Walking with weights might seem like a good way to add some variety to your walks while increasing intensity and burning more calories. You can find weights that go around your ankles and wrists, dumbbells you can hold, and weight vests you wear.
But is walking with weights a good idea? Can it do more harm than good?
The answer is yes and no. How you use them, how heavy they are, and how often you walk with weights will directly impact the answer.
Read to see how if walking with weight is safe and provides a great workout – or if you should just stick with your usual walks.
Is It Safe to Walk With Weights?
Walking with weights is safe if you take some precautions. Choosing the right kind of weight is important – in fact, we’ll state right here that you probably shouldn’t walk with ankle weights. You also need to maintain good form while walking.
It’s also a good idea to assess whether or not adding weights may exacerbate existing medical or physical conditions before you start. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure and get the go-ahead before beginning.
Benefits of Walking With Weights
Walking alone has many benefits, but add weights to your exercise, and you can expect a few extra advantages.
Burns More Calories
Adding weights increases the exercise intensity, which burns more calories. It won’t burn hundreds more, but over time it can add up throughout the week and help you reach your weight loss goals.
There’s a chance that this may also increase your metabolic rate throughout the day, leading to more ”resting” calories burned. Even if you aren’t actively trying to lose weight, this is valuable for weight maintenance.
You won’t make huge muscle gains walking with weights, but adding extra workload to your muscles will help to build strength. Your muscles must work a little harder to complete the same action, so you can expect some gains.
Keep in mind that you won’t get the same muscular benefits as you would with targeted resistance training. But if you are unable to lift weights, walking with weights can be an excellent way to build strength.
Boosts Cardiovascular Health
Adding extra weight as you exercise increases the intensity of your workout. Your heart will beat faster to pump blood to your muscles, and you might breathe harder. This helps to build strength in your cardiovascular system.
Increases Bone Density
Walking is a weight-bearing activity that may increase bone density. Adding weight increases the weight-bearing effects while keeping the activity low-impact, increasing bone density without the risks associated with higher-impact activites like running.
Can Reduce Risk of Injury
As long as you maintain good form while walking with weights, the above benefits can help lower your chance of injury.
Increased strength can protect joints, as stronger muscles provide better support. Better cardiovascular health can help you improve without overtraining, as you get a better workout without pushing yourself too hard.
Increased bone density can also allow you to exercise more intensely without worrying about excess pressure on bones causing injury.
Types of Weights You Can Use for Walking
There’s a wide range of weights you can use when walking, which means almost everyone can find a type of weight that works for them. Here are some of the most popular choices for walking.
Carrying a Dumbbell
Walking while holding dumbbells is an easy way to add resistance to your walks and strengthen your upper body muscles.
Pumping your arms while you walk with dumbbells can engage the forearms, biceps, chest muscles, and upper back, all of which need to work harder to help you keep your form.
This is a great way of upping the intensity of your walk and getting more of an upper-body workout.
Light dumbbells are easy and affordable to buy. If you can’t get your hands on dumbbells, you can substitute a dumbbell for something similar, like a bottle filled with sand.
If you enjoy taking long walks, holding dumbbells can become tiring quickly, and your hands may cramp. You also won’t be able to hold a water bottle if you’re holding dumbbells.
Choosing dumbbells that are too heavy for you can also place excess strain on the upper body muscles, especially the neck and upper back, as they work hard to keep your form.
It can also be difficult to progress from light weights to heavier ones unless you have a full set of dumbbells at home that you can increase slowly over time.
These are usually small weight strips that can be folded around your wrist and secured so you have added weight without needing to hold something while walking. Like dumbbells, they’ll help you to engage muscles in your upper body if you pump your arms while walking.
Wrist weights are more convenient and comfortable than dumbbells because you don’t have to hold them while walking. This frees up your hands so you can still hold a water bottle or your phone.
Wrist weights tend to be relatively light, so there’s a limit to how much strength-building you can achieve with them.
They may also be a little harder to find than dumbbells. It’s also hard to progress in weight when it’s no longer challenging.
A weighted vest is an excellent option and one of the safest ways to walk with weights. A weight vest centers the weight around your core, reducing the risk of injuring your upper body muscles if you pump your arms too vigorously.
While it doesn’t activate the same muscles as dumbbells or wrist weights, you’ll still get all the same benefits of a weighted workout.
Weighted vests are one of the safest options to add weight while walking, as the weight is distributed evenly across the upper body, and no strain is placed on limbs.
