The first time I saw someone working out in a weighted vest, I thought they were wearing a bullet-proof vest.
…or maybe…it was the first time I saw someone in a bullet-proof vest, I thought it was a weighted vest.
Whichever way that scenario went down (in all honesty, it never probably actually happened), I’ve always had this association with weight vests and bullet-proof vests.
People in bullet-proof vests always seemed to be running around and doing cool stuff in the movies (even if they were only faking everyone out like Doc Brown). As such, running with weighted vest has always equalled “cool” to me!
But what about weighted vest walking?
Sure, you never see John Wick casually walking around in his weighted vest (technically a “bulletproof suit”, I guess!), but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t experience a lot of health benefits from doing so.
Today, we’re going to compare running with weighted vest benefits and weighted vest walking. Both exercises are winners, but read on to find out which exercises are the best for you.
Table of Contents
What is a Weighted Vest?
Weighted vests are pieces of fitness equipment intended to add challenge to basic, bodyweight exercises. As their name implies, they are shaped like a standard vest, fitting over the shoulders and fastening tightly around the chest and back.
Weighted vests normally include a number of pouches (or a single, large pouch) where specially-designed plates are inserted to create the desired-level of resistance. Due to the weighted vests construction, the weight is generally “comfortably” distributed around the upper torso, allowing the athlete to experience a tougher workout without creating form or load issues.
In recent years, CrossFit workouts, particularly those such as the Murph Hero WOD, have popularized weighted vests. Running in a weighted vest is hard. Running with a weighted vest followed by hundreds of pull-ups, push-ups, and squats is really hard.
When a “simple” bodyweight workout simply isn’t enough, the inclusion of a weighted vest can immediately up the ante.
Even if you’re only going for a short stroll through the neighborhood.
Weighted Vest Walking Benefits
Walking is such a subtle and underrated exercise. There is certainly a reason why the 10,000 steps-a-day fad has gained so much traction over the last few years (even if 7,000 steps might be a sufficient number for most people to hit!) Weighted vest walking allows you to experience a few additional benefits as you trek away.
A largely overlooked, but arguably the most important benefit to weighted vest walking is posture improvement. In order to walk for any considerable distance in a weighted vest, you must maintain erect and ideal posture. Mobility guru Kelly Starrett has discussed “pose” walking and the numerous benefits of maintaining the neutral spine position.
If you allow yourself to slouch when walking in a weighted vest, you’ll quickly find yourself falling forward. The vest’s weight distribution needs to be evenly distributed (and not tipped forward, as it is when slouching) for balance to be maintained.
A bit of weighted vest walking will immediately begin to reap posture benefits.
Increased Bone Density
Like all types of weighted and resistance exercises, weighted vest walking puts additional stress on directly involved as well as tertiary-bones in the body. This stress activates bone-forming activity which leads to increased bone density.
In a study on the topic, participants experienced a 1% increase in overall bone density after sporadically walking in a weighted vest over the span of a few months.
Everyone can benefit from increased bone density, but this is especially good news for older people looking to fight off osteoporosis and other bone-thinning ailments.
More calories burned
Surprised that this was the last weighted vest walking benefit? Yeah, me too, but I have to be honest with you…
It isn’t that much of a benefit.
A 2013 study found that walking in a weighted vest resulted in ~.6 more calories burned per minute.
So…your vested, 30-minute walk over your lunch hour…burned an additional 18 calories for you.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad benefit and over time, can reap some real dividends. However, your posture and bone density improvements are going to be your primary weighted vest walking benefits.
Running with Weighted Vest Benefits
As you might expect, running with weighted vest benefits are numerous. Depending on your health and fitness goals, these benefits may be very significant.
Weighted vest movements result in greater strength increases than comparable, unweighted movements. Whether this involves bodyweight movements (like Murph’s 200 push-ups!) or running, the resistance in the vest mimics similarly-weighted movements.
