How Weight Vests Increase the Intensity of Your Fitness Workouts

A member of Team Whiteman takes part in a workout at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 9, 2017. (Airman Michaela Slanchik/U.S. Air Force photo)
A member of Team Whiteman takes part in a workout at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 9, 2017. (Airman Michaela Slanchik/U.S. Air Force photo)

There appears to be a generational shift from purchasing cardio equipment to more strength training equipment.

Weight-vest sales saw more than a 26% increase in the last year, according to recent data from Garage Gym Reviews, indicating that strength training is growing in popularity. There are various reasons for this shift: primarily, people are working to build home gyms complete with weights, suspension trainers, and cardio machines. Still, the trend of adding weight vests shows the need for an affordable and versatile compromise between balancing strength and cardio activity.

For cash-strapped twentysomethings, a weight vest can turn activities, such as calisthenics and walking, into strength-building activities great for muscle building, fat burning and bone strengthening. With the popularity of rucking (walking with weight) growing, many have opted to purchase weight vests and have other options for fitness than purchasing a less versatile backpack.

Check out the list of ideas for training you can do with a backpack to make walking and calisthenics more difficult with a shorter time investment required.

Favorite Weight-Vest Workouts

Building the legs with squat pyramids: One of our group favorites is the squat pyramid warmup, which can continue upward and turn into a quick workout. Try the Weight-Vest Squat Half Pyramid 1-10 for a warm-up and the 1-20 for a tougher workout:

  • 1 squat, walk fast/ruck 100 meters
  • 2 squats, walk fast/ruck 100 meters
  • 3 squats, walk fast/ruck 100 meters ...

Keep up to Level 10 to make this a great warm-up before walking longer distances. But if you want more leg repetitions, keep progressing up the ladder until you get to Level 20. That is 210 squats with a weight vest.

Upper-body exercises: Exercises such as push-ups, dips and pull-ups are hard enough, but for the more experienced exercisers, adding some weight is a perfect way to build more strength in the shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps and back. You can opt to try pyramid versions similar to the above, super sets or turn any calisthenics exercise in a circuit into a weighted version to add more difficulty to what is usually a higher-repetition exercise.

Lower-body exercises: If you want to work the legs, do lunges. If you want to work the legs, add a weight vest or sandbag, and continue doing lunges. If you prepare for challenging future military training, you will see activities involving load-bearing in backpacks, weight vests, logs or other equipment. Adding a weight vest to squats, lunges and walking is a valuable tool for future military and special operations-level training.

Military training: The military is also adding weight vests to testing activities. Commonly, the pull-up with a 20- to 25-pound weight vest is a fitness testing event for active-duty special warfare and special operations members. A weight vest can be a great way to simulate carrying a plate carrier around when patrolling, climbing stairs and doing obstacle courses.

More weight-vest ideas:

Chances are that you will use weight vests at some point in your military, police and firefighter training when working to simulate typical load-bearing gear. But practically speaking, these pieces of equipment are gaining traction within the fitness community as versatile gear that can be a home gym exercise multiplier.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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