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I tried a weighted jacket at 60 to supercharge my workout

Phil Hilton initially found it a struggle even to put the weighted vest on
Phil Hilton initially found it a struggle even to put the weighted vest on - Rii Schroer/The Telegraph

At the end of last year, David Beckham posted a video working out with an appealingly masculine-looking piece of equipment. After some laborious hint-dropping my excellent family clubbed together to buy me one for my 60th birthday a few weeks ago and now I’m in love.

And the timing couldn’t be better. New research could lead lots of men to look for fresh ways to tune up their workouts. The study from the Affiliated Hospital of Qingdao University has found that women need less exercise for the same longevity benefits. They found that 140 minutes of gentle exercise a week reduced women’s risk of premature death by 18 per cent compared with being inactive. But men needed 300 minutes of exercise a week for a similar benefit. So, as a man who loves his fitness and is hoping to lead a long and healthy life, I welcomed a fresh way to rinse more from the already extensive time spent thrashing myself.

Phil, here running on Primrose Hill, north London, has integrated the vest into his exercise regime
Phil, here running on Primrose Hill, north London, has integrated the vest into his exercise regime - Rii Schroer/The Telegraph

The package arrived at my door and the delivery man remarked how heavy the parcel was – I apologised on behalf of a deceptively small brown cardboard box and told him gleefully that it weighed 20kg. The black vest looks very, very Armed Response Unit when you first unwrap it. Filled with removable 1 kg metal bricks, and sitting high on the chest and back, it’s a menacing piece of kit.

Fully laden, I couldn’t even lift it onto my shoulders. Once I’d taken loads of the bricks out and reduced the weight to about 9kg I was able to put it on and tighten the Velcro straps.

The first thing you notice is the pressure on your lungs. The weights sit directly on your chest and force you to labour slightly to draw breath.

Trainer Rob Carr (@robcarrPT) is a huge fan of the weighted vest. “Because of where the weight vest sits,” he says, “when you inhale and your ribcage rises to fill your lungs, you’re working against it. So your heart and lungs will work harder.”

The vest also places an extra burden on your whole frame, so if you put one on and go for your usual brisk walk you will be burning more calories in the same time window. “If you look at your heart rate with a vest and without a vest your heart rate will be higher with the vest and take longer to recover – this indicates more calorie burn.” Carr recommends increasing the weight in the vest incrementally so your body can adjust to the pressure on your torso. Wearing a vest that’s 15 per cent of your body weight should enable a walker to burn an extra 10 or 15 per cent more, according to a 2013 study. On a proper cross-country march that will quickly add up.

Phil found that the vest hugely intensified all activity: 'your heart and lungs will work harder'
Phil found that the vest hugely intensified all activity: 'your heart and lungs will work harder' - Rii Schroer/The Telegraph

As you burn calories you will also be strengthening your bones. “Your bones will respond to the extra stimulus they have to deal with,” says Carr. “As long as there is no pre-existing osteoarthritis or osteoporosis your bones will become more dense from this added load.”

For the more fitness crazed among us, the weighted vest has yet more advantages and that’s why it’s long been part of military training. Andy McKenzie (@ironmacfitness) is a trainer who spent 16 years in the military, including time as a rehabilitation instructor at the Special Forces Support Group. He used weighted vest training throughout.

He recommends taking the vest on and off during a workout. “Wear the vest for five repetitions of what would normally be a body-weight exercise, then take it off and perform another five – the immediate change will be felt by your body. This is how you can build muscle with the vest.” Essentially the shock created by switching between your normal body weight and the weighted vest will stimulate your strongest muscle fibres.

So how does the vest feel? As I get to know the weight, I can feel my body adapt to this new heft it’s handling. It’s quite different to holding dumbbells or loading a bar onto your back – the weight feels part of me and allows me freedom of movement. But equally, I know I need to plant my feet and carry myself in a new way.

'The weight feels part of me and allows freedom of movement': Phil working out on parallel bars
'The weight feels part of me and allows freedom of movement': Phil working out on parallel bars - Rii Schroer/The Telegraph

I try hill runs – I can still move and raise my knees but the work is so much harder. My heart rate is up into the vigorous zone and my glutes and thighs feel the burn for a long time after the movement is over.

But the really exciting session was my calisthenics workout. Weighted pull-ups left me with a huge sense of achievement and a set of sore back muscles that I can feel even now, a few days later. As for press ups, lunges and squats, I’m doing so much more work in the same 20-minute slot. Moves that I usually take for granted I’m now doing with fresh mindful attention and some grimacing. It’s the fitness equivalent of sprinkling chilli onto a meal – it heats up every workout.

Wearing the vest, Phil found lunges, press ups and squats particularly tough
Wearing the vest, Phil found lunges, press ups and squats particularly tough - Rii Schroer/The Telegraph

This year will see augmented-reality headset workouts and machines that remember who you are and adjust themselves automatically. This is all very exciting but I think this simple, no-moving-parts, military-approved piece of kit will still be in use when many gadgets will be languishing on eBay. Hopefully they’ll find some way to make them look less scary soon.

The Bulldog Gear tactical vest costs £109.95