Wearing a weighted vest ALL DAY: I tried it!

Having bought a Bulldog weighted vest recently I’ve been looking for different ways to incorporate it in to my training. Mainly just to play with the latest toy, but also to see just how versatile a weighted vest like that really is.

One recurring topic across Reddit and various other fitness forums is around the benefits of wearing a weighted vest all day.

Should you do it? Shouldn’t you? And, for me right now, perhaps the most important question – does it help us lose weight? Well let us find out now!

Wearing a weighted vest ALL DAY: I tried it!

At a glance…

  • Wearing a weight vest all day can result in painful shoulders & traps
  • BUT… Walking with a vest can burn around 10% more calories vs without
  • If trying this out, start light and use a good quality vest for the most comfortable experience
  • Check out my Bulldog Gear weight vest review for one option
  • Overall, for most people, it is likely MORE efficient to wear your vest when doing exercise rather than all day which mitigates the side effects
  • Emerging research suggests obese individuals can drop weight by simply wearing a weighted vest 8hrs a day

Should I wear a weight vest all day?

In short… Probably not.

Having spent some time doing this myself recently I can lay out my experience, which chimes with what a lot of the contributors on the various social media outlets were saying (don’t say you told me so…)

Is it comfortable?

Not really. 

My weight vest is incredibly comfortable and cosseting when wearing it for exercise, tightening up nicely for running and sitting comfortably for chin-ups and similar movements. 

BUT when wearing it ALL DAY I found it grew uncomfortable simply as a result of the dull, dead weight pushing down on my traps. For an hour or two it is fine, but much longer and subtle discomfort began to creep in.

Of course the right thing to do is to knock the weight back a few kilos and go again which did work, but had the side effect of feeling so light it felt a bit silly. You really need to start this at a LIGHT weight!

I tend to get really tight upper back and trap muscles anyway (thus my investment in a massage gun previously!) and found this seemed to accentuate the issue. Usually physical exercise would loosen it all off – but not simply wearing the best unfortunately.

Additional stress on your joints

Strapping 20kg of additional weight to your body and going about your regular day-to-day business presents a unique set of challenges on your body:

When you’re working out you KNOW you’re working – mentally and physically you are focused, prepared and in the zone. Movements are efficient and deliberate.

Conversely when I’m NOT working out I am rarely consciously thinking of how I move around. This means imperfect movements, twists of the knee or hip, ducking and weaving around family and/or pets – all of this is fine at my regular bodyweight, but adding significant additional weight made me very AWARE of how I was moving and just how much RISK there was that I would unwittingly strain a muscle or hurt a joint with the additional weight added.

Weight vest loaded with 1kg bricks: Choose your weight!
Weight vest loaded with 1kg bricks: Choose your weight!

But maybe I just need to focus more when I walk around my house!

It absolutely CAN be done, however

Before we start throwing the baby out with the bath water, it is worth remembering that – just like when we do strength training (or almost anything else for that matter) – our bodies and minds adapt to what they are exposed to.

Wearing a vest all day everyday is absolutely doable. Police officers do this ever day for their own safety – not just to lose a bit of bodyfat!

So if you want to give it a go then throw on your vest, start light, and build up slowly.

Is it worth it?

For me it ultimately comes down to this… Is the joint risk and the mild soreness worth it for the upshot? The big reward?

Not really. 

The main benefit of an increased burn rate of calories (losing weight, basically) was experienced when walking with the weight vest on – something that takes 30 – 60 minutes of any given day. The rest of the time? Not a huge additional contribution.

Fully laden: You can see the thick shoulder pads holding form when the vest is fully loaded @ 20kg
Fully laden: You can see the thick shoulder pads holding form when the vest is fully loaded @ 20kg

So I’ve found myself NOT wearing the vest all day anymore, and instead throwing it on for walks, runs and the usual range of callisthenics style workouts. This has the upshot of allowing me to go heavier as I am wearing it for less time.

How to wear a weighted vest all day

But hey – don’t take my word for it, give it a go yourself. I read all sorts of forums and blogs before FINALLY deciding to buy a weighted vest to try all this stuff out – if you’ve got a vest to hand or are keen to buy one anyway, you might want to try this out for yourself.

If so, here are my tips on how to get the most from wearing a vest all day:

Start light

Stating the obvious here for anyone familiar with strength training – but start light and work your way up slowly (the infamous linear progression).

Honestly – and we all do this – avoid the temptation to load up the weight to ‘feel it more’ on your first go. It’s not worth it! It is frustrating as I said above as it initially feels too light, but over a few hours it will grind you down 🙂

The most significant factor that’s new to someone like me who has focused on powerlifting or body building historically is the DURATION, or time under tension, of wearing the vest all day.

Individual weight bricks: Key for loaded SMALL amounts of weight on to your vest
Individual weight bricks: Key for loaded SMALL amounts of weight on to your vest

Simply put – a little weight goes a LONG way. Granted you might not notice it in the first five minutes, but two hours in that 5kg vest certainly starts to make itself known!

Start light – add weight regularly over time – don’t push yourself too hard too soon.

Start with a shorter duration

Following the same train of thought as the above, when it comes to DURATION then we want to linearly progress this over time as well.

