The 10 Best Weight Vests
10. Tone Fitness
9. Fun and Function Weighted Compression
8. Hyperwear Pro
7. JBM Neoprene
6. Empower for Women
5. TNT Pro Iron
4. HumanX Vest
3. Fun and Function Stretch Denim
2. ZFOSports Women's Adjustable
1. RunFast Max Pro
A Few Words On Making Muscle
Before we discuss the enhanced muscular development you can enjoy through the use of a weighted vest, it's important to establish a baseline understanding of how muscles grow in the first place. In the simplest terms, skeletal muscles are those that move your body around, controlling actions ranging from a running long jump to controlling a pair of chopsticks or throwing a 100-mph fastball. Smooth muscles, on the other hand, control involuntary actions such as intestinal activity; cardiac muscles are in their own category yet again, keeping your heart rate up or down as needed to keep oxygen-rich blood moving.
Every time you move even the slightest bit, one (or more likely dozens) of your skeletal muscles contract. This is thanks to minute muscle fibers known as sarcomeres responding to a signal sent from your brain that induces an energy transfer from the surrounding cells. The sarcomeres pull on larger bands of muscle fiber known as myofibrils, and these bands draw on the connective tissue attached to bones, thus leading to the actual movement of the body. Of course, all of this takes mere microseconds; you're completing countless contractions even now, as you sip a cup of coffee or lean in closer to the computer screen.
Weight lifting causes muscles to grow through a process known as hypertrophy. (You are probably more familiar with the pejorative antonym of this word: atrophy.) Hypertrophy takes place when the contractions of those sarcomeres and myofibrils occurs enough times or under circumstances requiring enough effort (lifting a heavy barbell, e.g.) to damage the muscle fibers. In response to damage to these fibers, your body sends in satellite cells, which are essentially reserve cells that can travel to the point of damage and help fill the damaged areas. Not only does this action help repair muscle, it also adds material to the muscle. That's also known as muscle growth. Over time, what on a cellular level is a process of repair and regeneration, on an exterior level comes to look like rippling abs, cut triceps, and a bulked up chest.
It seems ironic, but from a scientific standpoint it's accurate to say that the more "damage" you inflict on your muscles, the larger, healthier, and stronger they will grow. Of course, this comes with its limits: muscles grow slowly and steadily, and if you overwork them, you can cause injury beyond the minute tears that these satellite cells will quickly repair, potentially requiring a full cessation of exercise for a protracted period and leading to atrophy instead of hypertrophy. If you're new to weightlifting and core training exercises, read up or meet with a certified trainer before you just start lifting. You need to ease into the activity, essentially priming your muscles before you start the serious work of building serious, lasting muscle.
Make The Most Of Your Training
The phrase "sport specific training" has become something of a buzzword-cum-cliche of late, often thrown around in lieu of a more substantial term. But what the expression essentially refers to is training intended specifically to improve athletic performance, as opposed to a fitness routine intended to promote overall improved health and weight management, for example. In years past, sport specific training referred to a training regimen that was specific to a given sport: a basketball player might incorporate dribbling into his wind sprints and spend plenty of time doing squats to improve his vertical jump, while a softball pitcher might focus on building shoulder strength.
Whether you are training for a specific sport; trying to improve your overall athletic prowess in terms of increased explosiveness, endurance, and reduced chance for injury; or you have embarked on a more general fitness routine because you just want to look and feel better and potentially live longer, a weight vest is a great tool to help you achieve your goals.
Regardless of your feelings about sport specific training, few people will argue that in order to improve your skills at a given activity, you need to spend a lot of time doing said activity. And few sports medicine doctors or fitness instructors will argue that added resistance doesn't build muscle. Thus, by incorporating extra weight into an activity you will already be practicing, you can help your body add the specific musculature that you use in that activity.
Imagine a long jumper suddenly getting the opportunity to try for a new record on Mars: if she weighed 120 lbs. on earth, she would weigh just 45 lbs. on the red planet, yet would still have the same muscle power at her disposal. While it's impractical to cross the tens of millions of miles to Mars for a jump, it's not impractical to add extra weight to yourself while training here on earth, and then remove it prior to performance, thus enjoying a fraction of the same benefit.
From that sprint toward first base to the agility needed in the boxing ring, a weighted vest can improve your ability to perform across multiple types of activity.
Choosing A Weight Vest For Strength Or Endurance Training
Choosing the right weighted vest is a pleasantly easy undertaking: first, know your budget. Next, know how much weight you might want to add, and choose a vest that can accommodate it. Many max out near 20 lbs., which might be too light for larger athletes. Other vests can handle 150 lbs., which should be enough weight for even large, robust bodies in training.
You should also take careful note of the weight increments that come with your vest (or that can be added separately). Some vests can have weight added by just a half-pound at a time, while others increase their load by 2 lbs. per increment. Two pounds might not sound like much on its own, but it can actually greatly increase the difficulty of an activity when you are already heavily weighted.
And finally, choose a vest based on how it secures to the body. For improved squats or lunges, it's hard to find a vest that won't suffice. For a runner or cross trainer, it's imperative to find a vest with multiple adjustment points that can hug the body tightly and won't jostle or chafe during extended periods of use.