Last week someone asked me if they should use hand weights and wear ankle weights when they walk for exercise. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question and my recommendation would be no on the ankle weights and maybe on the hand weights.
Here’s another opinion on ankle weights from Mayo Clinic physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Edward R. Laskowski. “Ankle weights generally aren't recommended for brisk walking. Although ankle weights can increase the energy you burn while walking, they may strain the ankle joint and leg muscles, which could increase your risk of injury.”
There are other ways to increase the intensity and effectiveness of your walking workout. One way is to simply walk faster or, if you are already in pretty good shape, add some short bursts of jogging. You can start out with just a few seconds at a time, alternating walking and jogging. As you are able, you can begin increasing the length of time you spend jogging.
If you‘re not quite ready for jogging, simply pick up the pace of your walk for short intervals, alternating between slower and faster walking. If you are walking on a treadmill, you can use the counter or clock function on the treadmill. If you’re walking outside, you can use landmarks like telephone poles. On the track, you could do one slow lap then one fast lap. You get the idea.
As far as walking and hand weights go, there are studies that show you can increase the amount of calories you burn by holding a light hand weight. The key here is “light, probably not more than 3 pounds for each hand. You can use a dumbbell, but I like a cuff-style weight that I can slip on my wrist. The ones I use also have a thumb loop so they don’t slide around.
If you decide to use hand weights while walking, start with just a 1 pound weight in your hand or on your wrist and walk as you usually do. Stick with the 1 pound weights for a couple of weeks, and if you feel ready, you can add an additional pound every couple of weeks, up to the 3-pound limit.
For more of a challenge, there are some great workout tapes that incorporate hand weights with an indoor walking workout. I recommend Leslie Sansone’s “Burn Body Fat & Sculpt Your Arms."
And remember, you should always check with your health care provider before starting a new exercise program.