Is a Weighted Vest Bad for Your Back?

Use a weighted vest correctly to avoid back injuries.
i Tom Le Goff/Photodisc/Getty Images

It's a crazy, busy, multitasking world and time is at a premium. If you're looking for ways to make your workouts more efficient, you may be tempted to wear a weighted vest. Weighted vests can help you burn more calories and increase muscle and bone strength, but if used incorrectly, they can hurt your back. Make sure you follow safety guidelines to minimize your risk when using a weighted vest.

Make Sure It Fits Correctly

Your weighted vest should fit snugly and conform to your body. It will rest on your shoulders but, as with a backpack, the weight shouldn’t be carried by your shoulders. If it doesn’t fit well, the vest will bind, shift or hang from your shoulders. This can pull your spine out of alignment and strain your muscles. When you wear a weighted vest, you should be able to stand upright with good posture and move your shoulders and waist freely. Distribute the weights evenly around your torso -- between the front and back, right and left.

Maintain Correct Posture

Good posture is just physics. Think about stacking a tower of blocks -- the center of gravity has to be balanced over the base of support. When you have good posture, your center of gravity, located just below your belly button, is aligned over your feet. This way your muscles don’t have to work hard to keep you upright and balanced. Adding weights changes your center of gravity. But, unlike hand or ankle weights, a weighted vest keeps the weight close to the center of your body so you don’t need to adjust your posture as much to maintain good alignment. The key is to develop your core muscles so you can keep your blocks stacked, regardless of the weight. If you're just getting started, place the weights around your waist, near your center of gravity. As you get stronger, you can add weight up near your shoulders, making sure to load it evenly around your torso.

Don’t Add Too Much Weight Too Soon

A weighted vest can load the muscles and bones in your spine and hips, making them stronger. But if you add too much weight before your muscles are strong enough to support good posture, you will incorrectly load your joints. This can damage the connective tissue. A good weighted vest will allow you to adjust the amount and position of the weight. When you start using a weighted vest, add only 2 percent of your body weight. As you continue, you can increase the load by 1 pound every other week. If you miss a week of workouts, maintain the weight for a couple of weeks.

Consult a Professional

Much of the load in a weighted vest is carried by your spine. This can lead to compression of your intervertebral discs and back pain. The compressive forces can also fracture a fragile vertebrae. Furthermore, the muscles in your torso, shoulders and legs must work harder when you wear a weighted vest. A personal trainer can help you develop a progressive workout that will use your weighted vest to safely strengthen your bones and muscles. If you have a chronic condition that affects your muscles, joints or bones -- such as fibromyalgia, a herniated disc, arthritis or osteopenia -- ask your doctor if it's safe to wear a weighted vest.

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