Can wearing one really make you fitter and stronger, while burning more calories? Only one way to find out. Kerry Potter invests in a vest.

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It was on my regular Saturday morning run along a local trail that I first noticed the trend: more and more of my fellow runners – and walkers – were wearing a weighted vest. Then I saw an Instagram post from Liz Earle, the beauty magnate turned health optimizer, in which she goes for a stroll in a natty magenta one, explaining: “I love it as it adds extra resistance to my walks and workouts to help build up strength and endurance.” It transpires #weightedvest has 47m views on TikTok and is especially popular among hardcore CrossFit fans.

I’ve never met a fitness trend I didn’t like, so I decide to buckle up and give one a go – can you boost your fitness, burn more calories and build muscle with this funny little waistcoat, I wonder? Or is it just a way of flexing on social media – letting the world know you’re a next level gym bunny? I put one to the test for a week – wearing it to lift weights at the gym, to run, walk, play tennis - and to do far too many press-ups. I’m quite tired now.

What is a weighted vest?

The clue’s in the title. It’s a vest, typically available in 3, 5, 10, 20 or 30kg weight increments, that you put on over your top. The weight is either built into the vest or it has an adjustable design so you can add small weight pouches to the vest’s front (and sometimes back) pockets. They have adjustable buckles at the front, which you do up tightly so it fits close to the body.

Be warned, it can look worryingly like an explosive device. One of the beefy,  military veteran PTs from my gym had to stop running at speed in built-up areas wearing his, due to its “terrorist vibes”. Happily, this isn’t a problem I encounter, a 5-foot-nothing woman stomping merrily along country lanes.

I try an entry level one – the Davina McCall 3kg Fitness Weighted Vest from Argos, a bargain at £22. According to McCall, “You can use this bit of kit to do the housework, walk the dog or even add weight to your workout at the gym – all hands free.” It’s rendered in soft, comfortable neoprene and I like the grey/blue colour palette - most weighted vests are very masculine looking and only come in black. But definitely no terrorist vibes here.

Is a 10kg weighted vest enough?

This is a commonly asked question as people try to work out which weight to go for but rather than plucking a random number out of the air, you should aim for a vest that’s 5-10 percent of your body weight. 3kg is just over 5 percent of mine, so the Argos vest is perfect for me. If you weigh more than 60kg though, you’ll need a heavier one to maximise its benefits.

Are weighted vests effective?

Oh yes. Exercising while wearing a weighted vest can boost your fitness and health in several ways.

  • It can improve cardiovascular fitness. “The extra weight means you’re having to expend more energy to move, so your heart is going at a higher rate which improves cardiovascular fitness and burns more calories,” says GP Dr Gemma Newman, author of Get Well, Stay Well, £18.03.
  • It can build muscle. “The weight provides more resistance against your muscles so they have to work harder,” says Dr Newman. I can 100 percent confirm that doing bodyweight exercises, such as press-ups or squats, carrying 3kg more weight than usual, is much harder work. Like with any weight-training though, to continue building muscle you’d need to keep upping the weights, so if this is your reason for buying a weighted vest, get one that allows you to make it heavier over time.
  • It can improve bone density. And this can help reduce risk of osteoporosis, something which can be a problem for midlife and older women, as we start to lose bone mass after menopause. American doctor and menopause specialist Mary Claire Haver endorses weighted vests for this reason, citing a five-year study of women in their sixties that concludes working out with a vest can prevent loss of hip bone density.

What are the negatives of weighted vests?

One of the other PTs from my gym, Liam Louth, isn’t a big fan. “I wouldn’t use it for running,” he warns. “That sudden extra weight can break down your running mechanics. Making something harder isn’t always the answer. I would focus on running faster, doing an exercise to a higher standard or lifting a heavier weight – rather than wearing it.”

He’s right. I try to go for an easy 5km run wearing my weighted vest and abandon that plan just three minutes in, when my knees and feet start hurting. I feel like I’m wading through treacle.

I also quickly take it off after attempting to do a set of deadlifts in the gym. I find the extra weight at the front of my body confusing – it throws off my form. “You’re trying to do what you were doing before but you’re not used to that extra weight and your centre of gravity has changed,” says Dr Newman. “You’re more prone to injury and you’re putting stress on your joints.”

Can you use a weighted vest for rucking?

Rucking is basically going for a walk either wearing a weighted vest or weighted backpack. It’s big in the US and, although it’s something military personnel have done forever as part of their training, it’s been recently popularised by New York Times best-selling health and fitness writer Michael Easter, author of The Comfort Crisis, £18.36, who describes rucking as “cardio for people who hate running, lifting for people who hate the gym”.

Even though the term sounds rather macho, rucking is low impact, achievable by anyone who can walk and you don’t need any special kit, so it’s very inclusive. Indeed, my father-in-law would fill a backpack with weights before his daily walk well into his seventies.

There is some debate in the rucking world as to whether a vest or backpack is best. Easter says you can use either but having the weight on your back is better for your posture: “It pulls you back, it gives you a better stride and puts your back in a safer position.”

Weighted vest: our verdict

I hated running and weight training while wearing it, and it wasn’t great for tennis – it impeded my serve. But I can see the appeal of using it for body-weight exercises – for example, I find squats quite easy, but wearing the vest took things up a notch and I could feel the thigh burn for a change.

But I think a weighted vest comes is best for walking (or rucking, but I’m not American enough to call it that). On the days when I only have time for a quick 20-minute stroll on my lunchbreak, wearing the vest optimizes the fitness benefits of that walk. My Oura health tracker ring measures my normal walks as “moderate” exercise, by tracking my heart rate increase, but when I walk wearing the vest , I push into the “hard” intensity category each time. I also wear it to clean the house – if I’m going to do something that boring, I may as well make it as beneficial to my health as possible.

On balance, I’m sold - although you do have to put up with constantly being asked what you are wearing and I suspect things will get a bit sweaty come the summer.

Best weighted vests

Fancy trying one out? Here are three that we recommend.

I couldn’t fault this one. It was the cheapest one I could find and did the job perfectly. You can’t add any more weight to it though, so do your sums and work out whether it’s the right weight for you before you buy.

The adjustable one: Decathlon Corength Adjustable Weighted Vest, £29.99

I also tried this one but at 5kg, it was slightly too heavy for me. My husband wore it all week though and liked the fact he could adjust the weight, depending on what kind of exercise he was doing. You can add weight to the back as well as the front, to keep things balanced. Again, it’s well priced.

The hardcore option: Force Fit Green Camo Weighted Vest, £109.99

Rucking specialists Force Fit do this high-quality design in 7, 10, 15 or 20kg – it’s a good brand to look at if you’re getting really into using a weighted vest. Don’t be scared by all the beefcake blokes on the website, this one is adjustable to fit all frames. And the camo design means you can pretend you’re in the army… while you’re on the school run.