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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
May 03, 2023
Ankle weights were all the rage in the 80s, and we're pleased to see it's a trend that didn’t die off. In fact, if you’ve spent any time in a gym, you likely have seen people wearing these mini sandbags around their ankles.
And if you've seen someone wearing them as they perform pull-ups like it's their job, you may have questions. Like, what are those mini weights doing? Is it a good idea to use them? And why is this crazy person making pull-ups even harder?!
To answer your questions, adding ankle weights to an exercise (or entire workout) makes it infinitely more challenging, which brings a whole host of benefits (we'll talk about these in detail soon). Second answer: It's definitely a good idea to use them! Third answer: Yes, they may be slightly crazy, but they're also adding extra weight to pull-ups, so who are we to judge? In our book, a little crazy can go a long way to building muscle!
So, now you're probably eager to begin wearing weights around your ankles too. But, hang on, as it isn’t as simple as just putting them on and waiting for the magic to happen. Just like any other fitness tool, there are some guidelines you need to follow to make sure your ankle weights workout isn't doing more harm than good.
Fortunately, we're about to get into those guidelines, along with explaining what makes ankle weights so great. Let's get into it - weighted pull-ups await!
Table of Contents:
Ankle weights are a piece of training equipment most commonly marketed to the general population. They are viewed as an easy, simple way to improve someone's fitness, usually during day-to-day activities.
They can also be used to make workouts and exercises more challenging, working particularly well for those who aren't ready to make a huge bump up in weight or anyone who wants to make calisthenics or bodyweight exercises, like pull ups and dead hangs, more challenging.
Most ankle weights resemble mini sandbags that you attach around your ankles using a velcro strap. Although there are many different sizes, the most common weights are around 1-3 pounds.
The primary goal of ankle weights is to increase muscular strength and improve endurance. By adding this additional weight onto your body, you have to exert and produce additional force. This ends up strengthening and toning your body, increasing endurance, and can even help with rehabbing injuries.
Ankle weights are far from a complete fitness solution, but they are an excellent tool for targeting specific areas of your body and increasing your strength, particularly if you are newer to exercise.
Since they are not extremely heavy or oversized, ankle weights are often used as a means to provide a little extra resistance to a workout. Alternatively, they can also be used while you perform daily activities, to help improve your muscle strength while you carry on with your day.
They usually help your legs work harder but aren’t as damaging as strength training exercises with heavier weights. This makes them great for beginners who are just starting to use progressive overload.
Ankle weights also add instant resistance to bodyweight exercises.
Since they are small and easy to wear, they allow your body to move freely, enabling you to wear them for everything from taking a walk around the neighborhood to performing various upper and lower body bodyweight exercises, in addition to core moves.
So, why should you consider using ankle weights? These 11 ankle weights benefits will explain what makes them so great.
Adding ankle weight resistance to exercises is a simple way to burn more calories and build strength in your lower body. When you use resistance training along with a proper diet based on a caloric deficit, you can start to see your body lean out.
Using them can help lower body fat percentage and decrease waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio1. Ultimately, this means they'll help you with any body recomposition goals you have.
If you have ever had an injury in your lower body, then you know how difficult it can be to walk around. If your feet and ankles are having trouble, then everything else up the chain will also suffer.
By increasing your walking velocity, step length, cadence, and stride rate, ankle weights improve your ability to walk, ultimately leading to better biomechanics and less injury risk2.
Regardless of your injury status, whether you are an athlete who had a bad ankle sprain or you are recovering from a stroke, there's a good chance ankle weights can help by improving your balance3.
They also increase the strength of your ankle and hip joints, which helps decrease foot-dragging during the swing phase of your walking gait. This means your body can shift weight without developing a limp or muscle imbalance.
Proprioception is your body’s ability to sense movement, location, and action. As we get older, our joint positioning declines, as well as our stability and balance.
Ankle weights have been shown to help elderly adults with knee repositioning and improve their walking speed4. This allows your joints to move in the correct positions and ranges of motion.