Why is this especially great news? Because a good weighted vest works the vast majority of your body’s muscles.
Although we generally associate running with lower-body muscles, to maintain that perfect posture we discussed earlier, your upper body needs to chip in. All of these muscles will ultimately be rewarded.
Increased VO2 max
As you might have expected, running in a weighted vest does an excellent job of increasing VO2 max or overall oxygen consumption during exercise. Increased VO2 max not only allows you to push longer and harder during your workouts, but can also reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
A number of studies have confirmed this running with weighted vest benefit to the point that it is practically unquestionable. However, to receive the most VO2-increasing benefits, the vest should be kept under 10 percent of the athlete’s bodyweight.
Increased Sprinting Speed
We don’t really mention sprinting too much when discussing weighted vest workouts, but any type of weighted vest running might be correlated with increased sprinting speed. We can mainly chalk this up to the relationship between increased strength and power from running in the weighted vest. This power can then be channeled into greater velocities when sprinting and faster performances.
There really isn’t a “competition” here since just about anyone can choose to walk or run in a weighted vest and can reap the associated benefits. However, it might be beneficial to look more closely at these benefits relative to each activity to determine which is best for you.
Weighted Vest Walking Benefits vs. Running with Weighted Vest Benefits: For Beginners
For those new to fitness, most types of physical activity will be a little challenging. I would advise against using a vest for just about any type of activity until a baseline level of fitness (which can vary widely from person to person) is established.
Been working out for a few months and ready for a challenge? Even using light weights, any kind of weighted vest activity is hard. What makes this activity especially difficult is the manner in which it shows itself; in most cases, it takes a minute or two to really feel the weight of the vest.
Wearing the vest alone can take some getting used to, particularly in regards to figuring out the most comfortable level of tightness around the chest and back. For these reasons, weighted vest walking is best for beginners.
Weighted Vest Walking Benefits vs. Running with Weighted Vest Benefits: For the Memorial Day Murph crowd
If you don’t know what the Murph workout is, it is a famous CrossFit Hero workout that involves a lot of running and bodyweight exercises. It is performed around the world on Memorial Day each year in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy (the real “Murph”) and all soldiers who have fallen in service to the United States.
The workout suggests that a vest be worn, although I have gone on record advocating against wearing the vest for this workout for most people.
If you have some fitness and, specifically, CrossFit experience and would like to tackle Murph in a vest, you might benefit from doing so. Instead of running the first and second miles, you spend these periods in a focused vested walk, contemplating the coming work (or work just completed) and the heroes’ sacrifices.
In this scenario, you will experience both the weighted vest walking benefits as well as some running with weighted vest benefits that overlap with other, higher-intensity activities (vested pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats).
Even if you remove the vest for bodyweight exercises, these segments, combined with the vested walking portions, will make for an excellent workout.
Weighted Vest Walking Benefits vs. Running with Weighted Vest Benefits: For Advanced Athletes
You might assume that advanced athletes will always benefit more from weighted vest running as opposed to walking. For those who are preparing for high-level competition where weighted vest workouts are likely to be prescribed, vested workouts should definitely be worked into training.
However, to reap the rewards of longer, extended “slow cardio” sessions, an activity like weighted vest trail hiking should be given a long look. The VO2 benefits may not come as “efficiently”.
…but it is a lot more sustainable to walk for an hour in a weighted vest than to run for 30 minutes in a weighted vest (well…for everyone not named Josh Bridges!)
Certainly throw that vest on for Murph, but don’t discount an excellent vested hike!
I know this wasn’t one of our typical throwdowns and it really isn’t prudent to declare a “winner” between these activities. It is better to understand the benefits derived from both and to work both vested walking and running into your training as needed (and where necessary).
If you were looking for a champion to be crowned…my apologies. All of the “real” (non-bro) science linked above just shows too many benefits for each activity!
Want to see a real vs. battle involving a weighted vest? Check out our article on rucks vs. weighted vests. A lot more shots fired in that one!