Walking With Weights: Benefits and Risks

Walking With Weights: Benefits and Risks

Walking is a great cardiovascular exercise that offers many benefits. 

Unlike high-impact workouts, walking is low-impact and requires very little skill. For those just getting started on a fitness journey, it’s a great place to begin!

Adding weights to your walks can amplify the intensity, making it a better calorie burner. With that being said, the benefits extend far beyond calorie expenditure. 

Walking with weights can also help:

• Improve cardiovascular health
• Boost mood
• Enhances mental clarity
• Promotes increased strength

Let’s dig into more of the benefits of walking with weights. That way, you'll know whether adding weights to your walks makes sense for you and your goals or not!

Benefits of Walking With Weights

Walking with weights offers a range of benefits that can help you earn better results. 

Intensifies Walking Workouts

Adding weights can take your workout to the next level and make it more challenging. Most people don’t get winded when they walk. If you throw on a weighted vest or ruck though, that can change!

Whether they are hand weights, ankle weights, a rucksack, or a weighted vest … they’ll all make it harder. 

Your legs will work harder. Your heart will work harder. Your lungs will work harder.

You’d be surprised how much of a workout you can get by just walking with weights. Plus, if you ever feel like it's too easy, you can always add more weight!

Suitable For All Fitness Levels

One of the great advantages of walking with weights is its accessibility. If you have 2 working legs, you can do it!

It doesn't matter if you're a beginner or a seasoned athlete, we can all handle the difficulty of walking. With weights, you just need to add as much necessary to give yourself a challenge.

You can start with lighter weights and increase them as your strength improves too.

Strengthens the Upper Body

Walking with weights can also strengthen and tone your upper body. At least, if you’re walking with hand weights it can.

Now, it’s not going to strengthen your muscles like traditional resistance training. The amount of resistance you'll use is a bit different, but it can help more than normal walking.

Holding some dumbbells as you walk forces the muscles in your upper body to work harder as you move. This will target the muscles in your arms, upper back, chest, and shoulders.

Don’t expect to become jacked from weighted walks only though. You'll need to lift weights for that. However, walking with weights can help give you a better workout for sure!

Burns More Calories

Of course, walking with weights can help you burn more calories than walking without them. The more you weigh, with or without weights, the more calories you’ll burn as you move.

As your muscles work harder to move the added weight, they burn more calories. 

This is especially beneficial to anyone looking to lose weight. The more calories you burn, the better your weight loss results can be.

Risks of Walking With Weights

While walking with weights has benefits, it's important to know the potential risks as well.

Joint Strain

Carrying additional weight while walking can put extra strain on your joints. This is especially true for the knees, hips, and ankles.

This increased stress can potentially lead to overuse injuries if you aren't careful. Recovery is very important to pay attention to!

Now, this risk also depends on how much weight you use and how long you walk. It also matters if you add too much weight too quickly.

So be careful, and listen to your body. If you feel joint pains while walking with weights, either lower the weight or stop.

It’s quite possible in that case you may need to ease into it a bit.

Improper Form and Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalances happen. If you always use the same style of weight to walk with, you may be contributing to this. 

It’s important to train in different ways for this reason. Variety can help balance out the training each muscle group gets.

For instance, when you use ankle weights, your quads will work harder to lift the weight for each step. Your glutes and hamstrings won’t have to carry that load as much as your quads will though.

So, this could lead to an imbalance between those opposing muscle groups over time. Muscle imbalances between opposing muscle groups can lead to pain and injury over time (1).

To prevent muscle imbalances, make sure to cycle the types of weights you use on your walks. An even better way is by resistance training to ensure every muscle group is getting worked.

Elevated Cardiovascular Stress

Walking with weights will likely elevate your heart rate more than regular walking. This is totally okay unless your doctor has given you a reason why you don’t want to stress your heart.

While it's great cardio training, the added weight will add stress on your heart. Again, this is only an issue if your heart isn’t healthy.

So, if you have a heart condition, check with your doctor before walking with weights.

Spinal Compression

Carrying weights can compress the spine, potentially leading to back pain or discomfort. This is especially true if you have bad posture, or if the weights are too heavy. 

Now, holding light weights isn’t likely to compress your spine much. I’m mostly referring to using excessively heavy weights your body isn’t accustomed to using.

A great way to lower the risk of back pain is by building up a strong core with resistance training. Stronger muscles can help take some of the load off your spine.

Regardless of the weight you use, hold it with good posture, and try to walk with good form. That’s always important!

Using Weights That Are Too Heavy

Choosing weights that are too heavy can lead to poor form and increase the risk of injury. 

It's important to start with lighter weights and gradually increase them over time. That way, you can build strength as you progress the weight.

It takes time to build strength, and those heavy weights will feel lighter as time goes on. You have to let yourself build that strength first though.

Going too heavy too quickly will likely get you hurt. Listen to your body, and allow yourself to build up to heavier weights for your own safety.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s look at the different types of weights you can use.

Types of Weights You Can Use

When it comes to walking, there are several types of weights you can use. From hand weights and ankle weights to weighted backpacks and weighted vests ... These methods would all qualify as walking with weights.

Each option offers a unique way to intensify your workout and burn extra calories. This allows you to tailor your walking routine to your fitness goals and preferences.

Hand Weights

Hand weights are versatile and easily accessible. 

These are typically small dumbbell weights that you can easily hold during your walk. Even though they should be somewhat easy to hold, you'll still be burning extra calories.

Hand weights primarily strengthen muscles in the upper back, chest, and arms. Although, keep in mind that because they are lightweight, they won’t add a crazy amount of strength.

