Read This Before Walking With Weights

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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Read This Before Walking With Weights

One of the biggest milestones in our first few years of life is learning how to walk. This activity becomes so habitual it is easy to forget that it is, in fact, exercise. The American Heart Association even calls it “one of the simplest ways to get active and stay active.” A piece on walking from a 2009 Harvard Health School newsletter points out that even though walking is such an automatic human function, “modern man appears determined to walk as little as possible.”

As walking is one of the simplest — and most accessible — forms of exercise, if you begin walking for fitness and are hoping to speed up results and make the activity more challenging, it may seem harmless to just add in some weights. However, carrying weights may be doing more harm than good. Here’s why and what you should be doing instead.

PROS AND CONS OF WALKING WITH WEIGHTS

First and foremost, even though walking is something we do every day, before you start a walking routine, you should, of course, consult your doctor. Getting a regular checkup before doing cardiovascular work helps ensure your heart and lungs are at their healthiest and can effectively handle the stress of added physical activity.

When out and about, you may have seen people in your neighborhood or local park walking and carrying a set of weights and thought it seemed like a practical way to add strength training while getting cardio. However, because these are separate types of exercise, in this case, it may be in your best interest to treat it as such.

When done correctly, walking is an effective, low-impact, low-risk exercise,” says Mark Sullivan, who provides personal, one-on-one e-coaching and counseling for runners, walkers and multi-sport athletes at iRuniCoach.com. “It is not, however, especially efficient for burning calories. While adding weights will definitely increase the calorie burning, walking with weights may also increase your risk of injury and may even cause unexpected side effects like back pain or an increase in blood pressure.”

Carrying weights in your hands can actually cause a postural imbalance and put added stress on your shoulders and neck. During a single walk, this may not be too much of an issue, but over time it can cause added stress to your joints. If you choose ankle weights, you can put added stress on your ankles and knees.

“I would not recommend anyone using ankle weights while walking due to the torque that it could cause on the ankle and knee joints,” confirms Jennifer Burningham, personal trainer and running coach at Right Track Health & Fitness. “Additionally, ankle weights while walking do not increase the value of the walk.”

WEIGHT ALTERNATIVES

You can still get in a bit of added strength work when walking both indoors and outdoors. Changing up where you walk can help you work different muscles and even increase the difficulty of your workout.

“If you want to increase your workload, add an incline to the treadmill or find a hill to walk or hike,” suggests Carmen Jackinsky, a coach and the owner and founder of Reshod Walking Shoes. “If you want to include weight training in [after] your walking workout, pack them in your gym bag for a quick post-workout routine done separately.”

Doing a separate strength-training routine is the best way to ensure you are working your muscles the correct way and avoiding injury at the same time. To get the most out of any routine, finding a coach or personal trainer can help you make any modifications you may need while teaching you how to maintain correct form and posture.

“Weight training is a much better option to walking with weights,” explains Burningham. “For example instead of walking with weights, you could start with some knee-down pushups, tricep dips, unweighted squats or a modified wall sit to begin to build strength.”


READ MORE > HOW HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING CAN START WITH WALKING


THE BOTTOM LINE

When it comes down to it, most trainers agree that you don’t need to walk with weights. It is best to focus on building strength separately and making sure your walking form is as efficient as it can be.

“It’s really not necessary to use hand, wrist or ankle weights when walking,” reiterates Sullivan. “You will probably benefit more by adding supplemental weight training separate from your walking routine. And if you’re just starting an exercise program or have not been active for a while, using weights may provide too much of a challenge.”

Before you start a program, set your fitness goals and make sure the work you are putting in aligns with what you are trying to achieve. You’ll probably find walking with weights actually hinders your progress.

“Do you want better cardio fitness, strength or both,” asks Jackinsky. “My fitness goal is to walk fast and efficiently. Adding weights while I walk will slow me down. Resistance bands are a better way to target muscles that I want to challenge; I also do multiple hill repeats on a gradual incline. Yes, strength training is a part of my overall plan, but I work on strength building separately.”

About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. Her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.

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16 responses to “Read This Before Walking With Weights”

  1. Homer says:

    What about walking with a good properly fitting backpack loaded with an extra 80 pounds?

    • Shiloh_D says:

      I would think it would help with core. Hopefully a trainer will respond.

    • Stacey Dean says:

      My husband is a personal trainer and incorporates rucking (walking with a weighted pack) into his plans for almost everyone. I have injured knees from playing sports in high school and can keep up with the rucks. It works your traps, core, hips, and legs really well. I encourage everyone to try rucking with a few friends!

  2. Amy Wolff says:

    I’m also curious about adding weight like that. I have a weighted vest that I can add and subtract weight to and from and have it more evenly distributed.