Wearing ankle weights is a form of adding resistance to your body. They won't have the same effect as something like a barbell squat, but they do make a difference in burning extra calories.
Your body then needs to burn more calories to produce extra force5.
Burning more calories puts you closer to your goal of a caloric deficit, leading to a lower body weight and body fat percentage.
Bodyweight exercises are great, but it can be hard to find ways to make some of the moves more challenging. This makes it difficult to get stronger and continue progressing.
Ankle weights eliminate clumsiness and make isolation exercises like side leg lifts or hanging leg raises more challenging and effective. This lets you target hard-to-reach areas like the glute medius, hip flexors, and lower abdominals.
Big exercises like squats and lunges are great for strengthening your lower body. But they do not strengthen the hip in all of its ranges of motion, and it isn't easy to use a weight during a movement like a standing hip rotation exercise.
Since it’s a ball and socket joint, your hip needs to move in all directions to ensure you don’t have any weak spots. Ankle weights allow you the freedom of movement to do just that and help improve hip mobility and strength in all these ranges of motion.
With the extra resistance from your ankle weights, your body needs to produce more force, meaning your body needs more oxygen.
As you work harder and require more oxygen, you're training your heart, ensuring it becomes more efficient. This results in a lower heart rate and blood pressure during exercise and while at rest. Training with ankle weights also helps increase stamina, leading to improved cardiovascular and pulmonary health.
As we mentioned, they won’t have the same effect as a squat or a deadlift, but ankle weights will help tone your lower body and build muscle.
Remember that ankle weights also target hard-to-reach areas like your hip flexors, glute medius, and the foot and ankle complex. You are only as strong as your weakest link, so strengthening these smaller muscles will have a serious upside for lower body strength.
Ankle weights are not a one-trick pony and can be used for multiple activities. Everyone from someone brand new to fitness to an older adult to a professional athlete can find something beneficial to do with ankle weights.
You can certainly get creative with how you use these to strengthen your lower body and core. You can even add them to your next pool session.
Performing light weight-bearing exercises is a great preventive measure to fight osteoporosis. Using ankle weights is a great way to start working out with resistance, improving your bone mass density, and decreasing your risk of fractures.
They are especially helpful for the hips and ankles.
Even though ankle weights are lighter in resistance, they can still significantly affect your muscles. They primarily target your lower body, since they are worn on your ankles.
Every time you walk, balance on one leg, or even stand still, your glutes act as stabilizers to help keep your pelvis aligned. Movements like walking lunges, side-lying leg lifts, and donkey kicks are great examples of how ankle weights can help your glutes get stronger in all planes of motion.
Ankle weights allow you to perform several different hamstring curl variations that help decrease your chance of knee injury and increase performance. On the flip side of your thigh, they help strengthen the quadriceps and improve their dynamic relationship with the hip flexors so you can lift and extend your knee confidently.
Something as simple as walking or doing calf raises with ankle weights will help build your calves and muscles of the foot and ankle complex. They also are fantastic for targeting the lower abs and hip flexors.
So, to summarize here, ankle weights work all of your lower body muscles!
Ankle weights are a form of resistance, and as we know, adding resistance with progressive overload is how you build strength, and a stronger muscle is a bigger muscle, in most cases.
Having said that, they won’t have the same effect as resistance exercises like a barbell squat, a deadlift, or a bench press.
They are great at targeting areas of the hips and core, which are essential for overall health and mobility. If these muscles are stronger, you will likely get stronger in other movements as well, leading to even more increased strength and muscle.
Ankle weights will force your body to produce more force, in turn requiring additional energy and burning more calories. But, remember, a caloric deficit is needed to lose weight.
This means you need to figure out how many calories your body needs to stay at maintenance and decrease 200 to 500 calories from that, to start. If you need help with a good diet, check out our 4-week weight loss meal plan to get started.
If you are overweight or are brand new to exercise, bodyweight exercises with ankle weights will likely be challenging for you and will burn significant calories. They won’t be as effective as a proper strength training routine, but they are a start and can help with weight loss, depending on your fitness level.
