Should You Buy Walking Weights?

Walking With Weights
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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? The short answer is no. Using any walking weights is a bad idea.

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

In asking numerous coaches, physical therapists, physicians who specialize in physical medicine, and walking experts, not one recommends using them for your walking workouts. One example is Dr. Jack Dryden, a physiatrist and former Chief of Staff of the Portland VA Medical Center. All agree that ​adding weights at the ankle, wrist or foot may increase the risk of strain and injury. None of them recommend heavy weighted shoes. There are better ways to tone your body and to burn more calories through walking.

The people who recommend weights and heavy shoes are those trying to sell them, not the experts who are looking out for your health and fitness.

Burning More Calories While Walking

Adding weight will allow you to burn more calories per mile, but only about 5 to 8 calories more per mile for every 10 pounds added. Compare that to walking a quarter of a mile—a 100-pound person burns 15 calories in a quarter mile at an easy pace while a 200-pound person burns 30 calories. That takes only five more minutes, and you aren't increasing your risk of injury.

Upper Body Workouts and Walking

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 give you some upper body toning and 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.

Then take five minutes at the end of your walk with some dumbbells or resistance cord for an upper body workout. Those five minutes of workout with good form and the appropriate amount of weight will do far more to tone your upper body.

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 Walk 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 30 percent more calories per mile than "regular" walking or running because it uses and tones more muscle groups.

Walking Poles Tone Upper Body and Burn More Calories

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.

Types of Walking Weights

If you are stuck on the idea of using walking weights, your first choice should be a weighted vest or waist belt that distributes the extra weight naturally at your center of mass. If you really want to use ankle or wrist weights for toning, select the lightest ones to reduce the risk of injury.

Heavy Shoes or Weighted Shoes

Several companies are touting heavy shoes, weighted shoes, or shoes specially designed with very large soles. In discussing this footwear with kinesiotherapists, physical therapists, sports medicine physicians, and other trusted experts, each one has said they are a bad idea and are likely to lead to injury. Don't risk it, no matter how tempting the sales pitch. Use one of these other ways to burn more calories and tone your body.

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