To weight vest or not?
As any athlete knows, the importance of weight training is a crucial part of a productive workout. In order to efficiently lose fat and gain lean muscle mass, a combination of cardio and strength training must be implemented. The main difference in cardio and strength training is the period of time in which calories are burned. While cardio burns calories while an individual is performing an exercise, weight training enables calories to be burned even after an individual has stopped working out. So why use a weight vest? What does weight vest research tell us? Imagine doing the same cardio exercises you would do in your daily routine with added weight. Say you add 10 pounds to your weight vest, you are essentially doing the workout of an individual 10 pounds heavier than you, increasing the intensity of your workout and the efficiency of your workout, burning more calories in a shorter amount of time. As calories are being burned and fat is being lost, lean muscle can begin to form. The increased intensity in the workout makes cardiovascular systems work harder, strengthening them and engaging the entire core. All of these changes that come as a result of combining cardio and weight training improves overall performance (speed, endurance, etc.)
A study cited in the Journal of Applied Physiology examined the effects of adding weight to strength training of subjects who already had a steady level of performance. The study took place 3 days a week for 10 weeks. Leg strength was increased by 30% and short term endurance during cycling and running was increased by 11-13%.
Another study, conducted by researcher Helkki Rusko, stated that the improvement occurred while running with a weight vest. Using twelve well-trained athletes as his subjects, he gave them weight vests that weighed 10% of their body weight. Rusko made subjects wear the weight vests throughout the entire day as well as during at least three of eight weekly workouts. After four weeks, the results his subjects experienced were negative, they needed more oxygen to run at a given pace. He asked his subjects to take the weight vests off and resume normal training and retested them two weeks later and this time he witnessed endurance while sprinting rise by 25% and stair running speed increase by 3%.
A study cited in Medical Science Sports Exercise examined the effects of weight vests during treadmill walking. The experiment studied ten subjects, all about the same age, walking on treadmills under four different weight vest conditions (0, 10, 15, and 20% of body mass). The study found that although weight vests did not produce much effect at subjects walking at slower speeds, there were significant differences at higher speeds and a lower body mass percentage versus a higher body mass percentage in the weight vest produced very different results– concluding that the use of a weight vest can increase metabolic costs and exercise intensity.
So it is apparent how weight training and using weight vests affects the physical body, but how exactly is it affecting the body? What is going on?
When you are exercising, muscles in the body are being stretched. When these muscles are stretched, fibers in-between the muscle called filaments are being torn. The building of muscle occurs when the body produces filaments to repair those that were torn during your workout. Another important thing to understand is the body needs a certain amount of oxygen to carry out movement. This is where the topic of lactic acid becomes relevant. Lactic acid is made by muscle cells and red blood cells and is made for several reasons, one of them being strenuous exercise. Lactic acid is responsible for the “burn” felt in the muscles during or after a workout. The acid is not harmful in itself, but if too much of it builds up in the body, could be detrimental.
There are numerous benefits of weight vests, so what’s the catch? What are the disadvantages of wearing a weight vest? As far as weight vests have been studied, the only damage that can result from wearing one is if the individual is not used to exercise and uses improper form or if the weight vest itself is constructed poorly. All of these reasons could lead to a strain on joints and muscles and back problems.
To ensure that none of these problems become a concern, it is crucial to slowly integrate the use of a weight vest; if you do not exercise regularly, then establish a routine first and add the weight vest to optimize your existing workout. Although true for any workout, make sure you have a nice, erect posture; never slouch. It is also important to take some time off from using the weight vest, if you use it frequently, to give your muscles a chance to recuperate from the added pressure and weight. And the factor that differentiates a well-constructed weight vest from a poorly constructed weight vest is in its design. The design should evenly distribute the added weight across the entire body. And exactly how much weight is that?– up to about 10% of your body weight. The weight should be enough to intensify a workout, not make it impossible. You might also want to use more weight when strength training and a little less when endurance training.
Weight vests are a great tool for both men and women looking to intensify their existing workouts. Weight vests are flexible in use and can be added to cardio and weight training and improve overall athletic performance. With the proper precautions, a weight vest could result in the best investment you’ve ever made!