Ankle Weights 101: Here's Everything You Need to Know and More
Is it possible to lose weight by adding weight? With ankle weights, the answer is yes.
Incorporating ankle weights into your fitness regimen brings a host of benefits. These include increased muscle mass and strength, increased endurance, and increased calorie burn and weight loss. To enjoy these benefits, you need to incorporate ankle weights gradually, vary your workouts, and listen to your body.
What Are Ankle Weights?
Ankle weights are small wearable weights. The weights are usually built into a durable neoprene covering. You use velcro or another strap to secure them just above the ankle joint. They can be worn during daily activities or exercise.
What Is the Purpose of Ankle Weights?
Ankle weights add to the weight and resistance your body bears as you move. In doing so, they make your muscles work harder.
Making your muscles work harder, in turn, makes your muscles stronger over time. Wearing ankle weights can increase muscle mass in the calves, quads, and glutes.
What Are Ankle Weights Used For?
Ankle weights are a common component of many physical therapy exercises, especially those that target ankle injuries, like sprains. They come in various weights and sizes. This versatility lets physical therapists incorporate them into rehab programs for patients with diverse needs and ability levels.
Ankle weights are helpful outside of a rehab setting, though. Many people use ankle weights to increase resistance when performing targeted leg exercises. Others add ankle weights to their walking or running program.
Some people even wear ankle weights during portions of their daily activities.
How Do Ankle Weights Work?
Ankle weights build muscle. They also increase endurance. But how?
How Do Ankle Weights Build Muscle?
The question of how ankle weights work to build muscle is actually a question of how any weight-bearing exercise works to build muscle.
The body builds muscle through the process of muscle hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the muscles are challenged with greater weight or resistance. As they handle these challenges, the muscle fibers incur minor damage. Because this damage is minor and the body naturally repairs it, this damage is "good" damage.
After a tough workout, your body sets to work repairing this good damage. To repair the microdamage that occurred during exercise, the body fuses damaged muscle fibers together. The result is greater muscle mass and stronger muscles.
Ankle weights work by inducing muscle hypertrophy. They challenge the muscles to bear and move greater loads. If the challenge is appropriate, the muscles respond and experience minor damage. When the challenge is removed, the body recovers and repairs.
What Muscles Do Ankle Weights Work?
If you use ankle weights, you'll experience the most significant benefits in your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. However, adding ankle weights to abdominal exercises can also work the muscles of your trunk.
Finally, the heart is arguably the most important muscle in the body, and ankle weights most definitely work the heart.
How Do Ankle Weights Increase Endurance?
Exercises that increase endurance are considered aerobic exercises. Again, the question of how ankle weights increase endurance is the question of how any aerobic exercise increases endurance.
Aerobic means "with oxygen." Thus, aerobic exercises condition the heart and lungs by challenging them to provide the muscles with a greater supply of oxygen-rich blood.
During intense exercise, the heart beats faster, and you take bigger breaths to meet this challenge. Once again, if the challenge is appropriate, the body learns to handle periods of increased demand. The result is greater lung capacity and a more efficient heart.
Over time, in fact, the heart becomes conditioned to pump more blood with each beat. This means that the heart can beat more slowly—during exercise and rest. As a result, your resting heart rate and blood pressure decrease.
Ankle weights increase the intensity of your workouts and other activities. In doing so, they increase the body's demand for oxygen and, thus, condition the heart and lungs.
Are Ankle Weights Effective?
The science behind weight and endurance training is sound, but do ankle weights really work? The answer is yes. When used appropriately, ankle weights can build both muscle and endurance.
Importantly, however, ankle weights also offer other benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Ankle Weights?
Ankle weight benefits begin with increased muscle mass and increased endurance, but they don't end there.
Ankle weights can also increase calorie burning and weight loss. They can improve muscle tone. They can add variety to your workouts. They can even help you lose that stubborn abdominal fat.
Are Ankle Weights Good for Losing Weight?
We've already seen that increasing the intensity of a workout makes your muscles, heart, and lungs work harder. When your body works harder, it requires more energy. The calories you consume provide that energy.
When you consume more calories than you expend in your activities, your body stores that energy as fat. The result is weight gain. In contrast, when you burn more calories than you consume, your body dips into these fat stores. The result is weight loss.
