Why You Should Do Squats With Weighted Vest (Explained)


I started doing squats with a weighted vest in 2020 during the lockdown, and to be honest, I didn’t have high expectations. I thought, okay, if I can do squat 225 for 15 reps, then wearing a 20lbs vest won’t be a problem.

Needless to say, I was wrong. It not only made my legs stronger but also made my whole workout more efficient. Today I’m peeling back the curtain to show what are the benefits of doing squats with a weight vest and how to do it correctly.

In general, squatting is one of the most fundamental movements essential to improving performance, as well as reducing injury risk. Using weighted vests for squats is good becasue it allows you to add more resistance to this exercise, which makes the workout more effective and challenging.

Here you have my overall answer, but if you wanna know more details about the weighted vest squats’ benefits, keep reading.

Benefits of doing squats with a weighted vest

One of the ways to make your bodyweight squats more challenging is to wear a weighted vest. This comes with many benefits like higher calorie burn and fat loss, as well as muscle strength and endurance.

Wearing a vest is also suitable for beginners and seniors who don’t have exercise practice and needs an alternative to traditional free weights.

Doing squats with a weight vest burns more calories

The first thing I’ve noticed after doing squats with a weighted vest is that my heart rate spiked (significantly).

A higher heart rate means you have higher energy expenditure throughout the workout, which helps to burn more calories and enhance weight loss.

Of course, the number of extra calories you burn from wearing a vest will depend on the weight of the vest, your lean body weight, and your workout intensity (aka how many squats you do and how fast you do them).

On average, doing squats while wearing a 30 lbs weight vest burns between 9 to 14 kcal per minute, depending on the body weight and intensity. That is equivalent to cycling at 100-150 watts on a stationary bike, which is considered moderate to the vigorous effort.

In the table below you can see the comparison between doing squats with vs without a 30 lbs weight vest.

(The numbers below are based on the online calorie calculators and are only the estimation).

Body weightSquats without vestSquats with a 30 lbs weight vest
160 lbs7 kcal per min9 kcal per min
180 lbs8 kcal per min10 kcal per min
200 lbs9 kcal per min11 kcal per min
220 lbs10 kcal per min12 kcal per min
240 lbs11 kcal per min13 kcal per min
260 lbs12 kcal per min14 kcal per min
Calories burned from doing squats with a weight vest

As you can see, there is not much difference between doing squats with vs without the vest when it comes to calories. For example, if you do squats every day for 15 minutes, wearing a vest will burn extra 70-140 calories.

However, keep in mind that most people don’t do only squats. They do a bunch of bodyweight exercises like burpees, push-ups, lunges, and planks, which, of course, increases the total calorie burn.

To learn more, check out my article where I explain how to use a weighted vest for weight loss. Details here.

It allows you to train at the heart rate Zone 2

One cool thing I’ve noticed from doing squats with a vest is that my heart rate was elevated just around 60-70% of my maximum heart rate, which equals to the Zone 2 training.

You can think of the Zone 2 training as the intensity level when your breathing is steady and you can maintain a conversation.

Heart rate zone 2 is also referred to as a base or aerobic training. This is when your body uses fat oxidation as a primary source of fuel for energy production.

Peter Attia, MD, a physician and longevity expert, said that “Zone 2 exercise intensity is the best at stimulating mitochondrial function and fat oxidation and lactate cleanse capacity“.

Doing squats without the vest doesn’t get me anywhere close to Zone 2. However, when I combine squats with walking while wearing a vest, I can maintain zone 2 without any problems (plus, the workout does not get tedious).

Yes, you would need to use a heart rate monitor to track your intensity.

One of the most accurate heart rate monitors you can use for your weighted vest bodyweight training is the waterproof Polar H10 Chest Strap with the ANT+ and Bluetooth technology.

You can check out the prices on Amazon via my affiliate link. Details here.

(if you buy through links on this page, I may earn a small commission).

It builds muscles in your legs

Wearing weighted vests while doing squats can help you not only to build muscle endurance and strength but also helps to preserve muscle mass, specifically in the type I muscle fibers.

Of course, you won’t be able to build a significant amount of muscle mass like from doing heavy barbell squats or lunges where you use 70-90% of your 1RM.

However, with enough training volume and intensity, you can stimulate hypertrophy adaptations that are similar to heavy weights.

According to Brad J Schoenfeld, Ph.D., a researcher from New York, both heavy and light loads showed large effects for 1RM increases (source).

The research published by Dr. Schoenfeld has shown that “lighter loads promote substantial increases in strength (similar to heavy loads) as long as the low load sets were performed to momentary muscular failure“.

NOTE: Dr. Schoenfeld added that “the study was done with untrained people”, which begs the question if the same outcome would be achieved with trained people.

Related article: Does Weighted Vest Build Muscle

It doesn’t make your legs bulky

One important thing I will highlight is that doing bodyweight squats with a vest does build your muscle endurance, but you won’t get massive legs.

Let me explain.

The difference between the weighted vest squats vs barbell squats is that barbell squats with a heavy load engage mainly fast-twitch muscle fibers, which leads to hypertrophy (increasing the size of muscle fibers).

On the other hand, when doing bodyweight squats with a weighted vest (assuming you’re doing high reps and low load) you’re engaging mainly type I muscle fibers, also called slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Type I muscle fibers are smaller in size than the fast-twitch. They support long-distance endurance activities like marathons (fast-twitch fibers are larger in size than slow-twitch).

