If you know about the CrossFit Murph workout, then you know about weighted vest push-ups (I mean, obviously, since you’ve done at least 200 of them in your life!)
...a lot about weighted vest push ups!
However, I’m here today to tell you that you don’t have to rattle up such a yuge number of reps in order to maximize the benefits of this extremely effective exercise.
As we’ve discussed in previous articles, weighted vests definitely up the ante of regular push-ups, allowing for a a lot of weight to be used if desired ( some dudes out there are picking up and using 150 pounds vests!) They can engage more muscle groups, increase strength and endurance gainz and offer an easy-to-use training tool for a variety of exercises.
So, if you’re in love with classic bodyweight movements and workouts, but need to increase the intensity (without, ya know, just doing a bunch more reps) you need to incorporate weighted vest push ups into your routine ASAP.
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Why Weighted Vest Push Ups?
As a form of calisthenics, push-ups use the principles of bodyweight exercises to develop strength, endurance, and flexibility.
…but they have their limits.
Now, when we think about basic strength training protocol, the term “overload” gets thrown around a lot. In simple terms, the body’s muscles need to experience a degree of resistance in order to grow in size and strength.
You can probably see where I’m going here…
Incorporating weighted vest push-ups into your workout routine can be a game-changer for continuing to improve your strength and increasing muscle growth when unweighted push-ups just aren’t doing it for you anymore.
Benefits of Weighted Vest Pushups
In addition to giving you an opportunity to “look cool”, rocking up to a workout in a vest (bonus points if you show up to the gym already wearing it!) weighted vest push ups offer multiple benefits that can improve fitness performance and your physique.
Muscle growth and strength: The added weight from the vest better stimulates muscle fibers and increases metabolic stress on your muscles, ultimately leading to greater muscle growth and size.
Increased endurance and stamina: Performing push ups with a weighted vest increases time under tension and general oxygen demands. This contributes to enhanced muscle endurance and stamina (for when, ya know, those 200 Murph reps come around again!)
Bone density and joint health: Weighted vest push ups increase mechanical stress and impact on the bones and joints. This leads to greater bone density and joint health.
Improved posture and stability: Weighted vest push ups increase the activation and coordination of the core and stabilizer muscles. This can lead to better posture, stability, and a reduced risk of injury and back pain.
Added versatility in training: Incorporating weighted vest push ups into different types of fitness regimens (ex. CrossFit WODs, circuits, intervals, supersets, drop sets, pyramid sets) adds variety and intensity to your training. Got a vest and a flat surface? The sky’s the limit!
Weighted Vest Pushups Vs. Other Weighted Pushups
There are a lot of ways to add resistance to your weighted push ups workouts, but weighted vest push ups offer some key advantages.
Backpack push ups: involve wearing a weighted backpack (I know, right?!) or ruck to add resistance to the movement. While this can be a convenient and low-cost option, the weight will not always be evenly distributed and none of it hangs from the front of the body.
Plate push ups: everyone has seen (or performed) these. Just get a friend to drop (or, preferably, lightly set) a plate on your back.
However, this variation can be awkward and it can be tough to keep the weight plate in place during the exercise.
…and if you don’t have any friends to set the extra weight on your back, you’re really in trouble!
Banded push ups: involve wrapping a resistance band around your back and holding the ends in your hands (I know this isn’t added “weight’, but you get the point). Resistance bands are portable and easy to use, but they might not provide the same consistent resistance throughout the entire range of motion of the push up, compared to non-banded variations.
In conclusion, while there are various methods to add resistance to your push up workouts, weighted vest push ups offer a superior level of comfort, adjustability, and versatility in relation to other weighted variations.
How to Perform Weighted Vest Push Ups
The “traditional” push-up is a compound exercise and, as such, is actually more “complicated” than it appears at first glance. To achieve maximum gainz and prevent injuries, it’s essential to maintain proper technique while performing weighted vest push ups.
First, make sure your vest actually fits and that you’re properly strapped up. An appropriately-fitted vest will ensure that the weight is evenly distributed, making the exercise much easier to perform.
Once you’re strapped up, get into a standard push up position with your feet together and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
Focus on keeping your body in a straightened, core engaged while squeezing your glutes. This will ensure that you’re maintaining proper form and minimizing the risk of injury throughout your set.
