Working out with hand weights for walking may offer more risks than benefits. While adding hand weights to aerobic activities can increase energy expenditure, it can also cause injuries.
There are alternatives to hand weights that provide a safer resistance training element to your walking routine. If you do use hand weights for walking, take extreme caution to reduce injury risk.
Hand Weight Benefits
There was a time when you'd see step-aerobic videos with the smiling cover model holding a pair of light hand weights. Even the Mayo Clinic recommends doing exercises on the steps at your house with hand weights. Using a light pair of hand weights while performing step-aerobics is a very controlled movement. It's like performing mini biceps curls.
Or, if you're marching in place and raising the hand weights above your head, you are performing a bunch of mini overhead presses. This increased energy expenditure can help you burn more calories. If you are short on exercise time, combining aerobic and strength-training elements into one workout is convenient.
Hand Weight Dangers
Using hand weights for walking can cause stress injuries to your arm muscles and joints. Your shoulders and elbows are also more prone to injury, according to the American Heart Association. Carrying hand weights that are too heavy can impair your normal arm swing and create muscle soreness and damage. While increasing your injury risk, incorporating hand weights into aerobic activity may be ineffective. The same goes for ankle weights.
Use With Caution
If you are determined to use hand weights while walking, use them with extreme caution. The University of California at Berkeley's School of Public Health recommends beginning with one-pound weights and increasing the weight gradually as your strength and endurance builds, not exceeding weights that are more than 10 percent of your body weight.
Wrist weights for walking are considered to be safer than hand weights because they are worn and not held tightly in the hand; therefore, they don't cause a sharp rise in blood pressure. Harvard Health Publishing reports that wearing wrist weights during an aerobic activity may cause muscle imbalance and should probably be used in resistance-like exercises in place of dumbbells when your grip has been compromised.
Hand Weight Alternatives
You don't need hand weights to tone your arms while walking. Simply forming a fist and incorporating exercises like lateral presses, chest presses and upright rows helps sculpt upper-body muscles. If you want to carry something in your hands while walking, consider walking poles, which mimic the physical action involved in cross-country skiing.
Walking poles work your chest, arm and abdominal muscles. Using these walking tools can increase the number of calories burned while not increasing your injury risk the way hand weights do. A weighted vest is another safe alternative to hand weights, says the American Council on Exercise Fitness. To gain calorie-burning benefits, it should weigh no more than 15 percent of your body weight. If you don't have access to a weighted vest, you can walk with weights in a backpack.
- University of California Berkeley: "Better Walking Workouts"
- American Heart Association: "Why is Walking the Most Popular Form of Exercise?"
- MayoClinic.org: "Step It Up: 7 Quick Stair Exercises to Do at Home"
- ACE Fitness: "Improve Walking Workouts with Weighted Vests"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Wearable Weights: How They Can Help or Hurt"