Weighted Vests; Best as an Accessory

Well, it’s about time I sit down and finally write a blog on a question I have been getting a lot. There have been many people inquiring about my opinion on the weighted vests. Is it the same thing as the CRT program? Is that a more effective way to build and maintain muscle on your dog? Now, before I give my opinion on them, I think some facts need to be addressed.

The first thing we need to think about, is that dogs are quadrupeds.  Humans, of course, are bipeds. Now, the reason I make the distinction is because when we look to improve or advance canine fitness, we take a LOT of information and applications from the human world and apply them to dogs. Hell….. I did it when I made a model of the standard CRT program!  “Resistance bands” for dogs are becoming a growing sensation….…why? Because we saw such benefits in human training and we know our dogs deserve that care as well. The same thing happened with the weighted vests. We know we need weight bearing activity and since weighted vests fit that description, we assume those would serve as one of the better ways to build muscle. Weighted vests are being used in human athletes to help increase stamina and endurance, build muscle, and increase speed. All of those things are good attributes to have in our canine athletes except, many owners skip over the important distinction I just made.

Humans are bipeds. We are anatomically and structurally designed for weight distribution while standing upright and erect on two feet. When we put on a weighted vest, the entire body is capable of supporting the extra load. In dogs, being four legged…… the concern is that the weight is now only distributed over the front half. This doesn’t seem to pose much concern on a normal “healthy” dog….but a dog who suffers from orthopedic changes and degenerative disease, it adds unneeded stress in an area that is clinically weak. Weight that is not distributed evenly for long periods of time can be potentially harmful and dangerous.

One of the reasons I advocate for my CRT programming every chance I get, is that it really incorporates the idea of progressive overload; the gradual and progressive stress placed on the body, so that it helps to induce physiological changes and adaptation that help the body grow stronger. I don’t see that being done well with weighted vests. There is not structure to how long, how many days, when and why.  Most owners take the vest and throw it on their dog that is not conditioned, and go for a normal walk (which can range in miles). So much for gradual huh? It may be a small amount of weight, some of those vests don’t exceed 5lbs….but unevenly distributed weight with no progressive overload and minimal break for the body under a load—-isn’t going to produce the best physiological changes.  

Along with no true introduction to progressive overload, dogs don’t seem to get variability in the load. Now, again, take unevenly distributed weight through the small bones, ligaments, soft tissue and tendons with no variability in the load (except for when the vest comes off) and that doesn’t make for the most efficient segway into proper muscle building. The reason I love the old school modality of chains and a custom harness is that, when the dog stops, so does the resistance. The dog can naturally give it’s body small intermittent breaks from the load. When the dog stops in a weighted vest, the load is still there.

The last question I get is surrounding weighted vests and treadmills. I see absolutely no benefit to combining these two modalities of exercise. Part of me thinks that if you are creative enough to slap a weighted vest on a dog and then put that dog on a stationary treadmill, you are just being lazy. Not creative. Get outside and use a harness and chains… if for nothing other than the outdoor activity, the potential breaks from the increased load, and the ability to have the dog enjoy a conflict outlet (which isn’t what’s happening when you put a weighted vest on a dog and go for a walk).

Now this entire blog, isn’t to say weighted vests are bad… there aren’t a ton of scientific studies and research to support their use in canine athletics quite yet anyways. I am not even saying that weighted vests don’t serve as a form of resistance training. Like I mentioned earlier, resistance bands are a form of resistance training….but serious athletes looking for hypertrophy don’t hit the yoga studios. They hit the weights and barbells. At best, weighted vests are a good additive, a good form of accessory work. They are not my preferred go- to method for muscle development, but would serve best as complimentary and a better endurance development model.

Ashley Sculac