You've probably noticed your friends and favourite trainers using ankle weights in their workout routines lately. Because they're affordable and easy to store, we were curious about the benefits of ankle weights, how to use them in workouts, and if they're worth purchasing.
Ankle weights can be used as an alternative to dumbbells, especially if you're a beginner or just getting back into an exercise routine, but they shouldn't be used for all exercises and training modalities. Here's how you should and shouldn't use ankle weights, according to board-certified sports physiotherapist Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS.
Benefits of Ankle Weights
"You can use ankle weights for most strengthening exercises, especially those that target the hips and legs," Dr. Malek told POPSUGAR. "You can also use them around your wrists for lightly weighted exercises," she added. Another benefit of using ankle weights is that they add some resistance, "which basically increases the load and ability to challenge the muscle with exercises," she explained.
By using ankle weights, you can increase the intensity and challenge of specific exercises such as standing hamstring curls, leg lifts, and standing marches, according to Dr. Malek. She also recommended using ankle weights when performing hip- and leg-strengthening exercises such as side-lying hip abduction and hip adduction, standing hip abduction and hip adduction, standing hamstring curls, donkey kicks, and flutter kicks.
How Heavy Your Ankle Weights Should Be
Ankle weights vary in weight, and Dr. Malek said, "Always start lighter than you think, and make sure the weight feels tolerable throughout the whole set." When in doubt, start with one- to two-pound weights, she recommended, "then gradually increase to what feels comfortably challenging, but not impossible."
If you do feel pain around your joints, "reduce the weight or try again after some time without it," Dr. Malek advised. And if you have a history of back pain or joint pain, Dr. Malek said to speak to your doctor or physical therapist before adding ankle weights into your routine, as ankle weights can exacerbate symptoms due to the biomechanics of a load being added to an extremity.
Workouts You Shouldn't Use Ankle Weights With
Although ankle weights can make strengthening exercises more challenging, Dr. Malek said to avoid using ankle weights with cardio and aerobic workouts, such as running and walking, "due to the repetitive nature of the movements and the load of the weight favouring some muscles and not others, causing a muscle imbalance." Walking with ankle weights may seem harmless, but Dr. Malek cautions against it as it can be a heavy load on the hips, knees, and back, in addition to impacting your natural gait pattern.
If you don't have access to a gym, you prefer home workouts, or you don't have space for equipment like dumbbells, ankle weights are a great addition to your home gym equipment — just remember they can't be used for all workouts.