Lower your body by bending your elbows until the front of your vest just grazes the ground. Be mindful to keep your elbows tucked in close to the body. This will optimize the engagement of the targeted muscles and enhance the overall effectiveness of the exercise.
To complete the push up, push yourself back up to the starting position by extending your elbows, keeping your body rigid and your shoulders stable.
In terms of reps and sets, you can start with 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps and see how you feel. As your strength increases, gradually increase the weight in your vest and the number of sets for extra challenge.
Things to Avoid in Weighted Vest Push Ups
Truth be told, this is an awkward exercise with a bit of a learning curve. Regardless, try your best to avoid doing these things, especially during your first weighted vest push up rodeo!
Using too much weight: You should avoid using a vest with excess weight, as it can compromise your form, technique, and range of motion. This reduces the effectiveness of your workout, possibly to the point where regular push-ups would be better. 10lbs or more of extra resistance is probably a little too much for most beginners.
Using a loose or uneven vest: Avoid wearing a weighted vest that is too loose. This can cause discomfort, instability, and imbalance during your workout. Make sure the vest fits snugly and is properly adjusted before starting your push ups.
Performing reps with a sagging or arching back: If your back is sagging or arching while you perform weighted push ups, this could indicate a lack of core strength. To avoid injury and ensure maximum efficiency, it’s essential to maintain a straight back throughout the duration of the exercise.
Tldr: get the right vest, with the right amount of weight, and be mindful of your back’s curvature!
Frequently Asked Questions
I feel like we’ve covered everything at this point, but we’re happy to answer your final, lingering questions. Maximizing your weighted vest push up potential is that important to us!
Weighted vest push-ups target multiple muscles in your upper body, including your chest (pectoralis major or "pecs"), shoulders (deltoids), arms (triceps), serratus anterior, scapula, and latissimus dorsi. Additionally, the working muscles of the midline (to include the obliques) are engaged to increase overall core stability.
Simply put, a weighted vest increases the resistance, thereby making your muscles work harder. This ultimately leads to increased strength and muscle mass in your upper body.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer, as the amount of weight depends on your current fitness level. You should be able to perform 20-25 bodyweight reps before even thinking about throwing on a vest.
Generally, it's recommended to start with less weight, such as 5% to 10% of your body weight (increase or decrease the external load if necessary), and to gradually up the weight as your strength improves.
Yes, weighted vest push-ups are a great way to improve your ability to perform the body weight exercise. The stimulus trains your body to handle increased intensity, making traditional pushups feel easier.
All of these "push workout" favorites have their advantages and build pushing strength. Weighted vest push-ups are more accessible since the extra load can easily be applied. They also engage your core and require balance, making them a functional exercise.
On the other hand, the bench press allows for precise weight control and targets similar upper body muscles. It is also easier to progress in weight using a bench press setup. Other pushing exercises (ex. Hammer press) have similar benefits of the bench press, with some performed in a “machine” format/setting.
Ultimately, the answer to this one comes down to personal preferences and your training goals.
If you don't have access to a weighted vest (or simply aren't down with any type of resistance training), there are several weighted push-up variations to throw into your pectoral training mix. Some of these include:
- Bar/ring dips
- Elevated push-ups
- Close-grip or wide-grip push-ups
- One-arm push-ups
- Diamond push-ups
Closing Remarks: A Great Exercise that will Blow Up your Upper Body
If you’ve hung around any CrossFitters for any length of time, you’ve probably tricked yourself into thinking that you gotta rattle off a ton of kipping pull-ups or muscle-ups to get a good upper body workout in.
Heck, the “lowly” push-up has been effectively “banished” from the CrossFit Open since 2011 and even today, when they are programmed, there is some crazy, aerobic element involved.
..but at this point, you know better.
What’s better, since you now know that weighted push-ups are an effective exercise, you’re going to start your weighted vest push up training ASAP…and counting down the days until Murph rolls around again.
I mean, check out the video below. You’re looking at some of the fittest guys on Earth getting smoked by weighted pushups (skip to 21:03 for max pain!)
That will be how everyone else looks while you’re busting out yuge sets, making it to the second mile before they’re even squatting!
If this vision doesn’t get you hyped, I don’t know what will! Maybe you’re still on the fence on whether you want to try push-ups in a ruck? If so, check out our analysis of the epic ruck vs weighted vest showdown. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about these two beasts!