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Is Power Walking With Ankle Weights an Exercise Hack, or a Good Way to Hurt Yourself?

Those 10,000 steps add up quickly when you’ve got an extra three-and-a-half pounds strapped to each of your legs

I love two things in quarantine — walking around my neighborhood, and passive exercising. 

The former has been a lifesaver these last few months. My girlfriend and I moved into a new house on April 1st, and being able to get outside during the week and cruise our extremely walkable new streets after work every day has made me feel like we’re going to get through this whole COVID thing in one piece.

As far as passive exercising goes, who doesn’t like the idea of getting fit without having to put in a ton of work?

It would only make sense then to try to combine the two. Which is how I came up with the idea of wearing ankle weights (i.e., neoprene sleeves filled with sand) while on my daily walks. Ankle weights might not be truly passive — you definitely know they’re there — but they’re light enough at 3.5 pounds per weight to make it feel like you’re not really exercising, even when you are. And since walking is already a fun, easy exercise, what’s a few extra pounds hanging from your ankles when you’re charging around the neighborhood, taking in the sights?

Truth be told, though, we’re not talking about some five-minute jaunt to the end of my cul-de-sac and back. When my girlfriend and I go for a stroll, we do a five-mile loop through the middle of L.A. — that’s around 11,000 steps. And, at 3.5 pounds per weight, per foot, that’s a lot of extra calories burned, possibly as many as 10 percent more than usual.

My nightly, after-work, five-mile stroll

Of course, that’s if I actually completed the whole thing. 

Spoiler alert: I didn’t even make it a mile.

What I failed to realize was, despite 3.5 pounds not feeling like a lot of weight when you’re traipsing around your living room, when you’re picking up and putting down that amount of weight for 11,000 straight steps, it’s an extra 38,500 pounds you’re attempting to carry.

And, as it turns out, trying to lug around that much extra weight when your body isn’t built for it is precisely how you hurt yourself. “Ankle weights can increase the energy you burn while walking, but they may strain the ankle joint and leg muscles, which could increase your risk of injury,” warns Edward R. Laskowski from the Mayo Clinic

Sounds bad enough, but it’s even worse when you consider that an injury like that wouldn’t just hurt, it could permanently alter how you walk.

If limping for the rest of your life because you thought you could outsmart the exercise gods by Velcro-ing some sand bags to your ankles sounds like the definition of stupidity, strap in a bit tighter, because it gets worse: Not only do orthopedists say you could hurt yourself, but personal trainers are also quick to point out that the entire premise for brisk walking with ankle weights is flawed, too.

“Why would you wear ankle weights when you could burn the same amount of calories just by walking with a bit more intensity?” asks Damien Brown, a personal trainer in L.A. 

Good question. Wish I’d thought of it.