Wearable Weights: Are They Worth It?

If you’re looking for an easy way to incorporate a beginning strength training practice (or just a little extra effort) into your exercise routine, wearable weights—which include weighted vests, ankle weights and wrist weights—can seem like a no-brainer. After all, you’re technically investing the same amount of time and doing the same activities but just with more effort and benefit. And you just have to slip them on and go, right?

Not exactly.

What Are Wearable Weights?

The most common types of wearable weights include weighted vests and wrist and ankle weights.

Weighted vests are exactly what they sound like, except instead of zipping or buttoning the vest in the front, many models go on over your head and attach at the sides. Vests range anywhere between 15 and 150 pounds in weight, and typically have pockets where the weights go. You can easily adjust the load by adding or removing weights.

Meanwhile, wrist and ankle weights can be as light as one pound apiece or as heavy as 20 pounds. The weights themselves are often built into a thick strap that you then wrap around the wrists and ankles and secure with velcro.

The Risks and Benefits of Weighted Vests

Runners often use weighted vests to enhance running performance and economy, or how much oxygen you need to sustain your effort. For example, one study in Biology of Exercise reveals that runners who trained with a weighted vest equivalent to 8, 15 and 20 percent of their body weight improved their sprint running performance by up to 10 percent.

But even if you’re not a high-level runner, you can still reap benefits by following their lead.

A weighted vest can be a great option for boosting the intensity of your cardio activities, so you end up burning more calories in the same amount of time if that’s a priority. After all, when you add extra weight to your body, your muscles and cardiovascular system have to work harder to sustain your efforts.

Wearing a weighted vest can also be a great way to incorporate muscle- and bone-strengthening benefits into aerobic activities like walking or jogging. When you place resistance on your body, you stimulate the process of creating new bone cells, which ultimately helps prevent bone loss.

That said, you should steer clear of weighted vests if you have any neck or back issues. Wearing weight around your torso will place added stress on your spine, which can travel upstream to your neck.

Even if you don’t have any existing neck or back issues, there are still safety precautions it’s smart to consider.

For a start, don’t go heavier than 10 percent of your body weight. This means if you weigh 150 pounds, your vest should weigh no more than 15 pounds. Start light and gradually work your way up. Similarly, start by incorporating a weighted vest into your walking routine once or twice per week. Also, think twice before wearing a weighted vest while jogging or running, however, as this could place added impact through your spine.

You’ll also want to make sure the weight in your vest is as evenly distributed as possible. Spread the weight equally in the front, back and sides of the vest so you don’t overwork the muscles and joints in one area of your body. If you place all the weight in the front of the vest, for example, your back muscles will have to work much harder, which increases your risk of back pain and injury. Putting all the weight in the back, meanwhile, places extra stress on the muscles in the front of your body.

If your weighted vest has a belt, secure it tightly to keep the weight close to your body.

The Risks and Benefits of Wrist and Ankle Weights

It’s not uncommon to see people walking around with weights attached to their wrists or ankles. Like weighted vests, wrist and ankle weights can increase the intensity of your walk or run, leading to a greater overall calorie burn.

However, the calorie-burning benefits don’t outweigh the risks to your joints, muscles and tendons.

For starters, wearing wrist and ankle weights while walking or running can actually strain your joints, increasing your chances of injuries like sprains and tears. Ankle weights in particular can change your gait by shifting more of the work onto the quads (the muscles in the front of your thighs) and pulling on your ankle joint, ultimately leading to pain and injury to the knees, hips and back. And if you have any balance issues, wrist and ankle weights could potentially increase your risk of falls by altering your center of gravity.

Wrist and ankle weights can safely fit into an exercise routine when used for standard strength exercises. Wrist and ankle weights are the perfect choice for exercises like side-lying leg lifts, biceps curls, bent-over rows and lateral raises, which target specific muscle groups like the hips, biceps, shoulders and hamstrings.

In fact, wrist weights can be especially helpful if you suffer from arthritis and have trouble gripping a dumbbell, so check with your doctor to see if they might be a good addition to your routine.

Final Primal Considerations

While I wouldn’t argue wearable weights are necessary by any means, for some people they can be a useful investment. Weighted vests make it easy to boost the intensity of an otherwise low-key stroll, while wrist and ankle weights can make resistance training more manageable for those with arthritis or limited space to exercise. Just play it smart: check with your doctor first if you have any existing back, joint or balance issues. Assuming you’re good to go, start lighter and gradually work your way up.

