When it comes to getting fit, there are a lot of different options out there. You can go to the gym, run on a treadmill, take fitness classes, or even buy your own home gym. But one of the most underrated and underused exercises is walking. It’s easy, you can do it anywhere, and it’s great for your overall health. That said, it’s important to answer one question first: “How heavy should a weight vest be for walking?”
A weight vest should stay around 10% to 15% of your bodyweight for walking. This is important for a few reasons. First, it helps reduce the stress on your joints and ligaments. Secondly, it helps maximize the benefit. If it’s too heavy it can actually be a detriment instead of an aid.
Plus, if you add a weighted vest, it becomes even more challenging and beneficial. Walking with a weighted vest can help improve your cardiovascular health, increase bone density, and tone your muscles. It can also help burn a few more calories with the same amount of effort.
How Heavy Should a Weight Vest Be for Walking – By Bodyweight
It’s important to find the right weight for your weighted vest. If it’s too light, you won’t get the full benefits. If it’s too heavy, you could actually do more harm than good. A general rule of thumb is to keep the vest around 10% to 15% of your bodyweight.
Check out this chart of calories burned while walking at 3mph for 30 minutes (plenty of time to get some great health benefits) and how many more calories you’ll burn with a weight vest. This is an estimate with several assumptions made – the reality may be very different based on several factors like body composition, fitness level, etc. It’s interesting to look at though nonetheless.
As you can see, weight vests aren’t necessarily game changers or going to drastically increase the speed with which you get fit or lose weight. They are a tool to be used to supplement your good nutrition and exercise habits. While tools are helpful, the most important thing is consistent action that supports your goal.
Is 20lbs Too Much for a Weight Vest?
Depending on your bodyweight, 20lbs can be a bit too much. Larger people weighing around 150-200lbs could utilize a 20lb weight vest and stay within the recommended 10%-15% of bodyweight, but starting there still may be too much. We recommend starting at 10lbs and working your way up.
If you reference the chart above, 20lbs would be 15% of bodyweight for someone weighing around 135lbs. For a 135lb individual, 20lbs is going to feel very heavy. For weighted walking, or some shorter sprints, this may be fine. Trying to run any appreciable distance or working out for an hour in a 20lb weight vest at 115lbs is going to be miserable.
We wrote earlier about the diminishing returns of wearing too much weight – this would fall into that category. If the weight vest is tiring you out so much you are unable to do quality work when exercising, it’s too much and it’s likely hurting your progress instead of helping it. Extra resistance is great for building muscle, but it has to be applied intelligently and with a plan.
Is It Good to Wear a Weighted Vest While Walking?
Wearing a weighted vest while walking can be beneficial for healthy individuals who are looking to get a little more out of their workout. While it isn’t a gamechanger, it can help accelerate calorie burn while building additional muscle through increased resistance.
We have discussed at length in several articles the benefits of wearing a weighted vest, many of these articles focus on running, but walking is basically the same. We did want to reiterate some of the potential pitfalls as well as concerns. The main one being excess strain leading to potential injury.
One of the main critiques of using extra weight during exercise is the excess stress it puts on the body. This stress is the goal of wearing a weight vest, and in the majority of situations and people it is a good thing, but those who have prior health conditions or are otherwise unable to support the stress could have unfortunate side effects.
Is A Weight Vest Safe For My Back?
Our spines are designed to be compressed to quite a large degree. Regular spinal forces during walking consist of .8x to 1.6x bodyweight, however forces during resistance training can be upwards of 6x-8x bodyweight. All of these are safe assuming proper form, training, nutrition, and being healthy overall.
One thing I do regularly in addition to running is lifting weights. I regularly put weights on my back that are more than 2x my bodyweight, and I’m not that strong. Powerlifters weighting 250lbs can squat upwards of 800+ pounds meaning their spines are taking loads of 3x+ their bodyweight.
While one wouldn’t want to do this long-term, and proper form is critical, it does illustrate the ability of our spine to take additional loads. One article on the compressive loads of the lumbar vertebrae when walking states the following:
Another article on weight lifting states:
As you can see, there is a large range of potential forces on your spine – all of which can be accomplished safely. It really comes down to the individual, specific use, and proper form and training utilized.
So – How Heavy Should a Weight Vest Be for Walking?
The answer is pretty straightforward – keep the weights between 10% to 15% of bodyweight for a limited amount of time while training specifically for an explosive or muscle-building goal. Don’t wear them for long distance running or extended periods of time as that is likely to actually reduce the effectiveness of your training.
Also – if you have back or neck issues, a weighted vest is not for you. Weighted vests place more compressive forces on the spine which can aggravate, or further injure, someone who has preexisting back problems. If you experience any pain while wearing a weighted vest or have any questions, it’s best to consult a doctor.
As always, train hard, but train safe!