Increasing the intensity of your workouts increases the calories you burn. It also builds muscle, which can increase your metabolism. With a stronger metabolism, your body burns more calories even when you're resting.
Adding ankle weights is an excellent way to increase the intensity of a workout, create a calorie deficit, improve your metabolism, and burn fat.
Can Ankle Weights Improve Muscle Tone?
Bodybuilders and professional athletes use heavy weights and elaborate exercise machines. You might wonder, then, how a weight small enough to fit around your ankle can tone your muscles.
In fact, studies show that lifting lighter weights several times is just as effective as lifting heavier weights fewer times.
Can Ankle Weights Tone My Legs?
The most obvious muscles you can target with ankle weights are your legs.
For many people, "leg day" involves jumping jacks, lunges, and leg raises. By themselves, these exercises are highly effective at toning your leg muscles. Adding ankle weights increases this effectiveness by increasing the workout's intensity.
Can Ankle Weights Tone the Rest of My Body?
Ankle weights can help you tone more than just your legs. When you exercise your legs, in fact, muscles throughout your body are activated.
Besides strong calves, hamstrings, and quads, the next most obvious targets for ankle weights are the glutes. When you walk, balance on one leg, or even stand, your glutes act as stabilizers. They keep your pelvis aligned.
When you engage in targeted exercises, like lunges and side-lying leg lifts, the glutes play an even more central role. Adding weight to these exercises makes your glutes work harder. As we've seen, making your muscles work harder strengthens them and burns fat.
Whether you're walking or simply standing, your abs, like your glutes, play a subtle but important role. Your abs are a key component of good posture. Strong abs help keep your body in proper alignment.
Unfortunately, the abs can be difficult to train. Training the abs involves maintaining good posture throughout your workout and throughout your day. It also involves targeted exercises, like abdominal leg lifts.
As with side-lying leg lifts for glutes, adding ankle weights to abdominal leg lifts increases the intensity, strengthens the muscles, and burns fat.
Wait? Arms? Wearing weights around my ankles can tone my arms?
Of course not. But most ankle weights are actually combination ankle/wrist weights. This means that you can secure them around your ankle or your wrists.
During exercises that target your legs, glutes, or abs, wrap the weights around your ankles. To target your biceps and triceps, wrap them around your wrists.
How Can Ankle Weights Add Variety to My Workout?
So we've just seen that ankle weights themselves are versatile. At the same time, they add variety to your overall exercise regimen.
Adding variety can improve your workouts simply by making them more enjoyable. Few people enjoy doing the same exercises over and over again.
However, the benefits of a varied workout actually run deeper. In fact, adding variety can make your workout more effective.
Over time, your body becomes accustomed to the demands you regularly place on it. Eventually, it may not even respond to those demands. This adaptive resistance is often behind the frustrating plateaus that athletes encounter.
Adaptive resistance can also contribute to injuries. When you repeatedly use the same muscles in the same ways, they are more vulnerable to fatigue and wear and tear.
Adding variety prevents your body from adapting to any one routine. Periodically increasing the intensity of your regular exercises by adding ankle weights keeps the body on its toes.
Adding ankle weights also varies the muscles you use and the angles and patterns in which you use them. This variety can keep all of your muscles fresh and protect them from overuse injuries.
Are Ankle Weights Safe?
Ankle weights are safe and effective with the proper precautions. In fact, when used properly, ankle weights can make your workouts safer by adding variety.
As with any element of an exercise regimen, staying safe while using ankle weights means listening to your body and following expert advice.
Are There Any Risks Associated with Ankle Weights?
If you don't follow the necessary precautions, ankle weights can contribute to your risk of sprains and strains. They can also change your walking or running gait, which can lead to injuries. Finally, adding weights increases the resistance and loads your joints experience.
Of course, it is precisely the process of increasing loads, resistance, and intensity that strengthens the body. To remain safe, however, this process must be gradual, and your workouts must be appropriate for your health and fitness levels.
Do Ankle Weights Cause Injuries?
Ankle weights themselves don't cause injuries. However, they can increase your risk of injury if you aren't careful.
The following tips can help you use ankle weights safely.
