Question: Should I Wear a Weight Vest for a Better Walking Workout?
Reader Susan writes: "I have come across some info on a weighted walking vest and wondered what you think. I was wondering about the pros and cons. It seems like a good idea."
Answer: Of all of the weights suggested for walkers, a weighted vest is probably the least likely to cause injury. The extra weight is carried where the body naturally adds on extra weight -- the torso, at the center of mass. You don't have the risk of repetitive motion injury and unnatural stress on the feet, arms or ankles you do with ankle weights or hand weights.
If you have any problems with your knees, ankles, feet, hips, it is better to weigh less when you walk, as each pound adds even more stress to those joints. If you have no aches or pains, I don't recommend against using a weighted vest, but I think there are better (or more useful) ways of achieving the same goals.
Theory #1: Burn More CaloriesThe more you weigh, the more calories you burn per mile. This is true, but the difference is small for any amount of weight you could comfortably add to your body. I'd rather not mess with adding weight to my body, I'd prefer to walk an extra minute to achieve the same effect. I usually wear a hydration backpack, carrying a couple of pounds of water and a couple of pounds of backpack, cell phone, wallet, etc. I don't do this to burn more calories, I carry it to have water and essentials with me on a walk of more than 30 minutes. However, a backpack has disadvantages -- the straps may be uncomfortable, and all of the weight is on your back unless you use the chest strap and belly strap to evenly distribute the weight to your hips rather than your shoulders.
Theory #2: Speed TrainingA weighted vest is used in many sports for speed training. If you train with the vest, then compete without it, you will go faster. If you have already trained fully for speed and distance and achieved the best results you can, then this may be a way to get further increases in speed. But if you still have basic training to do for speed and distance, concentrate on that without adding weight.
How to Walk Faster
Walking Posture and Stride
Are You There Yet?For most fitness walkers, I don't see a value in buying an expensive weighted vest. I'd prefer to see you walk an extra minute or two to gain the same calorie burn, or to improve your walking form so you are walking faster and packing more miles into the same time. Again, that means burning more total calories.
But You Really Want to Buy a Weight VestIf you are still convinced this is the item for you, then be sure to try before you buy. The vest should fit well, not too tight and not loose. You don't want the weights to be swinging freely, adding strange side motions to your walking form. The weights should be evenly distributed around your torso. Look for a design in mesh or a sweat-wicking fabric with good air flow-through so you won't get sweaty and miserable. You should be able to easily add or subtract weights. The design should still work well with whatever kind of water carrier you use, if you are going to use it for walks over 30 minutes.