Wrist Weights and Fitness

Using wrist weights can provide extra benefits to your workout by increasing its intensity, burning more calories. Wrist weights also help sneak in an upper body workout -- toning arms and shoulders -- during an aerobic workout that emphasizes the lower half of your body, and you can use wrist weights to turn routine activities into stealth workouts. But you need to know how to use wrist weights correctly and cautiously; they come with built-in injury possibilities.

Choices in Equipment

Wrist weights come in two general styles: stretchable cuffs that you stick your hand through or wraparound bands that can be tightened with Velcro or with a strap and a buckle. The wraparound kind sometimes has the weighted material in pockets, so you can adjust the weight. Some wrist weights come with a thumb hole that keeps the weight from sliding down your arm as you exercise. And some fit almost like fingerless gloves.

Adding the Right Weight

Wrist weights come in a variety of sizes: 1, 2, 2 1/2, 3 and 5 pounds are most common. It's difficult to find the stretchy cuff variety heavier than 2 1/2 pounds. The wraparound can be found at heavier weights, including 10 pounds, but the larger sizes require larger wrists, too; otherwise the weights will slip up and down on your arms. Besides being annoying, that can be an injury waiting to happen.

Using Them Correctly

Know the dangers of using wrist weights. If using 1-pound wrist weights is good, it might seem that 5 pounds would be better. Not so fast. Remember, your arm probably weighs in the 10-pound range, so even a 2-pound wrist weight is a 20 percent increase in the work your muscles must do to swing your arm. There's leverage involved, too. Extra weight on the ends of your arms transfers proportionately more stress up the line to your elbows and shoulders. And packing extra weight on your body--even in the form of wrist weights--will place proportionately more stress down to your hips, knees, ankles and feet as you pound away during a run. You can also upset your balance and force your body to compensate by altering your running stride, another invitation to injury.

When to Avoid

Avoid using wrist weights in exercises in which your elbow or shoulder must stop an explosive motion of your hand or if your arm is extended with both your elbow and shoulder working as levers. For example, using wrist weights and throwing a fastball is a very bad idea. Repetitive motions, such as simply rolling your extended arms at the shoulders, and controlled-motion exercises, such as weightlifting, are better. For example, if you have dumbbells in 5-pound increments, wrist weights allow you to fill in the gaps and build up your workouts more gradually. Another example: Using wrist weights while doing shadow kick boxing or other martial arts exercises is asking for trouble; using wrist weights for a heavy bag regimen works because the bag, not your elbow or shoulder, stops the motion of your hand.

Leveraging Your Workouts

Wrist weights work better to augment a walk than a run, because you can exaggerate the natural swing of your arms. Try that running, and it will destroy your cadence. Some other workouts you can boost with wrist weights: skipping rope, calisthenics, elliptical trainers, ski machines, weightlifting and rowing.

Stealth Workouts

Wrist weights allow you to build some workout value into your daily routine. Use wrist weights while running the vacuum. (Don't forget to use both arms.) Need to paint the garage door? Strap on the wrist weights. Even brushing your teeth becomes a workout if you've got an extra pound on your wrist. Be creative. Just remember to be careful about explosive movements and motions in which your shoulder bears the full control of your extended arm.

About the Author

Dale Bye has spent more than 40 years in journalism, including 25 supervising reporters and editors at metropolitan newspapers and eight years as senior managing editor at a national sports magazine. He directed five newspaper-sponsored personal finance fairs. His fields of expertise include business and personal finance, sports, fitness and theater. Bye holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.