As discussed, ankle weights are a tremendous tool for making bodyweight exercises more challenging. They make exercises and activities more difficult, which benefits beginners and advanced lifters alike.
For some inspiration, here are some of the best exercises you can do with ankle weights.
Adjustable ankle weights are relatively straightforward to use. Simply wrap one weight around each of your ankles and use the velcro strap to adjust the fit.
It should be comfortably snug but not too tight as you fit it above the joint. If you secure the weight correctly, you shouldn’t have any issues with the weight coming loose while you work out.
Some friction can be uncomfortable, so if you prefer, wear taller athletic socks to protect your skin.
Ankle weights are great to include in your workout routine, but there are still drawbacks to be aware of. Here's what to consider before incorporating ankle weights into your routine.
If you use ankle weights too much, it can lead to significant imbalances in your quads and hip flexors. Wearing these for extended periods of walking will add significant resistance to those muscles and can strengthen them too much, throwing your system off balance.
Also, if you are brand new to using ankle weights and do too much too soon, they can cause ligament injuries to your knees, hips, and back.
Most of the time, when we think of strength exercises, the goal is to keep increasing the weight so you can overload your muscles.
When it comes to ankle weights, it’s best to stick with 1-2% of your body weight. Any more than that and their effectiveness decreases while your injury risk increases.
It’s important to remember that ankle weights are a tool with a specific purpose.
They are great for targeting some lower body areas and adding resistance to bodyweight movements. They are not replacements for a progressive overload training program or a magic pill solution for weight loss.
Find a diet you can stick to, and pick a workout split you enjoy. We also have a great bodyweight workout and calisthenics routine, so there truly is something for everyone!
Although they are an excellent option for rehabilitating injuries, in some cases, they can end up making existing injuries even worse. If you have knee or hip issues, avoid using ankle weights until you talk to your doctor.
This is especially true for cardio activities like running or jumping.
If they create an imbalance and you use them enough, you could end up giving yourself all sorts of foot and ankle problems. If you have any concerns about this, it may be better to hold off on ankle weights.
Ankle weights themselves don’t cause injuries. Remember that they are just tools in your toolbox, similar to a kettlebell, barbell, or treadmill. But they can increase your risk of injury if you misuse them.
It’s important to remember your intentions when using ankle weights.
Start gradually and progress slowly, just like with any other fitness routine. Begin with the lowest weight you can handle and let your body get accustomed to the new load for at least two weeks, as a rule of thumb.
And if you are planning on walking with ankle weights, start with a small distance and light weights. You can avoid injuries by increasing your distance slowly over time.
Remember, if you are new to exercise and are planning to wear these for walking, start slowly. As a starting point, aim to wear ankle weights at least three times per week for a minimum of 20 minutes.
If you are using a strength training routine, you don’t usually see ankle weights days listed on a program. You can, however, program exercises with ankle weights to fit into your workout no matter what your training split looks like. They're great for further improving your muscle mass and building leg muscles, making them a great addition to your leg workout.
If you are doing a lower body day, you can add these later in your workout, after your strength exercises, as a finisher. If you are going even more specific with a body part split and it’s glute day, exercises like the donkey kick are an excellent addition to activate or finish off the glutes.
On top of that, pretty much every workout will include some core training, and ankle weights are always a perfect addition for the lower abs, lower back, and hip flexor muscle groups. Ankle weights can also be an excellent option for at-home workouts if you are busy and cannot make it to the gym.
I hope you're starting to realize that ankle weights may just be the training equipment you're missing from your routine. They certainly pack a unique set of benefits and are beneficial for a wide range of people.
And, remember, you don't need to wear them every day to see the benefits of ankle weights. Start wearing them, progress slowly, and you'll start to see some remarkable results from this piece of training equipment.
Looking for a great workout to incorporate ankle weights into? Try adding them to this Calisthenics Legs Workout to make it even more challenging!
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June 05, 2023
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