Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Do the Wrist Weights Going Viral on TikTok Work? We Asked the Experts.

Wearable wrist weights, which once seemed relegated to the dustbin of fitness history, are seeing a resounding resurgence on social media.

The one- to three-pound cuffs first gained popularity during the fitness boom of the 1980s, when exercisers strapped on models made from fabric and filled with sand. But by the early 2000s, they had mostly gone the way of the leg warmer. It didn’t help that they absorbed sweat, which made them smell over time.

Their current resurrection has been fueled by brands like Bala, whose weighted “bangles” look like a fashion accessory: They are made from silicone-covered steel and come in muted colors that seem designed for TikTok and Instagram.

Like many at-home fitness brands, Bala’s business saw a boost during the pandemic. The company’s founders presented the bangles in a February 2020 episode of “Shark Tank.” A few weeks later, pandemic lockdowns took effect, and suddenly, “everyone needed toilet paper and workout equipment,” said Natalie Holloway, Bala’s co-founder.

Before long, other versions, with a similar aesthetic and silicone design, appeared on Amazon and retail store shelves.

In recent years, fitness personalities and social media influencers have promoted the benefits of wrist weights. Beyond Bala, a variety of other styles exist, including sweat-wicking options from Nike and leather wraps from the workout mogul Tracy Anderson.

When Katie Austin, an exercise entrepreneur, was growing up in the 1990s, she watched her mother, the home-video star Denise Austin, work out in her own brand of hot pink wrist weights. Today, the younger Ms. Austin teaches classes wearing bangles.

“They’ve become trendier and smarter functionally,” she said, but “the idea that they are wonderful home muscle conditioning is the same.”

Wrist weights can offer some real health and fitness benefits, but not quite in the way that the viral TikTok videos suggest.

Fitness influencers often claim that wrist weights “tone” your arm muscles — basically, that they make your arms appear firmer and lither, with visible muscle definition.

But experts say the whole concept of toning — as well as “spot toning,” or making specific body parts appear tauter by doing exercises to target them — is a myth.

Muscles can get bigger or they can shrink, “but you can’t really ‘tone’ muscle,” said Miriam Fried, a personal trainer in New York City. At most, she said, you can “build muscle and then maybe lose a little bit of fat so that muscle is more visible.”

Simply wearing wrist weights while walking likely won’t build significant muscle mass, Ms. Fried said.

Wearing wrist weights for prolonged stretches of time can increase your muscular endurance, experts said, which can improve your athletic performance and make daily activities more comfortable.

If you’ve ever carried grocery bags for more than a few minutes, you know how heavy they can start to feel — especially if you hold them in your hands instead of on your shoulders.

Wrist weights work similarly, said Kelyssa Hall, an exercise physiologist and strength coach at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “The further down the arm that the weight is, the heavier it’s going to feel,” she said.

The extra load on your bones may also increase your bone density, experts said. But experts advise limiting wrist weights to one to three pounds to avoid over-stressing your joints. If you’re concerned about your joints, consider weighted vests instead. “They reduce the strain on the extremities, and the joints supporting the extremities, but they increase the body weight load,” which helps build strength, Ms. Hall said.

Wearing any weights while walking, during aerobic exercise — such as using an elliptical machine or stair climber — or even while going about your daily routine may also modestly improve your heart health, said Kelly Picciurro, a physical therapist in New York City. (Ms. Picciurro and other experts advise against wearing wrist weights while running, to avoid overstraining your joints.)

“Anytime you’re doing an activity that gets your heart rate up and you add extra weight, it will help to increase your heart rate,” she said.

As a result, your cardiovascular system works harder, you take in more oxygen and you expend more energy than you would doing the same activity without weights. For greater cardio benefits, consider wearing a weighted vest or backpack.

As with all exercises, it’s essential to maintain proper form while using wrist weights.

Ms. Picciurro recommended paying special attention to your posture to prevent neck and back pain. Keeping your shoulders down and back, and your core engaged, will help you to reap the most benefits while minimizing risk of injury.

Wrist weights are not the get-fit-quick miracle gear that some influencers paint them to be. But when worn smartly, they can still be an effective health and fitness tool.

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