested in weighted vests? Checkout the BLK BOX Vest