Most ankle weights come in a variety of weights and sizes. Begin with the lowest weight. As your body becomes accustomed to that new load, experiment with heavier weights.
Starting gradually also means limiting the amount of time or number of reps you complete using ankle weights.
If you're planning to wear ankle weights while you walk, don't go for miles on your first attempt. Instead, experiment—slowly—with what your body can handle. The first time you wear weights, try walking at an easy pace for just a few minutes. If that feels comfortable, increase the pace and duration gradually over your next few sessions.
If you're using ankle weights while you complete leg, glute, or abs exercises, again, limit yourself to just a few reps for your first session. Maybe you usually complete three sets of leg lifts. On your first attempt, do just one of those sets with the weights. Once again, you can gradually increase your reps as your body adjusts.
Vary Your Workouts Safely
Keep in mind that variety goes both ways. Your body needs new and more difficult challenges. However, it also needs rest.
Adding ankle weights to every workout session doesn't contribute variety. Instead, it simply establishes a different "normal" routine. As with any routine, a routine that consistently uses ankle weights lets your body adapt. It also leaves your muscles vulnerable to injury.
As you plan your workouts, be sure to include more and less intense workouts, and be sure to include rest. On more intense days, complete at least some of your exercises using heavier ankle weights. Alternatively, you could use a moderate ankle weight but extend the duration of your workout or complete more reps.
As a general rule, it's best to avoid increasing weight and duration at the same time. This goes back to letting your body adjust gradually.
On a less intense workout day, opt for lighter ankle weights or fewer reps. Or simply forgo the weights.
Listen to Your Body
Planning your workouts can keep you accountable and help you incorporate variety. Still, your plans need to remain flexible and responsive to your body and your life.
Maybe you're tapering for or recovering from a marathon. You'll likely use lighter ankle weights before and after a tough race. In fact, you might avoid them altogether to let your body rest for a time.
Perhaps you're recovering from an illness. If so, your body is already working harder. As you feel better and gradually return to working out, go slowly. Don't expect to return immediately to the level of endurance you had before your illness.
Perhaps you're dealing with significant stresses at work or at home. Exercise can be a great way to manage your stress. Again, though, it's important to treat your body gently, especially when it's already stressed. Don't load yourself up with the heaviest ankle weights when you're already bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Or maybe you're not dealing with any of the above stresses. You're healthy. Your work and home life are calm. And you're not eyeing any big races or events. But you're experiencing pain or swelling after exercise. Once again, it's essential that you listen to your body.
Especially when they are new, significant, or chronic, pain and swelling can be signals that your body has been stressed beyond what it can handle.
If you experience pain and swelling in the ankle or elsewhere while using ankle weights, remove the weights and let your body rest. If your symptoms don't improve with rest and conservative care at home, see a doctor.
How to Wear Ankle Weights
To wear ankle weights, wrap one weight around each ankle and use the strap to adjust the fit. It should be comfortably snug just above the joint.
Adjustable ankle weights mean that you don't have to wonder, "What size ankle weights do I need?" If you've properly secured the weight, it won't come loose while you workout. It also shouldn't move significantly as you exercise.
Some friction is possible, so if you prefer, you can wear taller athletic socks to protect your skin.
What Is the Best Weight for Ankle Weights?
You don't need to worry about sizes, but you do need to think about different weights. Ankle weights range from one to eight pounds.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) suggests that 1-3 pound weights are ideal for aerobic activities. Still, the appropriate weight varies depending on your conditioning level.
How Many Pounds Should My Ankle Weights Be?
If you're just starting to incorporate weights, begin with the lightest. Gradually allow your body to adjust before trying a heavier weight.
Also keep in mind that you might be able to tolerate different weights for different activities.
How Heavy Should Ankle Weights Be for Dancers?
Dancers can benefits from the increased muscle strength, tone, and endurance that ankle weights bring. Again, though, dancers must balance these benefits with the risks.
The safest weights for dancers—like the safest weights for any activity—are those that allow the dancer to maintain the proper technique and control.
What Are Ankle Weights Good For?
Ankle weights are essential for athletic training, rehab, and overall fitness. They are portable, convenient, and inexpensive.
These attributes make ankle weight exercises at home even more important during a pandemic. As coronavirus numbers rise, people face restrictions on their access to workout facilities. At the same time, physical activity promotes overall health and can strengthen the immune system. Your health thus demands that you continue to workout.
