Should You Buy Walking Weights?

Walking With Weights
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Is wearing weights when you walk a good way to increase your walking workout, burn more calories walking, or to tone the upper body while walking? Some people like the idea of adding a form of resistance to their walking workout. But research has shown that the use of walking weights is potentially harmful to the health and stability of joints.

Adding to your body weight increases the impact of each step, can place stress on your hip, knee, and ankle joints. Over time, these stresses may contribute to wear and tear on the joints. One research study of healthy young men and women found that adding 15% of your body weight increased the ground reaction force by 15%.

Many coaches, physical therapists, physicians who specialize in physical medicine, and walking experts will not recommend using weights in walking workouts. Terry Downey, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, says that wearing ankle weights while walking causes the quadriceps to fire rather than the hamstrings, which leads to muscle imbalance.

Downey cautions that wearable weights tug on the ankle joint, which may strain or injure tendons and ligaments in the knees, hips, and back. However Downey says that wearable ankle weights may be helpful for strengthening exercises (not done while walking) such as leg lifts.

As for walking, there are better, safer ways to tone your body and to burn calories.

Burn More Calories by Walking More

Rather than adding weight to burn more calories per mile, why not quicken your pace and cover more ground? A 100-pound person burns about 53 calories in a mile at an easy pace of 17 to 24 minutes per mile, while a 200-pound person burns 106 calories.

At a brisker pace of 13.3 minutes per mile, that same 100-pound person can burn 64 calories per mile and the 200-pound person can burn 140 calories. While speed matters less than distance covered, use the extra time to walk the extra mile and double your output without increasing your risk of injury from using weights.

Upper-Body Walking Workouts

Wrist weights, hand weights, and various pulley systems, flexing devices, etc. tout themselves as giving you an upper body workout while you walk. However, they train you to use an unnatural and inefficient arm motion while walking. Learn a proper arm swing instead, which will help you move faster and easier and loosen up your shoulders and neck.

A natural, unweighted arm swing will also help you maintain good walking posture. Take five minutes at the end of your walk with some dumbbells or resistance band or tube for an upper-body workout. With good form and the appropriate amount of weight, you can tone your upper body and develop endurance.

You can also do some strength training before your walks just remember to warm up first. Strength training separately will get you faster results. Think about all the heavy things you pick up throughout the day–kids, bags of groceries, or luggage.

Most of those are more than five pounds. You'd likely be using heavier dumbbells when strength training separately, but when walking, you'd need to carry less—which means less toning.

If you habitually walk with a water bottle in your hand, you are stressing one arm and shoulder without balancing the strain on the other. Consider using a waist pack or backpack instead.

Walk Faster or Longer

If you have a limited amount of time in which to walk, then you can burn more calories and tone more muscles by learning to walk faster or to racewalk. Racewalking burns more calories per mile than "regular" walking or running because it uses and tones more muscle groups and adds more intensity to your workout.

Walking Poles and Weights

Walking poles tone the upper body and burn more calories per mile than regular walking. Walking poles are a far safer option than using weights. They are the exact opposite of ankle weights and heavy shoes: Walking poles decrease the strain on your ankles, knees, and hips. When used properly, they can relieve neck and shoulder tension.

If you are still interested in working with walking weights, a safer choice can be a weighted vest or waist belt that distributes the extra weight naturally at your center of gravity.

Heavy or Weighted Shoes

Several companies are touting heavy shoes, weighted shoes, or shoes specially designed with very large soles. However, these shoes will burn only slightly more calories. Adding weight to the feet and legs is unnatural for the body in motion and taxes the joints. And they may even slow you down.

Most heavy shoes are not flexible enough to support the natural flexion of your foot as you step. You're better off with lightweight shoes that offer support to help you go faster for a longer distance.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dames KD, Smith JD. Effects of load carriage and footwear on lower extremity kinetics and kinematics during overground walking. Gait Posture. 2016;50:207-211. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2016.09.012

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Wearable weights: How they can help or hurt. May 2018.

  3. Koo HM, Lee SY. Gait analysis on the condition of arm swing in healthy young adultsPhysical Therapy Rehabilitation Science. 2016;5:149-54. doi:10.14474/ptrs.2016.5.3.149

  4. Chwała W, Klimek A, Mirek W. Changes in energy cost and total external work of muscles in elite race walkers walking at different speeds. J Hum Kinet. 2014;44:129-36. doi:10.2478/hukin-2014-0118

  5. Sugiyama K, Kawamura M, Tomita H, Katamoto S. Oxygen uptake, heart rate, perceived exertion, and integrated electromyogram of the lower and upper extremities during level and Nordic walking on a treadmill. Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 2013;32(1):2. doi:10.1186/1880-6805-32-2.

Additional Reading

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.