It's generally better to use light weights during walks with hand weights. Heavier ones can lead to discomfort or strain, and they will not be easy to hold for very long.

Ankle Weights

Ankle weights get strapped around your ankles with a velcro strap. 

They can help strengthen your calves, quads, and hip flexors. On top of that, they may also challenge your core muscles a bit. 

However, they are often discouraged due to potential drawbacks. 

Ankle weights can place pressure on the knees which may lead to tendonitis and cause a bit of pain. This may not be in everyone, but it’s definitely a possibility for some.

They also train the muscles on the front of your legs disproportionately to the back. This can lead to imbalances we don't want, as I mentioned before.

Rucksack (Weighted Backpack)

A weighted backpack, or rucksack, places all the resistance on your backside. This mostly targets the muscles in your shoulders, upper back, and core. 

Your legs are also carrying the extra weight though, so they’ll get stronger too.

There is a difference between a rucksack and any old backpack though. An actual rucksack is designed for weighted walks.

Most backpacks sink down to your butt and don’t hold the weight close to your body. This puts a lot of torque on your spine and forces your core to work hard to maintain posture. 

A rucksack holds the weight against your back and is secured tightly to your shoulders. This minimizes the force on your spine and doesn’t overwork your core.

This is a tough option but is arguably one of the best options. If you’re going on weighted walks a lot, and want to build strength, this is one you should look into.

Wrist Weights

Wrist weights wrap around your wrists, engaging muscles in the chest, upper back, and arms. 

This is similar to walking with hand weights, but you won’t have to hold onto them. This will be easier to walk with for longer times, but they won’t work your forearms.

Typically, wrist weights won't be too heavy either. If they are, they could put a lot of strain on your shoulders and elbows.

Weighted Vest

Weighted vests are a safe and effective method for adding resistance to your walks. I would argue this is the safest and best option when it comes to walking with weights. In fact, I personally use a weighted vest for my walks.

Weighted vests lay over your shoulders, chest, and back. This distributes the weight more evenly and doesn't overload one side of your body.

Because of this, weighted vests reduce strain and torque on the joints, unlike other methods. 

However, it's important to exercise caution and avoid excessive weights when using them. Using a weighted vest that's too heavy could lead to too much pressure on the knees. 

This is the same type of pressure that being very overweight can put on your knees. So, be sure not to go too heavy too quickly. 

If your knees are hurting with added weight, it may be best not to add it in yet. It would also make sense to check with your doctor if you’re having knee pain.

Ultimately though, the choice of which type of weights to use during walks is up to you. I would choose the weighted vest or rucksack personally. It will put the least amount of strain on your joints.

Just be sure to pick a weight that’s appropriate when walking with weights!

How to Avoid Injury While Walking With Weights

To avoid injuries while doing weighted walks, it's crucial to follow a few key guidelines. 

First and foremost, start gradually. Aim to add weighted walking into your routine 2-3 days a week, beginning with 15-20 minutes per session.

This allows your body to adapt to the added resistance without overexertion. 

Starting slowly is particularly important if you have been inactive for a while. This gives your muscles, joints, and heart time to acclimate without getting overwhelmed.

Maintaining proper posture is another essential tip. Good posture helps distribute the weight better, reducing the strain on your spine. 

When walking with weights, stand tall, relax your shoulders, and engage your core. Avoid leaning forward or backward, as this can strain your lower back. 

With a balanced upright posture, you'll be more comfortable and lower the risk of injury.

Lastly, start with small weights, especially if you're a beginner. 

Using lighter weights, in the beginning, can save you from over-stressing your muscles and joints. Over time, you will get stronger, and you'll be able to handle more weight without struggling.

Gradually increase the weight as your strength and endurance improve. 

Follow these tips and listen to your body. You can burn more calories, lose more body fat, and be in better shape in no time!

Reach Your Fitness Goals With 1st Phorm

Walking with weights can be a great way to take your fitness to the next level!

If weight loss is the goal, it’s only going to help! With the added weight you’ll burn more calories, gain strength, and get better cardio too.

No matter what your fitness goal is, you can benefit from weighted walks. With that being said, it shouldn’t be the only type of exercise you get.

Resistance training will help to strengthen your muscles, tendons, and joints even further. This will help protect you from injuries as you increase the weight on your walks. 

That, and it can get you better results in fitness no matter your goal!

To get the best results though, you need the proper nutrition too. Unfortunately for many, nutrition is the hardest part.

Fortunately for you, we can help with that!

We designed the 1st Phorm App to be an all-in-one lifestyle fitness app to help you earn amazing results! We will also help you by providing proper education, support, and accountability directly in the app.

You see, when you download the app, we set you up with an expert advisor. Their entire job is to teach you about nutrition and how to reach your goals.

You can message them questions in the app anytime, and they’ll do everything they can to help support you. Think of your advisor as a friend and coach in your pocket you can count on any time you need them! You also get access to a full library of workout programs, food-tracking software, and more!

Check out the 1st Phorm App today, and I promise you won’t regret it.

If you have any other questions, reach out to our team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches! Just send us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com or call us at 1-800-409-9732 any day from 6 AM to 10 PM Central.

We’ll do anything we can to help you earn the results you’ve always wanted! To get started now, all you have to do is download the 1st Phorm App!

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References:

(1) Neme JR. Balancing Act: Muscle Imbalance Effects on Musculoskeletal Injuries. Mo Med. 2022 May-Jun;119(3):225-228. PMID: 36035582; PMCID: PMC9324710.

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