The claims for ankle weights include burning fat and building leg muscles by adding to the resistance of your exercise.
While there may be some benefit for aerobic and cardiovascular exercises that elevate your heart rate for the sake of burning calories, ankle weights can also increase your risk of injury. For best results, only use ankle weights for controlled workouts that involve strengthening specific leg muscles, such as squats, lunges, kicks and leg lifts.
Ankle weights work when they're used for specific exercises that call for them. Otherwise, they can set you up for injury.
The Purpose of Ankle Weights
Ankle weights attach to the area just above your ankle joint to provide added weight to your leg motions. The point of the extra weight is to increase the strength of your glutes, quadriceps and calve muscles due to the additional resistance, resulting in an increased muscle mass over time.
However, due to the awkward positioning of the weights above your ankle, strains, sprains and minor injuries are more likely to occur while running or walking. Ankle weights are also beneficial to those people suffering from arthritis, says exercise scientist Len Kravitz, writing for the University of New Mexico.
Effectiveness During Exercise
Ankle weights offer the most benefits for strength-training exercises that use the weights to isolate different muscle groups. For example, the leg-lift exercise is intensified by the added resistance as you lie on your back and raise one leg at a time, providing a demanding core exercise.
Sumo squats that involve lifting the legs in succession also work your leg and hip muscles harder when you wear ankle weights, strengthening those areas more than if you were only lifting your body weight.
Ankle Weights Versus Incline Training
Ankle weights are less effective when it comes to aerobic and cardiovascular exercise. Instead of adding ankle weights to your brisk walking routine, try walking uphill to gain the calorie-burning benefits of increasing elevation.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, walking uphill at a 3.5mph pace will burn 422 calories in one hour, in a person who weighs 155 pounds. Walking briskly at 4mph at a very brisk pace will burn only 281 calories for the same person in the same amount of time.
Stair climbing is another incline-training method that outdistances those who claim that ankle weights improve the aerobic impact of your workout. Be like Rocky and use the stairs at your local stadium for a calorie-busting workout. Even a stair step machine will burn 446 calories in one hour for a person who weighs 155 pounds, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Dangers of Ankle Weights
Ankle weights apply increased force on the joints and muscles surrounding the ankle, exacerbating existing problems while potentially causing injury. ACE Fitness says that wearing ankle weights while sprinting is making undesirable changes to the muscle firing patterns.
Ankle weights will not benefit your running form in any way and will adversely affect your gait. Individuals who are frail or overweight are particularly at risk of the extra strain on their ankles and knees. For best results, talk to your doctor before adding ankle weights to your workout routine.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Knee Conditioning Program"
- University of New Mexico: "Training Clients With Arthritis"
- ACE Fitness: "5 Exercises Trainers Should Never Do"
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services: "Calories Burned Per Hour"
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights”