July 23, 2012 -- People will go a long way to lose a few pounds -- absurd exercises, consenting to being wrapped up as a mummy in a sauna, and even adopting laughing regimens to burn calories.
So it should come as little surprise that something as seemingly normal as strapping weights around your wrist and ankles during your daily jog, run or walk, is popular among millions of Americans.
But some fitness experts say that using them might do you more harm than good.
Ankle weights and wrist weights come in the form of bands or pouches that have weights, sand or water inside. When strapped to your ankles or wrists, they add between three and 20 pounds of resistance to any lower and upper body movement.
This extra resistance helps you burn more calories -- but that advantage may come at a cost.
"Use of added weight to the limbs will definitely change the way someone walks, runs, and moves," says Matt Briggs, a physical therapist at Ohio State University. "There is some biomechanical and computer modeling evidence demonstrating this. In certain populations it may be bad. It will definitely require more muscle activation compared to without the use of dumbbells or ankle weights."
In many cases, athletes can sense this difference, but they may think that injuries resulting from these weights can never happen to them. That's what Atlanta native Matt Mosunjac thought when he used ankle weights while in training for high school sports several years ago. Mosunjac, an all-around athlete, used the weights for basketball and track.
"Ankle weights felt great the first time I used them, and I didn't notice too many effects at the time," he said. But as time went on -- and the more he used the ankle weights -- he started to feel pain on his shins and hip.
"My doctor said I had shin splints and hip problems due to possibly overexerting myself with the ankle weights," Mosunjac says. "It was like having a tug-of-war on my ligaments, as if they were being pulled apart."
Not all people who use the weights experience the same problems that Mosunjac did. However, research has suggested that even absent injury, ankle and hand weights might not be all they are cracked up to be when it comes to fitness.
In March of 2002, the Division of HPR-Exercise Science at Wayne State University conducted a study that dealt with the effects of these weights on muscular fitness, body composition profile, and even their psychological effect.
What the researchers found was that those who used the weights didn't get much benefit from them in terms of muscular fitness.
As for energy expended, health experts say wrist weights may increase the amount of calories burned during an aerobic exercise. However, they also caution that these weights increase the workload on your joints. The heavier the weights on your wrists, the more burden on your wrists, elbows and shoulders. This may, in turn, increase the likelihood of injuries like sprains, dislocations and ligament tears. Frequent users may also risk tendinitis, as this, too, is a condition that occurs as a result of frequent strain on your joints.
"If someone did too much of an activity with the weight, then it could be bad, as it could cause or exacerbate an overuse injury," Briggs says, adding that weights that are too heavy or that are gripped too tightly could overload the muscles, leading to a form of elbow muscle pain known as epicondylagia.
Wrist, Ankle Weights May Lead to Injury, Physical Therapists Warn
And it's not just muscle-related injuries. "If someone has poor balance and is at risk of falls it could be bad and potentially increase their risk for falls even more," Briggs says.
Messages left with two companies that manufacture the weights -- Altus Athletic and All Pro Exercise Products -- were not immediately returned.
Some physical therapists note, however, that these weights do have their place. For those recovering from injuries or surgeries, ankle weights could be a boon for rehabilitation from injury.
"Ankle weights are used all the time in outpatient rehabilitation for strengthening," says John Dewitt, a physical therapist from Ohio State University. "There is evidence for their use in neurologic rehabilitation, such as post-stroke, to encourage normal movement patterns."
But for the regular athlete or weekend warrior, Briggs says, a healthy dose of consideration could be the key to avoiding injury.
"All said and done, the use of added weight to the upper extremity or lower extremity will require more energy and active control," Briggs says. "If someone is not able to control the weight properly, then it could be a bad thing."