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There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about walking with ankle weights, what benefits can you expect?
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.
Some people question how useful this equipment can be but wearing ankle weights while walking can offer you some amazing benefits.
- Related: The 5 Best Ankle Weights For Walking
Should you walk with ankle weights?
Before going into the benefits you have to know that walking with ankle weights can also have a few downsides.
Walking is generally a low injury-risk exercise but for some people even regular walking is too hard on body parts like knees, ankles, and back. If you are in a situation like that walking with ankle weights is likely not recommended.
There is another reason ankle weights are not optimal for exercises like walking and running. Some external weights like a weighted vest generally only increase pressure on the same muscles you already use in a “normal” ratio.
On the other hand, walking with ankle weights engages your muscles in a different ratio. 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 physical performance (1, 2).
If you want to walk with external weights, walking with a weighted vest is generally better than walking with ankle weights. That being said, walking with ankle weights can still offer some benefits over walking without.
Some of these benefits may not outweigh the downsides. Other workouts may also offer these extra benefits to a larger extent without the downsides. The point with many of these benefits is if walking with ankle weights doesn’t hurt, it can only help. The question is how much. If you are injury-sensitive it may be smarter to not use ankle weights.
1. Can help you lose more weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
One way to try to make this happen is by doing a workout. By increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time you use up more energy than usual. Walking with ankle weights can help with weight loss since using it generally requires more energy compared to walking without them.
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 walking for 30 minutes at 3 mph (4.8 kmh) burns around 128 calories.
On the other hand, a 185-pound (83 kg) person walking for 30 minutes at 3 mph (4.8 kmh) burns around 153 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 walking with ankle weights can benefit weight loss.
Another way workouts help you lose weight is by increasing your muscle mass which in turn helps with burning more energy with everything you do. Walking with ankle weights helps increase muscle mass too.
Ankle weights will likely not make or break your weight loss journey but even a small improvement in a workout you do regularly can make a big difference over time.
Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
2. Helps you build more muscle
One of the benefits of walking is that even though it is mainly a cardio workout, it also helps you build and preserve a small amount of muscle mass. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Some of the muscles you work out with walking include:
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.
Walking with ankle weights will help you build a little more muscle mass in your calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps compared to walking without them.
If you are serious about building muscle you do generally want to choose weight lifting exercises over walking.
3. Improved 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. Walking with ankle weights makes your heart beat faster and thus helps you strengthen your cardiovascular system a little more (3). This in turn leads to a wide variety of other benefits (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).
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.
4. Relatively budget-friendly
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.
5. Improved bone density
This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now. However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.
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.
Walking with ankle weights puts more pressure on your bones than walking without ones. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term. One question is how much of a difference it makes.
One study compared walking with a weighted vest (up to 8% of the body weight of the participants) to walking without one 3 times a week for 12 weeks. They found improvements in bone health markers but these were not statistically significant (15).
Weighted vests are generally heavier so if they don’t do that much, walking with ankle weights likely won’t improve bone density by that much. However, if walking with ankle weights doesn’t hurt bone density it can only help.
Generally, workouts on land with a lot of jumping and strength training exercises are the best for improving bone density. Next, you have exercises that put less pressure on your bones like walking.
Lastly, you have exercise in the water like swimming which will still benefit bone density but likely not as much as the other categories.
6. Makes your walking more time-efficient
Another benefit of walking with ankle weights is that it can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good workout session isn’t necessarily about duration.
For example to build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.
A more intense cardio workout can train your cardiovascular system in a shorter amount of time than one at a lower intensity.
Wearing ankle weights while walking can help with both of these things. This benefit of walking with ankle weights is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
7. Healthier lungs
To move around your body needs oxygen, the more intensely the more oxygen. Your body absorbs oxygen from the air through your lungs.
Improving how well your lungs function leads to benefits like improved exercise performance and getting tired slower.
8. Improves coordination and balance
Although with some exercises more than others, you will likely challenge your balance and coordination skills with exercise. By doing this frequently you get better at it like with most skills. Many people forget to implement balance training into their workout routine but it is a helpful fitness component.
Stronger leg muscles generally reduce fall risk. Since walking with ankle weights can improve leg muscle mass it can be helpful for reducing fall risk.
The benefits of improved coordination don’t just show up in other technical sports. Daily activities as simple as walking the stairs require coordination.
An important question is whether or not a potential difference in gait due to walking with ankle weights negatively influences coordination and balance, and if so how much.
All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one piece of equipment to your walking routine.
One thing you need to remember is that even though there are benefits to walking with ankle weights your injury risk is generally also higher. The potential muscular imbalances can also cause undesired side effects.
Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner you want to start with soft workouts without ankle weights and build up from there.
Many ankle weight options allow you to adjust 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 walking with ankle weights is not for you.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor in a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If you like walking with ankle weights, great.
If not regular walking or other ankle weight exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.