  3. Ryan says:

    And yet farmers carries are still one of the best, most efficient exercises you can do. The human body is pretty resilient, you just have to move correctly more than not.

  4. Karen Duncan says:

    I think if you are talking about an evenly distributed weight vest or backpack you are okay. the article seems to be talking about walking with hand weights. I’ve heard the same thing the author claims, that it is not the most efficient way to build strength or exercise. But that’s different from vests or backpacks, which are on your body.

    On the other hand, I walk all over the city with a pretty heavy, large handbag. It doesn’t seem to have done me any harm.

    • Linda says:

      Regarding the heavy handbag, I did the same thing for years, but as I reached my late 60’s began to pay the price. My right shoulder began to lodge serious complaints! Now I use a small backpack ( wearing it on both shoulders, not one) and paired down the weight! After all how many cosmetics do I really need to carry and handsfree walking is more fun!

  5. Tom Marinis says:

    I know mountain climbers that walk with full backpacks up stairs to workout and one 70 yo I know who is a physician seems to be in great shape with. No ill side effects from this type of activity.

  6. Christopher Mock says:

    For a loaded back pack you want to go with no more than 40 pounds some even reccomend 35. I would also agree with Ryan farmers walks are one of the best metabolic stressors on the planet, perfect for finishing a workout

  7. Cat says:

    Science done without the framework of human evolution is junk science. We are not fragile little eggs who can not bare a load from time to time. We have been doing it for thousands of years. We should be careful not to breed a generation of people who are so weak that walking with a little bit of weight becomes dangerous – when we have a population like that the problem doesn’t just disappear it transforms into a new epidemic – major depression. If you really want to know if you’re ‘overdoing’ it take an objective measure like Heart Rate Variablilty and leave your emotions aside for a little while – they can be misleading. That’s my 2 cents.

  8. Elyshia says:

    I happen to disagree with most of the above. I started a speed walking routine where I walk 2 miles, at a pretty fast pace, at least 4 times a week. I slowly added 2 pound dumbbells, then 3 pound ones and now walk with 5 pound dumbbells. I exercise my wrists, arms, shoulders and back as I speed walk, and I feel great! I am soon going to move to 8 pound dumbbells. Maybe you don’t “need to” walk with the weights, but I feel a lot stronger doing so and they certainly do benefit me!

    • Michael Ellis says:

      I’m 71 years old and I’ve also been speed walking 2miles (half of it slightly uphill) with 5 pound weights 3-5 times a week. Doing so gives me a good cardio workout as well as a full upper body (biceps, triceps, lats, pecs and stomach) workout. I’ve done this for about 2 years and haven’t experienced any ill-effects. I am stronger and look and feel better as a result.

  9. Scott says:

    I wonder if the author has considered that as human beings whenever and wherever we walk we are “carrying weight”.

    It’s not necessarily walking with weight that is harmful, it’s performing the exercise (any exercise) improperly or doing too much of it that is harmful.

    The author says there are more efficient ways to train cardio, yet for some walking is about the most intense form of cardio they can handle.

    The author says there are better ways to train strength than to walk with weights, but what if you’re training for a task that requires you to walk with weight… then training this way makes sense.

  10. Stuart Chopper Colquhoun says:

    In my 30s I was doing a lot of speed walking taking in some long hills. (Because of weakness in my knee joints I could not run.)
    I was going 6, 8, and 10 miles 4 and 5 times a week but still felt it wasn’t enough. Being on something of a roll and also being inspired by certain military books that were out at the time, I started using ankle weights… I think they were 2kg but they might as well have been nothing.
    Quite quickly I had added a rucksack with metal weights/discs wrapped in a towel. 2kg on my ankles and 22kg on my back.
    As someone who was already susceptible to joint damage, it didn’t take long for my little experiment to start to cause problems…
    My shoulders, knees and ankles… but mostly my lower back.
    I kept at it though, and got about a year out of it before the agony became too much.
    For the next 10 years I was always having back and knee problems. Could only walk 2 or 3 miles then I would suffer for the days after.
    Had a meniscus tear that took the medical people 4 years to do anything about. As a result I have the worst grade of damage to my R. knee joint. L does not feel far behind. I have arthritis in most of the weight bearing joints, 2 bulging discs that are impinging on the nerve at the bottom of my back. And arthritis at the sacral iliac junction (?) in my lower back. I’m in constant pain, on silly painkillers.and there’s nothing they can do. Chiropracter won’t touch me. NHS physio can’t help. They won’t operate .. So I’m pretty much on the shite-pile at the age of 50.

    Walking with weights? I was such an idiot. Always more is better… You really have to take care of yourself as much as you can as you never know what’s round the corner. Now I’m lucky LUCKY! If I can manage a slow, short dog walk with loads of stops.
    Look after yourselves man. Don’t be an idiot.

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