JUDD JONES: Training with wearable weights

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I am sure many of you are aware of the practice to workout while carrying smalls weights or wearing weighted exercise gear. I am often asked if weighted exercise gear helps improve your workout and conditioning or just increases the risk of injury.

The answer is mixed, as with most exercise-related activity. The first thing you need to consider before adding additional weight to your body’s skeletal frame is to understand your current physical condition. If you’re incredibly out of shape or are more sedentary then active, don’t start out your new exercise regimen using a weighted vest or weights that wrap around your ankles or wrists. Using weighted gear is best done after you have become accustomed to working out and have some physical conditioning under your belt.

Along the same lines with being out of shape, don’t use weighted gear if you’re dealing with injuries. Usually for injuries to heal correctly, you need to maintain a full range of motion and keep your workouts on the light side until you are fully recovered. The same holds true for older adults dealing with arthritis, heart disease or high blood pressure, check with your doctor before taking on any physical exercise.

Everyone needs to start out with essential exercise, walking or light jogging for at least four to six weeks before you take on carrying or wearing weights. Now a four- to six-week ramp up with physical activity is just my opinion, but your body needs time to adjust to exercise if you’re out of shape. If you push it by adding weight to your body, it is likely you will create additional inflammation or increase the risk of minor injuries, leading you back to a low or no exercise routine.

Adding weight can be done for many exercise routines and this is where it can become tricky. If you’re adding a weight vest for something as simple as walking, chances are you can master a good pace and stride quickly. On the other hand, if you’re adding a weight vest for an exercise routine that requires complex movements, the odds of injury skyrocket.

The more complex the exercise, the more hindered your movements become, placing a higher demand on your balance and limiting your full range of motion. Once you start wearing or carrying weights, you must learn to compensate balance and flexibility, so it is best to start with reasonably light weight and slowly work your way up over a period of time.

Once you have mastered the use of carrying or wearing weights during your exercise regimens, it will be worthwhile to think about mixing it up across programs. For example, if you’re primarily walking, try a slow jog, and if your knees or hips do not support running or jogging very well, use weight on a stationary bike.

Now if you’re in excellent physical shape, you can wear a weight vest while powerlifting, or even during an intense aerobic class or Crossfit training session. Keep in mind wearing weight while in beast mode can place a higher demand on your body while only offering a small degree in your overall conditioning, but adding the risk of an adverse injury.

The big question is how much benefit do you see in carrying or wearing weighted gear? There have been some studies done on the use of wearing weights to improve endurance, conditioning, and performance. What came out of these studies was reasonably consistent showing that wearing weighted gear does burn more calories and did add to quicker physical conditioning in some athletes.

Adding weight to your body influences your kinetic chain, meaning it can have a positive and negative impact on your nervous system, skeletal system and muscular system. When extra weight is added, the body’s central nervous system and muscles start to adapt to the greater load and your skeletal system responds by developing better bone density. When using wearable weight over time, your conditioning grows and you will see some lasting results.

The one interesting aspect found in a few of the studies was that overall athletic performance did not improve. In other words, athletes did not necessarily improve form or function of their given activity. In fact, it was found that in some athletes their VO2 max or oxygen use worsened and their performance suffered.

So what does all this say about carrying or using wearable weighted exercise gear? First, it does help burn more calories and does push the body into working harder on building essential conditioning. For athletes wearing weighted equipment, it does not produce additional performance aspects and in fact, can hurt both form and function. Using weighted gear tied to your body does increase the risk of injury and in some types of exercise, the risk becomes exceptionally high.

The bottom line is that wearing weighted gear for your average active person can be helpful in burning more calories and building up various aspects of your conditioning. Wearable weighted equipment can be an excellent tool for both men and women if you want to intensify your workout. Use common sense and make sure you’re in good enough condition to handle the added strain of weighted gear to your body. With the proper preconditioning and taking a cautious approach, you will see physical improvements and feel more energy after your workouts. Just remember to be consistent in the use of weighted gear, only using a weight vest a couple of times, for example, will do nothing for your overall physical conditioning.

•••

Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.

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