Have you used wearable weights of any kind? What’s your experience been? Thanks for reading today, everybody.

TAGS:  mobility

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19 thoughts on “Wearable Weights: Are They Worth It?”

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  1. I have a weight vest. I find it really useful for chin up/pull ups, squats and push ups, but rarely wear it for running. Some days it’s hard enough keeping my heart rate under 140 (maff) as it is, and I find that when I do ‘treat myself’ to a weighted run, only my shoulders ache.

    Still, a good article from the team. Cheers.

  2. I wear my weighted vest to the cliffs and on hikes. It’s called a pack.

    1. Mine is called a 3 year old in a hiking pack. This has the added challenge of being a pack that moves and often likes to lean way over on one side.

  3. My unequivocal favorite workout is called “Barbarian;” it’s a wearable weight workout+ in which we honor our ancestors… it also happens to be the initiation experience for everyone that joins the tribe here (women do a version with 53lb implements).

    It’s a 1 mile drudge with 70lb kettlebells in ea hand, a 70lb pack, 70lbs ontop of a sled and 20lb ankle weights. Every step is unsteady, off balance, as if trekking through shin-deep mud and carrying a fallen comrade back from battle. Shoulders and upper back stay on fire; never get a rest. It’s totally barbaric… it totally garners all kinds of looks, comments and sympathy from neighbors… I do this every Wednesday. It reminds me that there’s really nothing harder in life (at least my life). It reminds me that our ancestors performed this kind of back breaking work on a regular basis. It reminds me that this is my lineage… We are descendants of the sole surviving species of genus Homo (the baddest mammalian predators that ever lived).

    1. How are you pushing the sled with kettlebells in your hands?

        1. I never thought of that. Sounds like you have the market covered on brutality. I will load my sled!

      1. Natives almost never “pushed” sled technology… it was almost always exclusively “pulled.” Let us know if you do it!

    2. Bro, you are legendary!

      I’m so down to try that, but (enter excuse) my gym doesn’t have hardly any of that equipment

  4. I have worn ankle and wrist weights during my (at-home) yoga practice, and found them useful for increasing mindfulness of movement and muscle engagement. Definitely makes it more of a workout, too.

  5. Love the articles about fitness. Keto articles, not so much. I did Keto for 27 days and while I LOVE fat, it was unsustainable for me as a lifestyle. YMMV.

  6. Babies…
    Natures original wearable weight. And those little beasts just think rest days are for slackers! 😉

  7. I work out at home in limited space – no desire to join a gym. Few months ago I got 5 lb wrist and ankle weights and have been using them for strength training. The ankle weights have *definitely* made my bodyweight routine and core excercises something much more difficult! I love them. I would also never, ever, ever wear them running or jumping. That would be terrible. But for leg lifts, pull ups, crunches, etc- they are a fantastic addition.

  8. I use ankle weights to get ready for hunting season. The few extra pounds simulates the thick layer of mud that will be on my boots most of the season. It only takes a few hikes for the muscles to get used to the change.

  9. You didn’t mention weighted belts. As hiker who routinely carries 15-20 pounds in my daypack, I want the bulk of that weight sitting on my hips, not on my shoulders. Therefore a weighted belt, which puts all the weight on one of the strongest load bearing areas of the body (pelvis) is the way to go. Sadly, quality weight belts are scarce. I finally settled on one from Power Systems which goes up to 20 pounds. In summertime I train with around 8-12 pounds which goes a long way in prepping me for Fall and Winter hiking when I carry heavier packs than in Summer.

  10. Remember the HeavyHands craze years ago? Dr. Len Schwartz (the author of HeavyHands best sellers) discovered that pumping small hand-weights during a brisk walk added METs with very little extra perceived exertion. Think a moderately fast walk burning cal’s like a 10 minute mile. Most aerobic execise focuses only on the legs. He discovered the upper body has much aerobic power that can exploited. I have followed this strategy for thirty years with zero joint problems!

    1. I DO remember the HeavyHands from back in the 1990s – I still have a set around here … somewhere 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing. This blog seems quite helpful and informational that clears all doubts about wearable weights, risk, and benefits of weighted vests and ankle weights.