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?
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.
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.
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.
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.