You can also progress more efficiently with a weighted vest, since you can add and remove weight easily. Some can go up to 20 lbs in weight, and it’s much safer than carrying 20 lbs in dumbbells.
Weighted vests are more expensive than others options, and they might be more difficult to find since not all sports stores will stock them. Wearing a weighted vest may also cause you to overheat while walking in hot weather.
Ankle weights are a popular choice, but they’re the worst of the options, according to physical therapists. As the weight is located right at the bottom of the kinetic chain, the momentum from walking with it can strain the joints, leading to injury. We recommend not using ankle weights.
You may be able to use ankle weights and wrist weights interchangeably, and they’re fairly easy to find.
Ankle weights can throw your form off, leading to injury more easily than other types of weights. This is especially true if you’re walking briskly.
How to Start Walking with Weights
Thinking about walking with weights? Here are our best tips to start without risk of injury.
Choose the Right Weights
We recommend a weighted vest. It’s the safest and most versatile option for adding weight to your walk. However, dumbbells and wrist weights are a good second option for a lighter workout.
Once you’ve chosen your weights, start with minimal weight. It’s better to start too light and increase as you go compared to going too heavy and getting hurt. One or two pounds is a good start for handheld or wrist weights, but you may have to experiment a little with a weighted vest.
Whatever you choose, make sure the weight is enough for you to feel it but not so much that it causes you to alter your form.
It’s a good idea to do a brief warm-up before walking with weights so your muscles are ready for action. Just a few minutes of walking without the weights and some light dynamic stretching can make a positive difference and reduce your chance of injury.
Start with Short Sessions
Regardless of how long you’ve been walking, we recommend only using weights for short sessions initially. You may want to include a few shorter walks throughout the week until you get used to walking with extra weight.
You can gradually increase the length of your walks until you can walk your usual distance comfortably. Don’t increase weight and distance simultaneously—increase one or the other.
Maintain Proper Form
The biggest problem with walking with weights is letting your form slip. Pay attention to your form throughout your walk, and make sure you’re maintaining it.
Keep your back straight, and your shoulders relaxed. Your core should be tight and your glutes should be “tucked under.” Avoid overstriding—your front foot should land underneath your pelvis, not in front of your body.
No matter what weights you’re using, make sure you keep control of your limbs as you walk. If the momentum of the weights is causing you to lose your form, then the weights are too heavy.
Gradually Increase Weight
When the weight you’re using starts to feel like it’s not challenging you, increase it slightly. Make sure to increase gradually—by half a pound to a pound at a time. This will allow your body to get used to each step without risking injury.
Keep in mind not to increase the weight and the distance or duration of your walks at the same time. Choose only one thing to increase at a time to avoid overtraining.
Pay Attention to How Your Body Feels
Pay attention to your body both during and after your weighted walks. If you have pain during your walks, you should stop and assess. Is your form correct? Are you using too much weight? Do you need to slow down?
If you have pain after your walk, it could be DOMS as your muscles adjust to the new level of activity, especially if you’re using dumbbells or wrist weights. This will ease, although you might want an epsom salt bath, use a foam roller, or use compression gear to help your muscles recover faster.
How Often Should You Walk With Weights?
You don’t need to walk with weights every time you head out. Aim for two to three times a week. This will give you enough time between each one for your muscles to recover.
For the rest of your walks, continue to walk without weights. You may also find that as your strength and cardiovascular health improves, your regular walks become easier and you can walk faster and further in the same amount of time.
How Much Weight Should You Use When Walking?
One to two pounds is a good weight if you’re using handheld weights.
If you’re using a weighted vest, you can start with about 5 percent of your body weight in the vest. You can gradually increase the weight over time to continue challenging your body.
Can You Walk With Weights if You Have Joint Problems?
You can walk with weights if you have joint problems, as long as you do it safely and carefully. It’s a good way of adding extra resistance to your cardio workout, without turning the activity into a high-impact one.
However, it’s important to choose the right kinds of weights, use a weight that challenges you but that you can still use with proper form. You should also be wearing well-cushioned shoes to absorb shock, which will provide an extra layer of protection.
Who Should Consider Walking With Weights?
You should consider walking with weights if you’re looking for a way to add more challenge to your walks. It’s also a good idea if you want to build some muscular strength but don’t want to or can’t lift weights in the gym.
Who Shouldn’t Walk With Weights?
Those with arthritis or other bone and joint conditions should get the go-ahead from their doctor before starting to walk with weights.
If you’re interested in building muscle and strength and have the time to do strength training in the gym, we recommend choosing this over walking with weights.