- Making the most of your exercise session
- The many benefits of using a weighted vest or belt
- How much weight should you put in a weighted vest or belt?
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR EXERCISE SESSION
Most of us realize that physical exercise is essential for building and maintaining muscular/skeletal strength. For most of us, however, modern life involves low levels of physical activity or often no physical labor. Given this reality we turn to voluntary exercise. However, because we are pressed for time, we most likely ask, “How can I maximize the benefits of my exercise time?” Many may also ask, “How can I do less exercise and benefit more?” One solution is to make the body work a bit harder in each and every exercise session by adding weights to stimulate the muscular/skeletal system. As research shows, using a weighted vest or weighted belt is a low-cost, safe, and effective way to increase the productivity of your exercise session. Furthermore, while these exercise enhancements are useful for the exercise enthusiast, they also help those with limited mobility and/or frailty.
THE MANY BENEFITS OF USING A WEIGHTED VEST OR BELT
Weighted-vest exercise reduces fall risk
A landmark study by Shaw and Snow (1) utilized weighted vests to enhance lower body resistance training in postmenopausal women with the goal of building lower body strength. In this population of women, most fractures are due to falls and better lower body strength is correlated with reduced fall incidence.
The group was divided into an exercise group and a control group. Women in the exercise group did a series of lower body exercises including squats, stepping, chair raises, forward lunges, jumping, and toe rises. These exercises were done 3 times a week with 35 minutes of strength training each session for a duration of 9 months. The women wore weighted vests while exercising, except when doing the jumping exercises, which were added four months into the training. The vests were initially loaded with little weight; more weights were then added over the months as the women grew stronger, with a maximum load of 40 lb.
Results showed that participants using the vests gained 16 to 33% in lower extremity strength, 13% in muscle power, and 3.5% in leg lean mass after 9 months compared to the control group. Extending over only 9 months, this trial was not long enough to detect any changes in hip bone density.
Weighted vests enhance the impact of simple lower body exercises
A recent study among older adults (2) showed again the strength-building effects of a weighted vest.
In this study, the impact of simple hip-strengthening exercises done with a weighted vest (loaded with 10% of body weight) was compared to those same exercises done without using the weighted vest. Both exercise programs included a 30-minute walking session done 3 times a week. A full 100% of those using the weighted vest while exercising saw significant improvements in strength, sit-to-stand performance, and aerobic capacity, while only 42% of those doing just exercise alone saw such benefits.
Weighted-vest use amplifies the bone-building effect of moderate strength training exercises
In a unique long-term study with older women (3) researchers found that the use of a weighted vest combined with lower-body resistance exercise and jump training increased hip bone mineral density 3.2 to 4.4% over a period of 5 years. This study is remarkable given that women of this age generally lose 0.5 to 1% of bone.
Strength training incorporating a weighted vest is capable of halting early menopausal bone loss
A very interesting 14-month German study with osteopenic women in early menopause (4) showed that strength training 4 times a week with the incorporation of weighted vests was capable of halting the accelerated rate of bone loss that occurs in the few years after menopause. Training was done twice a week in supervised sessions and twice a week at home.
In this two-year study, women gained spinal bone density (1.3%) while the control group lost bone mass. Hip density was stable in the exercise group, but was reduced in the control group. Maximum strength was improved dramatically in the exercise group, but decreased in controls.
A weighted vest enhances the bone-building benefits of treadmill exercise
In an Iranian study (5), postmenopausal women wore a weighted vest loaded with only 4 to 8% of their body weight while doing moderate treadmill walking. This was done 3 times a day for 30 minutes a session. This simple exercise stimulated bone synthesis, decreased bone breakdown, and also improved balance.
Moderate intensity resistance training using weighted belts may improve hip bone density in women on hormone therapy
In a two-year study (6), women on hormone therapy who previously were continuing to lose bone mass, gained 1.5 to 2.4% hip bone density with moderate resistance training.
One group of women did lower body exercises using weighted belts in which the mean belt load was 17 lb. A second group did upper body exercises using elastic bands and dumbbells. Both exercise programs produced similar hip bone density gains.
Simple walking yields greater benefits when done with a weighted vest
Walking while using a weighted vest at 10% of body weight for 30 minutes three times a week provided statistically significant improvements in strength performance and aerobic capacity greater than just walking alone. (2)
Using a weighted vest can help prevent bone and muscle loss associated with intentional weight loss
When older individuals lose weight, they also lose bone and muscle. Researchers have suggested that using a weighted vest of 10% of one’s body weight substantially reduces the bone weakening induced by weight loss. (7, 8, 9)
Aging muscle loss and frailties are reduced using a weighted belt
Weighted belts can be powerful exercise tools not only for the athletic and vigorous, but also for the elderly population, who may not have access to or instruction in using other types of exercise equipment.
