Grow Stronger: Core Strength Training with

As other contributors to The Mag Life have discussed, physical fitness can not only improve a person’s gun handling abilities, but is also a consideration for one’s self-defense skill set.  In fact, the only downside to improving or maintaining a higher level of functional physical fitness is the time and effort it takes to get there.

For a lot of people, that downside is very daunting.  It’s probably safe to say that the average person doesn’t exercise enough, a problem exacerbated by generally sedentary lifestyles and diets with too much sugar.  Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut.  Fitness isn’t something you can just buy, you have to work for it.

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: [after being given a Viking sword]  “I cannot lift this.”

Herger the Joyous: “Grow stronger!”

The 13th Warrior

Being a full-time writer isn’t exactly an active lifestyle, so this applies to me as much as anyone. To that end, I purchased for myself a weighted vest from the aptly-titled V-Force 45-lb weight vest front view.

Why a Weight Vest?

I’ve done weight vest training before, starting when I was in the Air Force.  It’s very popular these days, thanks in large part to the spread of CrossFit and similar workout regimens.  While it’s in vogue to wear a plate carrier or a full armor vest for this purpose, I decided I’d rather use a vest designed for this purpose.

The main reasons I opted for the weight vest over a plate carrier or similar are comfort and scalability.  While they make training plates of different weights, a plate carrier isn’t necessarily designed to carry that much weight, and may not distribute it well.  Getting back into shape was already going to suck enough without me also fighting with my equipment.

Wearing a weight vest makes everything harder, meaning you burn more calories doing it.  It helps strengthen your core muscles, your shoulders, your back, and your legs.  Routine activities like walking the dog or mowing the lawn can provide you with even more exercise if done while carrying the extra weight.

Choosing the Vest

Weight vests of different types are available at sporting goods stores, on Amazon, and even at big box retailers like Walmart.  After doing some research, I came across and decided that’s the way I wanted to go.  The vests cost more than one from Amazon will, but they’re American-made, solidly constructed, and you can adjust the amount of weight to suit you. offers a variety of weighted vests, including ones tailored for women, basketball vests, and ones specifically designed for firefighter training.  They come in short and long lengths, in a variety of colors, with several different cuts, and with weight capacities ranging from 15 pounds to 150 pounds.

single 2.5-lb weight for weight vest
A single 2.5-lb weight.

The vest I purchased was the short V-Force model, 45 pounds, colored in Multicam black. (They can be had in a full selection of tactical colors for you gear nerds out there, including coyote tan, digital camo, Multicam, Kryptek, classic woodland, etc.)  The vests are generally one-size-fits-most, but you can choose between narrow and wide shoulder pads.

The V-FORCE Vest

I was impressed with the quality of the materials and stitching on my V-Force vest.  The vest itself is made from Cordura Nylon and the shoulder straps are padded for comfort.  The weights are carried in two rows on the front and two more on the back.  They are held in place by a heavy-duty Velcro closure, so there’s no chance of you losing them accidentally.

2.5-lb weights in their respective weight vest pockets.
2.5-lb weights in their respective pockets.

The weights themselves are solid iron with what looks like a powder coat finish.  They weigh 2.5 pounds each and can be added or removed to adjust the total weight level.  This gives you a lot of flexibility to scale the weight up and down while keeping it balanced.

You don the vest by pulling it over your head.  A single, adjustable, wrap-around sternum strap holds it in place, secured by a Fastex-style buckle.  There is Velcro on the strap to keep it in place on the front of the vest, so it won’t come loose or slide off.  It holds the vest securely enough that it doesn’t shift or flop, even when bending over.

The short model puts the bulk of the weight up on your chest/upper back, reminiscent of body armor.  The long models spread it out farther down your torso and onto your hips, if that’s your preference.  The female-cut vests are designed with a woman’s body shape in mind.

V-Force vest wide shoulder pads.
V-Force vest wide shoulder pads.

Training with a Weighted Vest

I have used my V-Force vest primarily for walks/hikes over the past summer.  The vest itself is quite comfortable, and even on hot, humid days, I had no trouble with it rubbing or chafing.  The weights stick out more than an inch on the front and back, however, so you may find it’s not comfortable to also wear a backpack with the vest.

Footwear is an additional consideration when training with a weighted vest.  I found that while wearing my sneakers (white New Balances, standard issue for middle-aged men), my feet got sore.  Switching to combat boots, with their better arch and ankle support, eliminated that issue.  I would recommend using the same kind of footwear you’d use if you were going on a hike with a pack.

Exercise (with) Caution

The manufacturer recommends that you don’t start with the full amount of weight your vest can carry, especially if you’re new to weight vests.  I second this recommendation—start low and work your way up, especially if you’re old and out of shape.  With that much extra weight on your torso, you have to take extra care to avoid lower back injuries.  The vest has a way of letting you know if you don’t have good posture, and you need to be careful when bending over.  Try not to overdo it and hurt yourself.

Many years ago, I hurt my shoulder doing kipping pull-ups while wearing IOTV body armor.  I ended up having to go to physical therapy and was in pain for nearly a year.  Make sure you’re using good form.  Know your limits!

Overall Experience

I have been using my V-Force vest for months now, and can wholeheartedly recommend them.  It’s comfortable, well-made, and does what it’s supposed to do perfectly.  They are expensive—mine cost over $200.  In this case, I decided that I’d spend the extra money on a quality, American-made product instead of taking my chances with a Chinese-made one from Amazon.  I don’t regret that decision and I expect that I’ll get years of use out of my vest.  If I ever do have an issue with it, offers a lifetime warranty.

For the sake of disclosure, I want to state that I have no relationship with the manufacturer of this product.  I purchased the vest with my own money and was not asked to review it.  I simply found it to be a quality product that our readers may find useful.  As always, talk to a trainer and your medical provider before starting a new exercise regimen.

If you’re just starting out, I know it can be daunting, and it certainly doesn’t get any easier as you get older.  Still, it’s never too late to start, and even doing a little is better than doing nothing.  Often the first step is the hardest. Get out there and take it!


Mike Kupari is a full-time novelist, a part-time firearms dilettante, and has proudly claimed the title of America's Okayest Science Fiction Writer.  A former USAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician and NCO, he's a veteran of Afghanistan.  In his civilian career, he's worked in UXO clearance, chemical weapons demilitarization, private security, as a rocket motor technician, a warehouse manager, and even spent a couple years driving a big rig before settling into his life as a hack writer of rocket pulp.  His novels are available from Baen Books.

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