Getting a (weighted) leg up

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  • JOURNEY A. HITCHCOCK/Press Jerry Hitchcock performs an exercise with leg weights and dumbbells during a recent workout. Leg weights increase the intensity of many exercises, and can aid in building muscle mass.

  • 1

    Journey A. Hitchcock/Press Jerry Hitchcock performs a leg lift exercise during a workout with 1-pound leg weights.

  • JOURNEY A. HITCHCOCK/Press Jerry Hitchcock performs an exercise with leg weights and dumbbells during a recent workout. Leg weights increase the intensity of many exercises, and can aid in building muscle mass.

  • 1

    Journey A. Hitchcock/Press Jerry Hitchcock performs a leg lift exercise during a workout with 1-pound leg weights.

By JERRY HITCHCOCK

Staff Writer

There are pros and cons to most any type of workout. You can probably find someone who has a strong opinion about any apparatus or workout routine, if you look hard enough. The debate about the use of leg weights is no different.

They make leg weights which can be strapped on and remain fairly stable during a workout. That being said, you’ll still not convince a good deal or athletes that they should use them.

What pool of athletes that can benefit from leg weights runs the gamut. Runners, walkers, boxers, swimmers, basketball players, etc., can build larger muscle and endurance with a properly-designed workout routine.

•••

I personally have leg weights in 1-pound, 2-pound and an adjustable set which goes up to 20 pounds per leg.

I typically will use my 1-pound leg weights in the early parts of the year, wearing them while doing workouts on my indoor cycling trainer and also my trusty Nordic Track. I’ve found that they work well for me as I begin to build up my leg muscles for cycling competitions later in the year.

I’ve also found that they aid me in pedaling “in circles” — a term used to describe a fluid, efficient motion of propelling a bike forward.

I usually work up to wearing them for a full session, to avoid any undue soreness. Once I have my leg muscles trained to using them for a full workout, I’ll also start switching to my 2-pound set when I do my floor and plyometric workouts.

By mid-March, I’m back to just doing workouts with no leg weights, trying to build speed and fast-twitch muscles strength on top of sheer torque I’ve gained from the previous two months’ workouts.

As far as my set of adjustable leg weights, I’ve only used them sparingly. If you put anything more than 10 pounds on each leg, you feel like you are dragging around two tree trunks. It seems real easy to me to suffer an injury trying to do workouts with so much weight, especially since I’m not used to carrying and swinging that weight.

The box they came in shows a really fit, young guy with one leg outstretched — martial arts style — with weights on both legs. The leg is higher than his head, and the strength needed to not only get a leg into that position — but hold that pose for the camera — I’m sure I’ll never possess.

•••

Typical workouts with leg weights can build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.

I’ve talked to a few runners who have never used leg weights. Some have worn them in other workouts, or just around the house, but not when they are putting in miles. The biggest obstacle to running with leg weights tends to be the ability to attach them to your leg securely, but not so tight as to cut off circulation. A loosely attached weight will slide up and down during running and void any benefit while also just being a nuisance, and possibly cause an injury.

Many sprinters use leg weights during training to gain that torque they need to get out of the blocks and hit top speed as soon as possible.

High jumpers and long jumpers need that explosion upward or outward, and plyometrics with leg weights can make a difference.

Boxers and mixed martial artists — who both need great footwork in the ring — will use leg weights to shape the solid foundation they need to keep them upright during exhaustive bouts.

•••

Now for the detractors. Many health experts play down the effectiveness of leg weights. Often they prefer just picking up the pace of your running or the use of resistance bands during leg exercises, and good ol’ calisthenics. Some say that added stress can put a strain on joints, nerves and tendons. People who are physically weaker or heavier than normal can suffer adverse affects from their use, according to some sources.

One guy who knows all about running offers his take.

“For general running, I think the risks outweigh the benefits,” Fleet Feet Coeur d’Alene owner and avid runner Garth Merrill said. “You might get a good workout, but the extra weight in the lower legs can throw off body mechanics and create stresses that can lead to injury. If the goal is extra resistance training — using more muscles, making the heart work harder — I think there are better options, like hill repeats, work at the gym and other cross training, that don’t carry as much potential for injury. I do know a runner or two who uses a weight vest in some training. That seems like a better place for the extra weight if you’re distance running. Adds the resistance but has less chance to interfere with stride mechanics.”

As always, consult a physician before starting a new workout routine. Stop using leg weights if you notice pain in an area or muscle that is new to you.

Pro or con, it may be worth a shot if you get a chance to try out a set. Maybe you’ll fall in love — or maybe you won’t.

• • •

Jerry Hitchcock can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, via email at jhitchcock@cdapress.com, or follow him on Twitter at HitchTheWriter.

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