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There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about exercising with ankle weights, what are the pros, cons, and alternatives?
Ankle weights are simply straps with some extra weight that are attached to your ankles. They can be used in many exercises to add some extra resistance to your training.
Exercising with ankle weights can offer a few benefits over regular exercises but it is not for everyone. They can be both good and bad depending on what you use them for and your personal situation.
Not all exercises are equally suited for adding ankle weights. You can add ankle weights to strength training exercises like lateral leg raises. For exercises like running and walking something like a weighted vest is generally better than ankle weights.
This article will go over who can consider using ankle weights, what benefits you can expect from it, what exercises are suited for ankle weights, how to avoid injuries when using ankle weights, and what alternatives may be better for achieving your workout goals.
Should you exercise with ankle weights?
Before going into the benefits you have to know that exercising with ankle weights can also have a few downsides.
First of all, adding extra external weights to any exercise increases the injury risk. Even if the exercise is perfect for ankle weights. Make sure your technique is good before adding any extra weights.
Exercises like running can be hard on body parts like ankles, shins, knees, and back. Wearing ankle weights while running increases the pressure on your body and thus the injury-risk even more.
Not all types of exercise are equally suited for ankle weights. Running with ankle weights engages your muscles in a different ratio compared to running without. This can lead to muscular imbalances that in turn can lead to a change in gait that may not be optimal for your daily life or running performance (1, 2).
Some of the benefits of ankle weights may not outweigh the downsides in some situations. Other workouts may also offer these extra benefits without the downsides. If you are injury-sensitive it may be smarter to not use ankle weights.
Benefits of using ankle weights
If your body can handle exercising with ankle weights it can offer you some of the following benefits compared to regular exercise.
Helps you burn more calories
A big factor in how many calories you burn during a workout is your weight. To move around your body needs energy, measured in calories. The more weight you carry, the more energy you need to fuel movement.
For example a 155-pound (70 kg) person doing lunges for 15 minutes burns around 110 calories.
On the other hand, a 185-pound (83 kg) person doing lunges for 15 minutes burns around 131 calories.
There will likely be a difference in how much ankle weights increase calorie-burning vs the same weight in body fat but that just shows how exercising with ankle weights can benefit calorie burning and in turn weight control.
Helps you build more muscle
Even with more cardio-focused exercises like running you build and preserve some muscle mass. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Generally the more weight you have to move, the more muscle you will build with an exercise. That’s one of the reasons why people go to a gym instead of doing bodyweight exercises at home.
This means that exercising with ankle weights can help you build slightly more muscle compared to exercising without.
Can improve cardiovascular health
Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.
When you move more intensely your body needs to transport these things, which means using your heart, at a higher rate.
Your heart is a muscle that can be trained by using it more intensely. Exercising with ankle weights makes your heart beat slightly faster and thus helps you strengthen your cardiovascular system more. This in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
Do keep in mind that muscles can get injured. If you have not done any physical activity in a long time you may want to start out with low-intensity movements without ankle weights and build up from there.
Improves bone density
The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts. The same goes for your bones, by putting pressure on them you make them stronger in the long-term.
Exercising with ankle weights puts slightly more pressure on your bones than exercising without them. This in turn will slightly benefit your bone density in the long-term.
Another potential hurdle for many workouts is the budget required.
Some exercises require inexpensive equipment starting at a jumping rope to at-home workout machines of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Even the investment required for gym subscriptions adds up after a while.
Money put into improving your health is generally a great investment but sometimes you can get the same effects with less. Ankle weights are relatively inexpensive. This can be a great benefit depending on your personal situation.
Different exercises for ankle weights
Generally, ankle weights are less suited for exercises that involve running or walking. They can cause changes in your stride which in turn can cause issues. There are also just better alternatives for weighted running.
A type of exercise that ankle weights can be very good for is strength training, exercises done with the goal of building muscle. Ankle weights will not do much for exercises like pushups but there are a few exercises where ankle weights can benefit your workout.
Some examples of exercises for ankle weights include:
- Donkey kicks
- Fire hydrant
- Windshield wiper
- Bird dog
- Squat with a leg lift
- Lateral leg raises
- Flutter kicks
- Slow high knees
Some exercises with other external weights may work the same muscles more. That being said ankle weights can be a low investment way to make some of these exercises more intense.
How heavy should ankle weights be
How heavy your ankle weights should be varies from person to person and exercise to exercise but there are some general recommendations.
If you decide to run or walk with ankle weights a maximum weight of 3 pounds (1.4 kg) is recommended.
For some of the strength training exercises above, like the lateral leg raise, you can use heavier ankle bands if your skill level allows it. You can find and use ankle weights from 0.5 pounds (0.23 kg) up to 20 pounds (9.1 kg).
How to avoid injuries
Another important point when considering ankle weights is the injury risk involved. An injury can reduce the amount of time you can exercise to 0 in the worst case. Consistency is an important factor when improving your health. Doing one big workout is often not as effective as three medium ones.
That means that exercising without ankle weights may offer slightly fewer benefits today but more in the long term by avoiding periods of injury in which you do no exercise at all.
Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner you want to start with gentle exercising without ankle weights and build up from there. Many ankle weights allow you to change up the weight. In that case you can start with lower weights first and if that goes well go up to higher weights.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that exercising with ankle weights is not for you.
What is your goal with ankle weights?
It may also be smart to consider what your goal is with using ankle weights.
Some specific exercises like the lateral leg raise benefit a lot from ankle weights since you can’t carry dumbbells with your feet.
For other exercises like for example lunges it may be smarter to invest in equipment like dumbbells or kettlebells to make the exercise harder (if you have the budget for it).
For workouts like running and walking there are better alternatives if you want to add weights for example a weighted vest.
In short ankle weights can be a helpful tool to improve the results of your exercise routine but it is not essential to get in a good workout.
Some groups of people can certainly benefit from adding ankle weights to the right types of exercises. For others, it may be smarter to stick to doing the exercises with body weight or other external weights.
As long as you don’t cross your limits making an exercise more intense is usually beneficial for your long-term health. The challenge is being able to do this without injuries. Ankle weights can both be safe and unsafe depending on how you use them.
The message is rather safe than sorry. Especially if you are an injury-sensitive and/or inactive individual you may want to start with soft workouts and from there build up the weight from your ankle bands slowly.