A Swedish study (10) worked with frail older women following a hip fracture, combining functional training with a weighted belt. They documented that use of a weighted belt over 10 weeks sped up recovery after hip fracture, improved balance 36 to 76% and improved gait speed 16 to 38%. The weighted belt was initially set at 6% of body weight and increased gradually.
Weighted vests with a modest load can help those with moderate to severe mobility limitations
Women aged 70 and over with mobility limitations were given progressive resistance exercises 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Women using a modestly loaded weight vest during the exercise period gained significant improvements in leg power measurements in comparison with controls not using a weighted vest. (11)
Other studies with mobility-limited seniors tested home-based stair climbing exercises using a weighted vested and had good results. (12)
Using the weighted vest while climbing stairs produced a 17% improvement in double leg press peak power and significant improvement in stair climbing power, compared to a walking-only control group.
HOW MUCH WEIGHT SHOULD YOU PUT IN A WEIGHTED VEST OR BELT?
Overall, studies suggest that a vest or belt loaded with 10% of one’s body weight is manageable and effective, while loads of 3 to 5% of body weight have been shown to provide insufficient stimulus to increase strength and functional performance. At the other extreme, loads of 20% of one’s body weight are often seen as difficult for older adults to manage. (13, 14, 15)
Anyone trying out a weighted vest or a weighted belt for the first time should begin with a very low weight, perhaps just a few pounds, and slowly add more weight as they gain strength. For both the vest and the belt, be sure to balance the weights in the front and the back. And it is preferable to use a vest without weights in the breast area, like the Better Bones Exercise Vest with Zipper Front.
- Shaw, J. M., and C. M. Snow. 1998. Weighted vest exercise improves indices of fall risk in older women. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A 53A(1):M53-M58.
- Mierzwicki, J. T. 2019. Weighted vest training in community-dwelling older adults: A randomized, controlled pilot study. Physical Activity and Health 3(1):108-116.
- Snow, C. M., et al. 2000. Long-term exercise using weighted vests prevents hip bone loss in postmenopausal women. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A 55(9):M489-M491.
- Kemmler, W., et al. 2004. Benefits of 2 years of intense exercise on bone density, physical fitness, and blood lipids in early postmenopausal osteopenic women: Results of the Erlangen Fitness Osteoporosis Prevention Study (EFOPS). Archives of Internal Medicine 164(10):1084-1091.
- Roghani, T., et al. 2013. Effects of short-term aerobic exercise with and without external loading on bone metabolism and balance in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. Rheumatology International 33(2):291-298.
- Judge, J. O., et al. 2005. Home-based resistance training improves femoral bone mineral density in women on hormone therapy. Osteoporosis International 16:1096-1108.
- Miller, R. M., et al. 2021. Incorporating nutrition, vests, education, and strength training (INVEST) in bone health: Trial design and methods. Contemporary Clinical Trials 104:106326.
- Nicklas, B. J., et al. 2017. Weighted vest use for preserving muscle mass during weight loss in older adults. Innovation in Aging 1(Suppl 1):549.
- Normandin, E., et al. 2018. Feasibility of weighted vest use during a dietary weight loss intervention and effects on body composition and physical function in older adults. The Journal of Frailty & Aging 7:198-203.
- Lindelöf, N., et al. 2002. Weighted belt exercise for frail older women following hip fracture: A single subject design. Advances in Physiotherapy 4(2):54-64.
- Bean, J. F., et al. 2004. Increased velocity exercise specific to task (InVEST) training: A pilot study exploring effects on leg power, balance, and mobility in community-dwelling older women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 52(5):799-804.
- Bean, J. F., et al. 2002. Weighted stair climbing in mobility-limited older people: A pilot study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 50(4):663-670.
- Puthoff, M. L., et al. 2006. The effect of weighted vest walking on metabolic responses and ground reaction forces. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 38(4):746-752.
- Salem, G. J., et al. 2004. Lower-extremity kinetic response to weighted-vest resistance during stepping exercise in older adults. Journal of Applied Biomechanics 20(3):260-274.
- Greendale, G. A., et al. 2000. A randomized trial of weighted vest use in ambulatory older adults: Strength, performance, and quality of life outcomes. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 48(3):305-311.