Wrist weights are back. But do they work?

Wearable wrist weights, once thought to be consigned to the dustbin of fitness history, are seeing a roaring resurgence on social media.

The one- to three-pound cuffs first became popular during the fitness boom of the 1980s, when athletes strapped on models made of fabric and filled with sand. But by the early 2000s, they had largely gone the way of the leg warmer. It didn’t help that they soak up sweat, causing them to smell over time.

Their current resurgence has been fueled by brands like Bala, whose weighted “bracelets” look like a fashion accessory: They’re made of silicone-coated steel and come in muted colors that seem designed for TikTok and Instagram.

Like many home fitness brands, Bala’s business saw a boost during the pandemic. The company’s founders presented the bracelets an episode from February 2020 from “Shark Tank.” A few weeks later, pandemic lockdowns went into effect, and suddenly “everyone needed toilet paper and workout equipment,” says Bala co-founder Natalie Holloway.

It didn’t take long before other versions, with a similar aesthetic and silicone design, appeared on Amazon shelves and stores.

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

When Katie Austin, a fitness entrepreneur, was growing up in the ’90s, she watched her mother, home video star Denise Austin, workout with her own brand of bright pink wrist weights. Today, the younger Ms. Austin teaches while wearing bracelets.

“They’ve become trendy and functionally smarter,” she said, but “the idea that they’re a great way to train your muscles at home has remained the same.”

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

Fitness influencers often claim that wrist weights ‘firm’ your arm muscles – in short, they make your arms look firmer and more flexible, with visible muscle definition.

But experts say the entire concept of toning — as well as “spot toning,” or tightening specific body parts 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, you can “build muscle and then maybe lose a little fat so those muscles are more visible,” she said.

According to Fried, wearing wrist weights while walking is unlikely to build significant muscle mass.

Wearing wrist weights for extended periods of time can increase your muscular endurance, experts say, 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 feel, especially when you hold them in your hands instead of on your shoulders.

Wrist weights work in a similar way, says Kelyssa Hall, an exercise physiologist and strength coach at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “The further up the arm the weight is, the heavier it feels,” she says.

The extra stress on your bones can also increase your bone density, experts said. But experts recommend limiting wrist weights to one to three pounds to avoid straining your joints. If you’re concerned about your joints, consider weight vests instead. “They reduce the load on the limbs and the joints that support the limbs, but they increase the load on body weight,” which helps build strength, Ms Hall said.

Carrying weights while walking, during aerobic exercise — such as using an elliptical or stair climber — or even while going about your daily routine can also slightly 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 straining your joints.)

“Any time you do an activity that increases your heart rate and you add extra weight, it will help increase your heart rate,” she said.

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

As with all exercises, it is important to maintain proper form when 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 get the most benefits while minimizing your risk of injury.

Wrist weights aren’t the get-fit-quick miracle gear some influencers make them out to be. But when worn smart, they can still be an effective health and fitness tool.

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