Weight vests are nothing new, but over the past decade, using them as a tool for fitness has increased significantly, especially in the tactical fitness industry.
Equally, however, the athletic training world is using weight vests now more than ever with weighted calisthenics, speed and agility, and other weighted running workouts. For those seeking employment within the military, police, firefighter or special-ops professions, you will need to get used to carrying extra weight while on the job. Adding a weighted vest to a basic calisthenics workout will make that workout more difficult.
You can tell weight vests are more popular these days by their increased volume on the market. There are dozens of weight-vest companies with products that range below $100 to well more than $300. Which are the best for you, your goal and budget?
I have tested 11 weight vests, varying in weight and price. Below is a multi-level review as well as the workouts we often conduct with them.
This company was really first on the market with rugged vests, and therefore the first weight vest we tried came from www.weightvest.com. Simple enough.
The Vmax, VForce and the BOX versions of the weight vest are all top-notch. I have found these to work great with calisthenics, such as push-ups, burpees, pull-ups, rope climbs, squats, lunges and many more. The chest strap keeps the vest snug when moving, with only minor slipping when inverted -- doing handstand push-ups or stair crawls (bear crawls up and down stairs).
The price ranges from $130-$450 the heavier you go. I don't know why one would need a 150-pound weight vest, but if you are that strong, it could be beneficial to make gravity a little harder for you.
The weight vests are adjustable, with several individual weights and pockets in which to place them.
They do have a $40 Velcro sweat liner, which is key to being able to wash after a sweaty workout. Otherwise, you will have a funky-smelling piece of gear that resembles two-day-old hockey pads.
One of our favorite weight-vest workouts is a Murph made popular by CrossFit (one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, one-mile run). This vest works great for that, as do most vests.
ZFOSports Weight Vest
I found the least expensive but highest-quality vest on eBay.com years ago; it actually was made by ZFOsports.com. You can get a decent 40- to 60-pound weight vest for under $100 and shipped to you relatively cheaply, too.
The vests are adjustable with several individual weights and pockets to place them in. There is no sweat liner that comes with it.
The straps are connected with Velcro and do the job of securing the vest to your torso, but they can get tangled easily. Some of the newer vests have sewn-in straps that are less likely to get lost or tangled. The shoulders are not the most comfortable, but they are not painful, either.
I mainly use this vest for simulating rucking when I don't feel like getting my backpack out, but the basics of calisthenics work fine. Any inverted exercises do not do well with this brand.
But this is the best vest out there for under $100.
Tac Tec Plate Carrier Vest
5.11 Tac Tec Plate Carrier Vest: This vest is a well-made and comfortable vest, using large, flat plates, so it feels similar to body armor. It is designed to simulate tactical vests with body-armor plates so you only are looking at a 10- to 20-pound vest. You can make it heavier with additional plates that are not that expensive (see link from Rogue Fitness above).
It is very durable and ideal for climbing ropes, crawling and obstacle courses, as well as doing all types of calisthenics. I would limit any inverted exercises, because the waistband is not that secure. Great padded shoulders make it very comfortable. Prices are in the $250-$300 range, complete with weight plates.
Raptor Weight Vests
This has been my go-to weight vest since I met the creators at a National Strength and Conditioning Association Tactical Strength and Conditioning conference a few years ago. I have been using the Raptor weight vest for a great variety of exercises.
The great addition to this weight vest is a series of D rings that make the weight vest double as a towing harness. With the Raptor, you can pull sleds or tires (even cars!) while wearing the vest for sprints or bear crawls.
I am in the process of writing a new Weight Vest Workout book featuring this product, as it is my favorite. The sweat liner works well and is washed easily and replaceable with each use. The Velcro weight band is the best on the market; it features a Velcro wrap and tactical buckle to double-secure the vest for any type of movement.
The negative is the price tag. It is a British-made product, so the shipping and duty fees are high for the U.S. purchaser. However, they have teamed with www.Sorinex.com to handle USA distribution, thus saving the consumer large shipping and duty fees. The prices for the Raptor will be in the range of $200-$300.
My workout group has used the Raptor for everything. We like PT pyramids, super sets, rope climbs, bear crawls, obstacle courses, rucking simulation, stair climbing and, of course, towing drills with this comfortable, added weight.
If calisthenics are too easy for you, make them harder with a weight vest. If you want to prepare for rucking and are looking for a quick piece of gear to simulate moving with extra weight on your body, these vests come in quite handy.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to email@example.com.
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