Hand and ankle weights – why weighing down your walks is a bad idea.

Have you heard about walking with weights? Walking with hand or ankle weights seems like a great way to make your walks more intense, but it can actually damage your joints and increase your risk of injury! There are better ways to get a more intense walking workout and do some strength training at the same time!

One of the benefits of walking is that it’s an exercise that’s low-impact on your joints. Adding weights seems like a great idea to get more intense, but it can actually increase the impact dramatically in unhealthy ways. We’ll show you how you can get a more intense walk and incorporate strength training while keeping good walking form and posture!

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Why do people walk with weights?

People who advocate walking with weights point out that weights can increase the number of calories you burn by 10-20 percent. Weights do force the muscles in your arms or legs to work harder, which can give you a slightly increased strength workout. Some just want to find a new way to shake things up and keep their walks interesting. Those benefits come with a cost which usually outweighs the benefits:

Walking weighted wrist bands

Those 10-20% increased calories burned assumes that you’d walk at the same speed for the same length of time as you would without weights. You’re likely to get tired faster or walk more slowly when weighted down. This can actually make walking with hand or ankle weights counterproductive in practice. When they have lost more exercise value than they gained, it isn’t worth it—not to mention the potential for damage and injury, which is substantially higher.

Even a few extra pounds, when not placed correctly on your body, can cause serious damage to pretty much all of your joints. When you carry hand weights, your arms can swing out of line with your body, causing your core and legs to absorb more impact from a less-than-perfect landing from each step. Ankle weights pull on your ankle joint, which can result in injuries not just to your ankle, but also your knees, hips and other joints.

Why proper posture is so important?

woman demonstrating proper posture

Proper walking posture is important to help you walk longer, feel better when walking and prevent injuries. According to Harvard Health, you should stand tall, let your shoulders swing naturally and step lightly without a large amount of impact on your joints.

How Can Walking With Weights Increase Risk Of Injury?

So, how does walking with weights increase your risk of injury? Even if it is only one to five pounds per limb, the added weight can cause your natural gait to extend or shorten, throw your landing off, and even cause your arms to swing outward while you walk. Contrary to common belief, the adage “No pain, no gain” doesn’t mean that exercise should hurt—it shouldn’t! If it does, you need to evaluate your methods.

Knee pain arthritis concept

It’s normal to experience some muscle soreness after exercising – a sign that your muscles have been challenged. When your form changes during walking, your joints, muscles, and ligaments are working in ways they should not be. The pain comes from forcing your body into positions and rhythms it isn’t meant to experience frequently or for long periods of time.

Hand weights make it hard to swing your arms properly, and can often result in holding the weights in an unnatural position throughout your walk. Even light weights, over time, can cause your gaze to sink downward and your shoulders to slump.

Ankle weights can cause your feet to land with more impact, increasing the risk of turning an ankle or missing a step. Extra weight can fatigue your leg muscles and force your quadriceps to do extra work. This can lead to injury, as your body may not be used to walking in this way.

walker holding shin because of shin splints

Even if you don’t suffer an acute injury, like a fall or sprained ankle, taking yourself out of your natural walking motion can lead to injury over time. As the muscles that you normally use to walk start to get fatigued, you risk straining or injuring other muscles and joints that are forced to compensate for poor posture and walking form.

Alternatives To Using Weights While Walking

Fortunately, there are some great alternatives to hand and ankle weights that can help you burn calories and build muscle without compromising your walking form.

Use weights and walk, just not at the same time

Trainer helping woman lift weights

Using weights as part of an overall exercise routine is a great way to build and tone other muscles. Athletes often incorporate weight lifting with cardio—running, walking, or otherwise—in order to build and maintain a happy, healthy body. As a walker, you can take a break from walking to do some strength-building exercises. Using weights can help to strengthen your legs, which can help you walk longer without getting tired. Make sure you’re using proper form with any weight training exercises. Just like with walking, using weights with improper form can lead to injuries.

Try a resistance band

Woman showing off exercise resistance band

Resistance bands are a great alternative to weights. Resistance bands are large, elastic bands that look something like a thick rubber band that’s open on one end. Most weigh in under one pound, but can offer resistance levels ranging from five to over 200 pounds! You can incorporate resistance band training in your walks by walking for a certain period of time, then stopping and doing a resistance band workout, and then continuing your walk. You’ll get some great benefits from doing strength training without compromising your posture as you walk. Check out this video from Harvard Health to get you started.

Try a Pacer full-body workout

Woman doing a wall sit exercise

Another great alternative is our Pacer guided workouts, which you can do anywhere, any time. Our short, 7 to 15-minute workouts work both your upper and lower body, and feature video demonstrations of how to properly perform each exercise. You’ll probably want to try them at home as some require you to sit down or put your hands on the ground.

Walk Faster, Longer, Or At A Steeper Incline

Sporty woman jogging uphill

As an alternative to weights, both Harvard and Livestrong recommend walking an extra five to ten minutes per session, walking slightly faster, and walking at a steeper incline. You’ll benefit from increased endurance, a longer, more satisfying workout, and lower risk of injury as opposed to walking with weights.

Try Nordic walking for an upper-body workout

Group of friends walking with poles

Nordic walking (with poles) lets you work your upper body without compromising your posture or putting excess strain on your joints. Some people find walking with poles actually lowers the impact – particularly on some of the lower body joints. Check out our piece on Nordic walking to get started!

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to get a more intense walking workout, but it’s important that you walk with proper posture to walk further and prevent injuries. Walking is so popular and so often recommended for fitness precisely because it’s low impact, fun and offers great cardio benefits. Follow the Pacer blog for more information on exercises and activities that can complement your walking routine!

If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer now for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.

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