Walking—with no bells and whistles, just simply putting one foot in front of the other—has been repeatedly linked to improving overall health, including increasing lifespan. Even walking for just 15 minutes four times a week has been linked to living longer.
If you’re an avid walker and want to step up your game, increasing your speed isn’t the only option. Walking with weights can add extra benefits to your stroll. When it comes to walking with weights, there are several different types to choose from and it’s also important to consider the potential risks.
What Are the Benefits of Walking With Weights?
Sarah Pelc Graca is a weight loss coach, NASM-certified trainer, and the founder of Strong With Sarah. She says that one of the benefits of walking with weights is that it increases the intensity, which in turn leads to a greater calorie burn. She says that it can also help strengthen muscles, because the added weight makes them work harder than they would without weights.
Like Pelc Graca, weight loss coach, personal trainer, and sports nutritionist Esther Avant says that incorporating weights into your walk makes muscles work a little bit harder, which can then make you stronger. “Walking with weights can help with activities of everyday living, as we often have to get from one place to another while carrying things in some way,” she says. When walking with weights becomes part of your routine, suddenly that bag of groceries or laundry basket won’t seem so heavy anymore.
Still, both experts say that there are risks to be aware of. Both point out that if you have weights in your hands, you aren’t able to catch yourself if you fall. This is especially important to be aware of if you struggle to maintain balance or if you are prone to falls due to a medical issue. Avant also says that if you have an injury, walking with weights could exacerbate the problem. For example, if you have weak ankles, it’s not a good idea to wear ankle weights on a walk.
“Adding resistance to your walks can add pressure and strain to your hips, knees and ankles, so be mindful if you are someone who is prone to lower body injuries,” Pelc Graca says. She also says that it’s important to maintain proper form while walking with weights to avoid muscle strain or injury. “Stand up straight, keep your core muscles slightly engaged, relax your shoulders and be sure that your toes and knees are pointed in the direction that you are walking,” she instructs.
If you think walking with weights can benefit you, what’s important to figure out next is the type of weights you want to use during your walks.
Different Types of Weights To Consider
There are a few different ways to incorporate weights into your walk: light dumbbells, wrist weights, ankle weights or a weighted vest. Pelc Graca says that figuring out which one to go for depends on someone’s individual health goals. “If someone is looking to tone their legs, I'd recommend using ankle weights,” she says. But if your health goal is to sculpt your arm muscles, she says that wrist weights or holding light dumbbells will help. If you want to go for ankle weights, Avant says to make sure they’re not too bulky. Otherwise, they’ll affect your gait.
Both experts say that of all the options, wearing a weighted vest is the one they recommend the most because it helps distribute the added weight more evenly than hand or ankle weights do. “Wearing a weighted vest can help improve core and back strength,” Pelc Graca says. Avant points out that using a weighted vest also frees up your hands, which is safer if trip and fall.
Once you have your weights and are ready to get walking, you may be tempted to incorporate them into every single walk. But Pelc Graca recommends only using them one to three times a week. This will give your muscles time to repair and recover. If you don’t take this time, you will be more prone to strain and injury. “Be sure to keep the pace moderate,” she says. “Faster is not necessarily better when you add weights to your walks.”
Walking With Weights Workout
Below is a sample workout to try next time you want to walk with weights, straight from Pelc Graca:
1. If you can, walk for three to five minutes without any weights to get your body warmed up.
2. Pick up a light set of weights or weighted vest (1-3 lbs), and walk for five minutes.
3. Begin to work your way up to 15- to 20-minute-long weighted walks.
4. To increase the intensity, slightly increase your pace while maintaining proper form.
Remember, walking without weights is still hugely beneficial for health. Incorporating weights is just one way to step it up. What’s most important is that you’re moving your body in a way that’s enjoyable. After all, with any luck, you’ll be doing it for many, many years to come.