Aaron B. Rochlen
People love lifting weights, for many reasons. Some like the sense of power – weight lifting provides. Others do it for stress relief. And still others love the visible benefits that can come with transforming fat into muscle.
In my work as a Psychologist, I like to bring in weights with some of my walk therapy clients. In doing so, I work under the assumption that walking with weights comes with both health and psychological benefits.
The health benefits are clear. Walking with weights can increase your heart rate and calorie burn, all goals of a good walk. In doing so, the key here is to not add too much weight that it impacts your stride, posture, or puts unnecessary stress on one’s body. I recommend ankle weights or light dumbbells to avoid some of these problems.
But as a psychologist, it’s perhaps the psychological or metaphorical benefits of walking with weights that are more interesting and unique. When I initiate this with clients, I’ll talk about what’s “weighing them down” while moving down a path together carrying a few extra pounds (literally). I might also ask them to really focus on the sensations around the weights, or feelings of heaviness or life burdens they may carry.
And then comes the relief part of the work. At some time in our walk, I like to have clients “shed” their weight, focusing on letting go of some of their “heaviest” burdens. After doing so, I try and have my clients focus on their feelings and thoughts—to get a better sense of what it’s like to be focused on their own “lightness.”
These questions often yield to places of insight and emotion – which ultimately are some of the key goals of my work with clients.
Some of this discussion might focus on how my clients can get to the point of “letting go” of their feelings of being weighed down by life or even their own thoughts. Alternatively, sometimes the discussion turns to what responsibility each client holds in both creating their own burdens or creating their own solutions.
Of course, walking with weights is not for everyone and should only be initiated with physician and or physical therapist approval. Walking with weights that are too heavy can exacerbate a host of other health problems or create unnecessary strain on one’s joints and muscles.
With these cautions in mind, integrating walk therapy with weights can be a useful and creative addition to your exercise and mental health routine. Hopefully this article may provide some new ideas and insights to use along your own path.