Training No-No: Walking with Weights

by Angela Yorke | December 1st, 2011 | Strength Training

A number of senior ladies in my neighborhood go for walks carrying dumbbells or wrist or ankle weights. The idea is that by doing so, they combine cardio activity with strength training instead of doing either separately, saving time.

Other than looking unwieldy and reducing what would have been an enjoyable walk to a joyless shuffle, walking with weights can actually be harmful. Given the effect weights have when used while the body is supposed to be in motion, it is actually more beneficial to carry out strength training separately from cardio activities.

One perception of this form of strength training is that it increases the calories burned overall. While it’s true using that 3-5 lb weights will increase strength, doing so while walking will increase the force exerted on the joints in an exponential manner and actually limit one’s actual range of movement due to the weight carried.

Thus, mechanical stress imposed by even a weight that is originally considered light will be multiplied greatly and to the detriment of the joint. Walking 12 rounds around the lake becomes vastly different from doing 12 controlled bicep or tricep curls with the same weight; moreover, adding weights to your walk will not provide the requisite resistance, so you wind up building less strength than you think, if at all, and you increase your risk of injury instead.

So, what can you do if you’re insistent on combining strength training with other activities? Rather than using dumbbells or ankle or wrist weights, a weight vest is a more prudent approach. It won’t exert undue strain on ligaments, tendons, or joints, and you can adjust the weight carried.

However, carrying an additional 20% of your body weight to achieve the desired strength-building effect is not a viable option for everyone, e.g., an extra 23 lbs if you weigh 114 lbs. In addition, a weight vest can be expensive, and it doesn’t minimize possible injury when higher impact activities are carried out. In the end, the best approach is just to carry out strength building separately.

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