In other words, doing squats with a vest makes your legs stronger, without making them look bulky.

Doing squats with a weight vest is a good warm-up

Another way you can implement squats with a weight vest is during your warm-up before a sports game, track and field, running, or cycling. Studies have shown that weighted-vest has a priming effect on leg stiffness and running economy.

Of course, this translates to better performance.

Adding extra weight helps to engage more muscle fibers, which can help to generate more power output, and peak speed during your main workout or event.

However, some studies have shown that wearing a weighted vest during warm-up was not effective in improving the 5km time. Details here.

It makes your home wokrouts more challenging

One of the reasons why I started using a weighted vest was becasue of the lockdown. Ever since, I decided to build my own home gym where I can train, without having to rely on commercial gyms.

Doing weight vest squats helps to add a little extra resistance and further stimulates your progress, without having to spend tons of money on expensive gym equipment.

For example, I like to train outdoors. For that, I take my weight vest into my car trunk and drive with my wife to the nearest park or beach. In there, we like to set up the TRX and do a whole body weighted vest workout.

In general, you can do bodyweight exercises at home like squats, lunges, and push-ups without a weighted vest. However, combining a weighted vest with TRX and calisthenics makes the exercise more challenging.

It makes workouts more efficient

Another advantage of using a weight vest is it makes your workouts more time efficient. Instead of doing dozens of reps, by wearing a vest, you can reach muscle failure in the 10-15 rep range, depending on your fitness level.

For example, I need to do at least 40-50 reps of air squats until I feel my muscles burn. With the vest, I can stay under 20 reps and get the same effect, which saves me a lot of time.

Doing squats with a weight vest is suitable for seniors

One of the most profound benefits of doing weighted vest workouts is it can be safely done by seniors and the elderly.

It is well-documented that the aging process is associated with many changes in the human body like loss of muscle mass, and loss of bone mass, which can lead to the overall decline in physical activity.

According to Karsten Keller, M.D. from the Heidelberg University in Germany, the “aging process leads to distinct muscle mass and strength loss in the rates between 16.6% and 40.9% in people 40 years old and older“.

See the table below.

 Image credit: MLTJ 2013

As you can see in the screenshot above, the lowest rate of decline in lean mass is around 1-2% per year after age 50 (the strength loss can be even greater, 15% decline per decade). Between ages 20-80, the is a loss of 35-40%.

Needless to say, strength training with the right training volume and intensity is one of the best ways to preserve muscle mass and strength in older people.

Doing weighted vest squats, lunges, push-ups, and chin-ups is one of the simplest ways to add extra resistance and delay some of the changes related to sarcopenia.

How to do weight squats at home

The best way to do squats with a weighted vest at home is to combine them with other calisthenics exercises, as a part of a well-rounded circuit-style workout routine.

For example, doing sets of push-ups, lunges, squats, and planks, back to back.

Below you can see the example of my typical weighted vest workout during the lockdown. Initially, I started with 3 basic exercises.

  • 20 squats
  • 10 push-ups
  • 5 pull-ups
  • 2-3 minutes rest

The goal was to do as many rounds as possible. Each exercise is done back to back, with the rest at the end.

It took me 3-4 weeks until I was ready to change the exercises to more strenuous. I started doing more unilateral leg movements like box step-ups, lunges, and Bulgarian split squats. Later, I added more plyometrics like box jumps and burpees.

You can use weighted vest squats in the gym

If you wanna take your workouts to the next level, you can wear the vest for your regular gym wokrouts. For example, doing barbell squats or deadlifts with a vest makes it significantly more difficult.

However, I would not recommend doing this every time you train. Wearing a vest and lifting weights can be taxing on the body, which can make you more tired in the long term.

I recommend using that as a weekly or bi-weekly challenge. For example, you can do 4-5 exercises on time (as fast as possible).

See the example below.

  • 25 pull-ups
  • 50 barbell squats (50-60% of 1RM)
  • 50 deadlifts (50-60% of 1RM)
  • 50 push-ups
  • 50 hanging ab curls

Keep in mind that here you don’t have to do the whole 50 reps all at once. You can break the set down into 10 reps or even 5 reps. The goal is to complete the whole circuit in as fast as possible.

When finish, write down your time and try to beat that record next time (it’s actually a fun workout).

How heavy should a weighted vest be for squats?

The table below shows the recommendation for how to choose the right vest for squats and other bodyweight exercises.

(These recommendations are based on my experience, as well as current research).

BodyweightWeight vest weight
13010 – 15 lbs
14011 – 16 lbs
15012 – 18 lbs
16012 – 19 lbs
17013 – 20 lbs
18014 – 21 lbs
19015 – 22 lbs
20016 – 24 lbs
21016 – 25 lbs
22017 – 26 lbs
23018.4 – 27.6 lbs
24019.2 – 28.8 lbs
25020 – 30 lbs
26020.8 – 31.2 lbs
Weighted vest weight recommendations for squats

In this article, I won’t get into the details of how to choose the right weight for your vest. I’ve already covered that in my article “how heavy should a weighted vest be“, which I recommend you read.

Conclusion

So, are weighted vests good for squats? Whenever you’re doing high or low reps, using weighted vests for squats is good becasue it makes the exercise more difficult.

Adding extra weight also allows you to evenly redistribute the weight throughout the body, as well as stimulate muscle growth.

It is also suitable for beginners and seniors as a way to implement progressive overload, without having to use commercial gyms.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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