Physical therapists employ ankle weights to help patients recovering from injury because the adjustable cuffs allow them to slowly increase resistance in simple exercises. For healthy people, the weights can be a great addition to a home gym, because they are small, affordable and they store easily. These little powerhouses would strengthen your legs if you wore them while walking, but they are not generally recommended for that purpose. You may be better off walking on steep hills or increasing your pace without weights.
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Ankle weights increase the mass your leg muscles have to move with each step. Having the weight at the far end of the limb makes a small weight have a greater impact. Think of your leg as a seesaw — if you put a small child toward the middle of the seesaw, she won’t tip the balance nearly as much as if she’s sitting at the end of the seesaw. This added weight means your whole leg has to work harder with each step, which will increase the strength of the muscles.
The American Council on Exercise does not generally recommend wearing ankle weights during aerobic exercise because they can alter the way you walk and put excessive stress on the ankles and knees. The added weight may also lead to pulled muscles in your calves or thighs.
When using ankle weights, ACE recommends keeping the weight low, from 1 to 3 pounds, because of the risk of fall and injury. To avoid the risk of muscle and joint strain, use ankle weights at slow speeds. At such a low pace and weight, you aren’t strengthening your legs as much as you would from walking faster or finding a few good hills.
Most ankle weights wrap around the leg with a Velcro closure. Some units are pre-weighted and can’t be adjusted; others have pockets where you can easily add or remove individual weighted bars. The Centers for Disease Control recommend the adjustable type for home resistance training because you can gradually add weight as you get stronger.
Weighted shorts also increase the load your body has to carry, but they keep the weight closer to your body’s center of gravity. If you think about the seesaw analogy again, weighted shorts basically move the little child closer to the center support, so the weight is less likely to throw off your balance than a weight at the ankle.
Instead of walking with ankle weights, you can use them to tone your legs effectively at home. Strap on the weights when you do toe raises, leg lifts or seated leg raises. You can even keep the weights near the TV to use while kicking back at the end of the day.