Physical activity doesn't have to be complicated; in fact, walking has benefits that rival those of any other fitness regimen. Not only do regular, brisk walks help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent various heart conditions and ease joint pain, but walking can also help boost your immune system and improve your mood. Sounds pretty good, right? But the question is: Should you kick things up a notch by wearing ankle weights during your next walk around the block? The answer isn't as simple as you may think.
Walking with ankle weights poses risks: You could easily injure your leg muscles or joints by doing this.
Pros and Cons of Ankle Weights
In general, ankle weights make your muscles (your calves, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings, to be exact) work harder to do the same motion; thus, by wearing ankle weights, you'll increase your overall endurance, which does help with pulmonary and cardiovascular health. Plus, if you're concerned about burning calories, ankle weights can help with this, since adding more weight forces your body to adapt and work harder.
However, although it's true that ankle weights can increase the energy you burn while walking, it's also true that they can pull on your ankle joint. According to Terry Downey, a physical therapist at the Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, this poses the risk of major ligament injuries to the hips, knees and back.
In fact, Downey advises working one-on-one with a physical therapist or trainer to develop a personalized strength training plan if you want to use wearable weights, since the risk of straining your leg muscles is so high. But there are plenty of other ways to use ankle weights or ways to get more out of your walking routine.
How to Use Ankle Weights
Using ankle weights during your next leg or core workout is likely the safest option, since, according to certified personal trainer and run coach Amanda Shannon Verrengia, these weights force your core to work extra hard and are great for "bumping up the intensity of really any lower-body or core workout."
In her interview with Self, Verrengia also noted that using wearable weights with cardio-based activities, like walking, can really throw your balance off, which can cause injury in your hips or back. If you want to try using ankle weights with your next strength workout, though, she advises starting small, and never doing back-to-back days of ankle weight workouts.
Alternative Forms of Exercise
If walking is your preferred type of exercise, rather than using ankle weights, you could try mixing up your walking routine to burn more calories and increase your endurance. Simply try picking up the pace, climbing more hills, adding short bursts of jogging into your walks, or walking on grass or gravel as opposed to walking on a track.
You could also try counting your steps using a fitness app, and increasing your steps each week. Berkeley Wellness also recommends swinging your arms when you walk, since this allows for a quicker pace and provides a great workout for the upper body as well. These are all useful ways to help you get the most out of your walking workouts, without ankle weights.