So start wearing a vest for an hour, then two and so on. This gives your body time to adapt to the exposure to this new stress you’re training. 

Think back to your first day lifting weights (if you’ve done this before) – you don’t load up 200kg+ on the bar and get started – you start with an empty bar and slowly work up a few kilos at a time.

Give your body TIME to adapt to the novel STRESS we are applying. Jumping in too far too fast will cause unnecessary pain (literally!) and will ultimately put you off trying this again.

Sort your footwear out

If you’re adding 2kg – 20kg of additional weight to your body you want to make sure your feet are comfortable. Aim for arch support in a well fitted Metcon style trainer if you can.

Choose a good quality vest

If you’re wearing it for a few hours in a row, any vest will become uncomfortable. However, you can MINIMISE the discomfort by simply investing a bit more in a vest with a better design – mainly around the shoulders.

Currently I am using and testing the Bulldog Gear 20kg Weight Vest  – it has an excellent shoulder design that helps the weight sit nice and high on my back. This is similar to a well-fitted hiking backpack.

Another angle: My Bulldog vest as an example of a heavy duty product
Another angle: My Bulldog vest as an example of a heavy duty product

Having this great fit with appropriate padding means it is comparatively MORE comfortable to wear the vest during the day compared to a weighted backpack or poorly designed vest.

If you’re planning to wear it ALL DAY, then it’s worth spending a few more quid on it to get the BEST version. Think of it as an hourly charge 🙂

What type of vest is best for this?

Generally a well fitted vest which can be finely adjusted will work best for all day use. 

Look for a high quality construction to withstand the wear and tear of constant use. Think thick stitching and robust padding – particularly over the shoulder areas and any weight pockets.

Remember MOST vests will be made with short, sharp uses in mind – sets of pull-ups, press-ups or similar. A cheap vest is likely to dilapidated and have weaknesses exposed with these long, all-day sessions.

Click to check out availability of the Bulldog vest pictured here
Click to check out availability of the Bulldog vest pictured here

I have the Bulldog 20kg vest – loadable 1kg at a time and well built. You can check my review out here.

Will I lose weight by wearing a weighted vest all day?

As noted above there is evidence to support around a 10% increase in calories burned WHEN WALKING with a vest weighing around 15% of your bodyweight. In your house or sitting at a desk this burn rate will be much lower.

You CAN lose weight by wearing a weighted vest all day though, and even more if you incorporate regular exercise in to your routine. Walking or running – particularly uphill – will allow you to get the most out of the vests 10% increase in burn rate.

Recent development: Obese people may benefit

A recent study undertaken by Gothenburg University took 69 obese individuals (so in the BMI range of 30-35) and had them wear a 11kg weight vest (24lbs) for 8 hours each day over a 3 week period.

The outcome is the exciting bit: They lost around 5lbs of body FAT… Yep – they PRESERVED THEIR MUSCLE MASS and dropped the FAT.

This is a really exciting development – I’m keenly watching to see if this result is replicable in those with lower BMIs.

[Why did they lose fat? There is a theory that everyone’s body has a “graviostat” built in to it which is our body’s way of tracking our weight itself. As it sensed an increase in weight in these individuals falsified by the vest, it triggered weight loss to preserve overall bodyweight]

What should I do instead?

If you’re looking for a low intensity way of losing weight with a weight vest then an easy place to start is by walking with it on. Walking is easier to start than jumping in with more intense runs, and has less of the negative side effects of wearing your vest for a whole day. Don’t overthink it – just head out and pound the pavements!

What’s more, walking with a weight vest is PROVEN to burn more calories. As noted above, subjects in a study who wore a vest weighing 15% of their bodyweight burned around 10% MORE calories when walking on a treadmill.

Rear view: Weight distributed evenly around the vest is key for all day comfort
Rear view: Weight distributed evenly around the vest is key for all day comfort

So… Start small both in terms of weight added and distance walked and build up to longer, heavier walks to drop some weight!

What about higher intensities?

PERSONALLY, as someone with a history of working out regularly, I prefer higher intensity workouts. So for me I incorporate a weight vest in to my existing routine and GPP days – think air squats, press ups, lunges and weighted runs. This is also a great way to build a useful workout with minimal equipment if you don’t have space for a traditional free-weight based home gym.

Of course the same logic applies here as elsewhere – if you’re not used to working out or routines like these then build up slowly starting with low impact, low intensity circuits and build intensity over time.

Conclusion

So… Should you wear a weighted vest all day? For most people, probably not. The side effects of strain (and a bit of pain!) are not worth it for an average person.

For an average Jane (or Joe), instead try going for a walk or wearing it while doing other exercises. This is a great way to burn around 10% more calories and as the time under tension is much lower it is less taxing on your body.

For those who have MORE weight to lose, there is very exciting emerging research pointing to material body fat loss for obese individuals (classified as having a BMI in the 30 – 35 range) who DID wear a weight vest all day. If this sounds like your situation then wearing a weight vest for 8 hours a day might just help you to cut body fat! I’m looking forward to tracking this line of study and seeing if similar findings occur in a wider demographic.