Risks and Benefits of Ankle Weights

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Ankle weights while exercising.
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Ankle weights might help you create a more intense aerobic exercise workout, as they add extra weight that your body has to move. Still, there are risks to using ankle weights, so consider these before beginning a workout with them. You may be able to take advantage of better alternatives.

Oxygen Intake and Heart Rate

Ankle weights that weigh 1 to 3 pounds can increase your oxygen intake and heart rate by 5 to 10 percent and by three to five beats per minute, respectively, when compared to not using them. Still, ankle weights provide less of a benefit than both hand and wrist weights, explains Cedric X. Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. The same weight of hand or wrist weights can increase oxygen intake by 5 to 15 percent and the heart rate by five to 10 beats in a minute.

Leg Muscles

Ankle weights make your leg muscles exert more effort. This provides more benefit for the heart and gives the muscles a better workout overall, according to orthopedist Anthony Luke of the University of California in San Francisco. He notes that if your legs and joints are in healthy shape, the weights might not cause any adverse effects.

Weights Causing Injury

Ankle weights can change the way you walk or run since your body compensates for the weight. This change can cause an injury, explains Bryant. Because of this, health specialists do not usually recommend using ankle weights for aerobic exercise. Kent Adams, from the exercise physiology lab of Cal State in Monterey Bay, says that ankle weights put too much extra pressure on the joints, including the knees, ankles and hips. He says this is especially a problem for weak or overweight people. Instead, add intensity through hills, different speeds and interval training.

Existing Pain or Injury

If you already have pain or an injury in your leg muscles or joints, the added weight can make matters worse, Luke explains. This is because of the extra force the weight adds to your muscles and joints. He warns that if you feel pain or aching, you should stop using the weights. He also suggests alternating days you use and don't use weights during workouts.

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