Walking is a great bodyweight movement that can help everyone from beginners to more advanced exercisers shed pounds. When extra weight is added appropriately, it can yield even more benefits. The greater the resistance, the greater the muscle force needed, so added weight can correlate with increased strength, explains Megan Beck, a Boston-based personal trainer. Plus, training your body with resistance also teaches it to work harder to maintain speed, meaning when you don’t have that added weight, you might notice you move more quickly, adds Beck.
Of course, adding weight to your walk isn’t as simple as strapping on ankle weights or taking dumbbells with you. When walking with weight, maintaining proper posture is paramount. “Your body will become stronger in the posture that you use while adding the resistance,” says Beck. “Form is the most important factor in everything fitness-related, particularly when external resistance is involved.”
Here, four ways to safely and effectively add weight to your walks:
WEAR A WEIGHTED VEST
“Humans are not built with 10-pound feet or five-pound hands for a reason,” says Holly Perkins, certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of “Lift to Get Lean.” Using ankle weights — or too-heavy hand weights — could throw you off biomechanically, contributing to imbalances, or worse, injury.
Walking with a weighted vest or belt (about 10 pounds to start, suggests Perkins), on the other hand, can be very productive, she notes. “The human body is designed to handle forces of the load in the movement if the midsection of the body is heavier.”
A weighted vest or belt can help increase calorie expenditure, strength gains and musculature. “The legs have to move heavier objects, so you’ll see an increase in leg strength,” Perkins says.
KEEP HAND WEIGHTS TO 3 POUNDS MAX
If you’re going to use hand weights, keep them to 3 pounds or less per hand so you can prioritize good walking technique, says Perkins. Keep your core engaged, and elbows bent, with your shoulders pulled back so you absorb the extra weight throughout your core without swaying side to side, which could cause lower-back injuries.
USE WALKING POLES ON HIKES
“The tendency, when tired, is to slump forward,” explains Michelle Lovitt, certified strength and conditioning specialist, a Beverly Hills-based trainer. “Walking sticks not only require that you use your arms, but they help you maintain posture, most likely leading to a better workout.”
Adopting a solid posture and using your arms helps you use more muscle groups, which can lead to greater caloric expenditure and a lower risk for potential musculoskeletal pain, notes Lovitt. She especially favors walking poles during hikes, when fatigue is more likely to set in.
DO WEIGHTED WALKING EXERCISES IN THE GYM
You might see trainers having clients walk short distances with sandbags, barbells, buckets or other forms of resistance (Think: moves like carries). “These forces are different from weighted vests because they require your upper body and your core stability to actively hold the weight,” says Beck. “This type of weight is more of a functional movement technique in which the body will adapt to the resistance differently based upon how you hold it.”
Holding a sandbag across both of your shoulders, for example, absorbs the weight evenly across both the right and left sides of the body, she explains. Holding it solely on one shoulder gives a unilateral effect. “This technique is great for gaining core stability while still building total-body strength and endurance.”