Ankle weights can help by adding intensity and versatility to your home workout regimen.
How Can I Exercise with Ankle Weights?
One of the benefits of ankle weights is their versatility. Options for exercising with ankle weights include running, walking, and other aerobic activities. You can also add ankle weights to strength-training exercises.
What Exercises Can I Do with Ankle Weights?
Exercises incorporating ankle weights most often target the legs.
Leg exercises using ankle weights include:
- Front, side, and back lunges
- Back, stomach, and side-lying leg lifts
- Donkey kicks
- One-legged squats
Of course, these are just a few examples of many exercises you can do with ankle weights. While these exercises target the legs, many also strengthen the glutes and abs.
An excellent exercise for working all three is the Superman pose. To perform this exercise, lay on your stomach with your arms and legs extended. Lift your chest and quads, holding for 15 seconds.
Can I Do Ankle Weight Exercises Every Day?
Moderation is key for enjoying the benefits and minimizing the risks of ankle weights. Especially as you begin to add weights, it's best to avoid using them every day.
As your body becomes accustomed to the new intensity, though, you can gradually increase the frequency of your weighted workouts. If you choose to do weighted exercises every day, incorporate "easy" days by swapping lighter weights for heavier ones.
Can I Run with Ankle Weights?
Some runners use ankle weights to increase the intensity of their runs. Intense runs can improve the body's ability to use oxygen during activity and thereby increase endurance.
Ankle weights do provide one option for adding intensity. If you choose to incorporate them into your runs, be sure to follow the tips above: Increase the intensity gradually. Give your body adequate rest. And listen to your body. If you experience unusual post-workout pain, discontinue your use of the weights.
Also keep in mind that some experts advise against using ankle weights during runs. They point out that running already exposes your body to repetitive weight-bearing movements. This extra weight can overload your joints. It can also change your gait, which can lead to injury.
Other ways to increase the intensity of your runs include incorporating hills, trails, and interval training.
Finally, if you do wear weights, it may be safer to secure them to your wrists rather than your ankles while you run. Weighted vests are another alternative for runners.
Can I Walk with Ankle Weights?
As with running, walking with ankle weights brings benefits and risks. Using weights that are too heavy or using weights too frequently are common mistakes that increase the risk of injury.
If you take the proper precautions, though, you can enjoy the benefits of adding weights to your walk.
What Are the Benefits of Walking with Ankle Weights?
The benefits of walking with weights include increased calorie burn, weight loss, and improve muscle tone. Wearing weights while walking can also increase your endurance.
Does Walking with Ankle Weights Burn More Calories?
Adding weight increases the intensity of a workout and increases the calories you burn. This is true whether you're walking, running, or performing any other activity.
According to the ACE, adding 1-3 pound weights can increase calorie burn for aerobic exercises by 5-15%.
Does Walking with Ankle Weights Help Running Endurance?
Building muscle and endurance in one activity, like walking, means that you can transfer those benefits to other activities, like running.
Maybe you're looking to run longer or faster, but you're hesitant to run with ankle weights. Consider adding ankle weights to your workout regimen in other ways.
Walking is an excellent cross-training activity for runners. Increase the intensity of walking workouts by adding ankle weights. You can also add ankle weights to your strength training exercises.
Can I Walk with Ankle Weights All Day?
If you're pressed for time, you might consider wearing ankle weights even outside of your normal workout routine. Wearing ankle exercises as you go about your day can increase the calories you burn during otherwise light or moderate daily activities.
As always, though, keep in mind the precautions above. Introduce the weight gradually, and let your body rest.
Even as your body becomes accustomed to the increased demands, it's best to avoid wearing ankle weights constantly. To build muscle, your body needs to incur minor damage, and it needs time to repair it. Removing your ankle weights lets your body recovery and repair.
Finding Your "Weigh" to a Healthier Lifestyle with Ankle Weights
The benefits of ankle weights include increased muscle mass, endurance, calorie burn, and weight loss.
Enjoying these benefits means using ankle weights safely. With the tips in this article, you're ready to do just that.
Throughout your fitness journey, count on PowerRebound's blogs for the best advice.