Should you wear wrist weights while you walk?

A photo illustration of an arm with a brightly colored wrist weight on it and red hearts in the background.
There are some benefits to wearing wrist weights. Here's what you should know. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)

Walking is great for your physical and mental health, but should you level up your daily stroll? There are weighted vests and rucking, which help with core strength and have cardiovascular benefits. Yet another add-on is wrist weights, the most popular being influencer-favorite Bala Bangles. Here’s what to know about the benefits of weighted bracelets — and what to be wary of.

Take a peek at TikTok and you’ll find creators posting “before and afters” of their more muscle-defined arms — and claiming that they got that way solely from walking while wearing wrist weights.

But are these before-and-afters legit? While the people in these videos may show more muscle in their arms after using wrist weights, experts say that these wrist weights are probably not the reason why their arms have more definition.

Let’s start by dispelling the myth that toning your muscles is even possible. Muscles either grow larger and stronger through hypertrophy or shrink and weaken through atrophy. If you want to look more defined or “toned,” if you will, your only options are to increase the amount of muscle mass on your body or lose fat so the muscle you do have shines through.

And wrist weights aren’t the greatest option for growing muscle in the first place. That’s because most wrist weights clock in at between one and three pounds per weight on each arm, and in order to build muscle, you need to lift heavier weights that provide enough resistance to challenge and stimulate your muscles for growth. This practice is called progressive overload.

You know you are lifting heavy enough when you can do a maximum of 15 reps or so per set before needing a break. Most people can easily do dozens of repetitions with one- to three-pound weights before getting tired, making them ineffective for building muscle.

Milica McDowell, a doctor of physical therapy, tells Yahoo Life that wrist weights may condition your muscles, but “you wouldn't see effects of strength or muscle size improvement like traditional resistance exercises would create.” She says that walking with wrist weights can’t replace traditional resistance training, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we should be doing twice a week — and that’s especially true if you’re hoping for more defined arms.

Just because you’re not going to get ripped arms from walking with wrist weights doesn’t mean you need to skip them. Devin Trachman, an orthopedic physical therapist with Physical Therapy Central, tells Yahoo Life that the intended purpose of wearing wrist weights should be to make your walk more challenging, which can greatly benefit your heart.

“Typically, you see an increase in heart rate if you are wearing wrist weights while walking, which means your cardiovascular system is working harder to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles than if you were not wearing the weights,” she explains. “You also have increased oxygen consumption because the body requires more oxygen to produce energy for this activity. This is a great and simple way to help strengthen your cardiovascular system.”

McDowell notes that you don’t necessarily need to add wrist weights to get these benefits. Walking uphill or even at a faster pace than usual can also make your walking workouts more strenuous for your body. Ultimately, making your walking workouts more intense will build your endurance, and you can continue to add length, time or intensity to your walking workouts.

Trachman says to make sure that you’re sticking to one to three pounds per side for wrist weights, and to “start on the lighter end of that and slowly progress as your strength and endurance improves.”

“The biggest reason I do not recommend going over three pounds per weight while walking is due to how much the added resistance can change your natural walking mechanics,” she says, pointing out that going too heavy can affect your natural arm swing, balance and coordination. Also, she notes that these weights may place “excessive strain” on the wrist, elbow and shoulder that can make a person more susceptible to tendonitis or overuse injuries, which can have a “gradual onset,” she says.

“If you notice a slight increase in pain or discomfort during or following this activity, it is best to consult with your health care provider,” Trachman notes.