Walking water bottle and hand weights

The benefits of walking with weights

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Will carrying weights while you walk boost the benefits? Exercise physiologist Andrew Cate looks to the latest research, and weighs up the pros and cons.

What are the benefits of walking with weights?

One of the biggest problems with walking is that it can be a challenge to make it intense enough to be effective. It’s a natural movement where one foot is always on the ground, significantly reducing the number of kilojoules you burn compared to running.

There are a range of solutions to this problem, including walking very fast, going for a long duration, walking up hills, and walking with Nordic poles.

Another way to make walking more challenging is to carry extra weight. It’s not uncommon to see people carry small dumbbells, or wearing a weighted vest, back pack or ankle weights.

In theory, the heavier you are, the more effort it takes to move. The weight adds variety and increases the demands on your heart and muscles, potentially offering a range of additional benefits, including:
  • Boosts cardiovascular endurance
  • Developing core and leg strength
  • It may help to build bone density

Walking with weights helps to burn more energy

A study conducted by the American Council on Exercise examined the impact of walking on a treadmill with a weighted vest. It was discovered that when walking at a 5% and 10% gradient on a treadmill, people wearing a vest containing 10% of their body weight burned 13% more kilojoules compared to wearing no vest.

There was little difference when subjects walked on a flatter surface until the vest was increased to 15% of body weight. Using a scale to measure perceived difficulty, subjects did not feel they were working any harder from wearing no vest, or the 10% or 15% body weight vests.

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Adding weights to your walk

  • Choose a weighted vest – Vests are the safest way to add weight to your walk. Most vests come with a series of small pockets where weighted bags or steel bars are inserted, allowing you to adjust the load.

    Being a vest, the extra weight is distributed close to your centre of gravity, minimising the disturbance to your gait and posture. It also allows your arms and legs to move naturally
  • Start light – Unless you are an advanced walker or your fitness levels are high, start out by adding only a small amount of weight to your vest. As your fitness improves, gradually increase the weight to between 10 and 15 percent of your body weight.

    Reduce the weight if you feel any knee, ankle, or back pain, or any type of discomfort during your walk. Consult with a doctor or exercise specialist if you have any concerns
  • If you must use hand weights, go light - When using hand weights, keep the dumbbells light to avoid stress on your shoulder. Swing with control, and avoid jerky movements.

    Do not use hand weights while walking on a treadmill, or if you have a history of elbow or shoulder injuries
  • Avoid ankle weights – Walking with ankle weights is best avoided. The extra weight distributed around your foot can disturb balance and foot orientation. Any increase in kilojoules used will be offset by the increased risk of injury to your feet and ankles.

    Ankle weights may also subject the knee to unusual stress, pulling the joint apart and straining ligaments