Weight Vest Training for Jump Height, Calisthenics, and More – Train Like Goku!

By on August 29, 2019

Using a weight vest when training has instant appeal for anyone who watches Dragon Ball. It’s a common Dragon Ball trope for a character to be seemingly too slow and weak to defend themselves against an opponent, only for them to reveal that they’ve been wearing weighted clothing all along. They then remove their weighted vest, ankle weights, and the like, only to become super-fast and strong and to wipe the floor with their opponents. See: Goku vs Tien, or Piccolo vs the Androids.

Dragon Ball Weighted Clothing

In fact, training by making themselves heavier is a recurring theme for the Z warriors. There are the two ton arm weights that King Kai makes Goku wear, and of course there’s the gravity room.

Weight vest training is the real-life proxy, and it’s almost as cool. It even has a wicked name: hypergravity training (as named by Dr. Carmelo Bosco and also sometimes called Gravity Doping). But what is the benefit of weight vest training and why should you get yourself one?

The Basics

Training with a weight vest makes you heavier. That means that when you perform any calisthenics movement such as rope climbs, crawls, or push-ups, you’ll be facing more resistance. This is a way to make otherwise “easy” moves, considerably more difficult.

This is a way to make otherwise “easy” moves, considerably more difficult.

This is great for introducing drop sets in calisthenics. That means you can perform as many weighted pull ups as possible, only to then switch to regular pull ups. This lets you considerably increase the challenge of a pull-up workout.

Weight vest

This becomes especially useful if you want to increase your strength through that specific range of motion in order to learn a new skill. For example, performing weighted pull ups is an ideal way to learn the muscle up, or clapping pull ups. Why? Because you demand your body to recruit more muscle fiber rather than simply being more endurant.

That gives you more explosive strength through that movement.

That gives you more explosive strength through that movement, so you can start launching yourself off the bar when you remove the vest. The only other way to increase the challenge of a pull up is to change the technique – by doing a one armed pull up for example – which uses different biomechanics and therefore doesn’t directly translate to the exercise you were previously performing.

The pull up is just one example of a move that can benefit from a weighted vest. There are many more examples from air squats, to squat jumps (be careful on the knees though), to push ups, to tricep dips, and lots more.

Weight vest training

I find that weight vest training is superior to weight belt training for this. Why? Because the weight is more evenly distributed, thereby making the movement more similar to the one you’re training for. It also means there isn’t a great big weight swinging between your legs and threatening to crush your knees.

Weighted Vest Training for Jump Height

Studies also show that weight vest training can benefit jump height.

These studies are very limited though. One often quoted study (study) looking at jump height found that the effect of the weighted vest was extremely minor – and that there was no change in women.

Where the most notable change was observed though was in the initial pre-takeoff velocity – how quickly the participants were able to drive their bodies through the ground to launch upward. That makes a lot of sense, given that the vest would help them to recruit more muscle fibre more quickly as they made this movement. It’s just that this small difference didn’t translate to massive gains in jumping height.

The study has a LOT of methodological problems however, such as the fact that only 18 participants recruited from a college were used, and that they were not given nearly long enough to train in order to see long-term results; the study looked at immediate changes only.

Chances are that over time, improvements in the acceleration of the movement would translate to greater gains in jump height.

Over time, improvements in the acceleration of the movement would translate to greater gains in jump height

This study used a vest weighing 15% of bodyweight yet again. I recommend using low depth jumps to get even more value from this type of training. When landing, make sure to absorb the impact properly with your ankles and hips. Don’t overdo it – start light and build up.

Other studies have demonstrated that weighted clothing can only fractionally improve the maximum number of press ups a person can do. This is not surprising: when you can already do 30-200 reps of an exercise, 15% extra bodyweight won’t do much. Compared to the amount you might bench press – 100% of your bodyweight or more potentially – this does very little. This is particularly true as most of the force is focussed on just a few muscle groups (pecs, shoulders, triceps).

Weight Vest Jump Training

To conclude, the weighted vest works best with movements that you can normally only perform 10-20 times, and will help you to become more explosive as you move through them as you are required to recruit more muscle fibre, more quickly. But we need more studies!

Other Uses for Weight Vest Training

There are more reasons to add weight vest training to your routine though. One is that a weight vest can turn any activity into a weight bearing one. Essentially, you are simulating being overweight! Add a weight vest to a walk for example and it will become harder on the body in a way that may help to increase bone density and thereby strengthen you against future injury.

Add a weight vest to a walk for example and it will become harder on the body in a way that may help to increase bone density.

What’s more, is that weight vests turn everything into a more intense form of resistance cardio. Studies show that you burn more calories when participating in activities like walking when you wear a weighted vest – which is no surprise. Specifically, these studies looked at participants using weights equivalent to 15 percent of their own bodyweight. They would then burn approximately 12 percent more calories (resource).

One study (study) looking at participants going through military-style training for 6 weeks found that wearing a weighted vest could improve maximal oxygen consumption by 100% compared with a non-vest-wearing control group (though this wasn’t a statistically significant result with only 37 participants total).

I’d argue this is much more effective than walking while holding the same amount of weight from a cardio point of view, the reason being that the weight is distributed evenly around your body. That means the heart needs to work extra hard to get blood to more muscle groups, thereby increasing your heartrate and improving the cardiovascular benefit.

Rope climbing with a weighted vest or performing crawls will having me gasping for breath after almost no time at all.

From experience, I’ve found that rope climbing with a weighted vest or performing crawls will having me gasping for breath after almost no time at all.

Finally, if you wear a weight vest for just a couple of reps right at the start of a workout without tiring yourself out, you might benefit from something called post-activation potentiation. What this means, is that you have engaged lots of muscle fiber to lift the heavier weight, and now its “resting potential” is higher. In other words, the nerves used to lift heavier weight have been warmed up and primed. Now, when you go to do a pull up with just your body weight, you will feel as light as a feather and almost fly off the bar – just like Goku.

Weight Vest

This only works if you avoid overdoing and burning yourself out of course though!

Limitations of Weighted Clothing

So, should you start wearing a weight vest all-day every day? Is this is the ideal example of incidental training? Was Goku right?

Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. While weight vest training is an ideal occasional tool to build strength, it also has its drawbacks.

Vegeta gravity training

One is that the average weighted vest will place a large amount of pressure on the shoulders in particular, and this can be damaging over time. Likewise, this can place strain on your joints – especially when performing plyometric exercises like jumps.

Wearing a vest all day could also risk “retraining” your proprioception and balance. That is to say, that you could become so accustomed to your center of gravity during weight vest training, that you actually feel oddly balanced when you aren’t wearing it.

We’ve also seen that weight vest trainign works best for movements that you can’t perform too many times consecutively, and that are ideally as compound as possible. Used correctly though, weight vest training can definitely provide more explosiveness and raw power.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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