Ankle weights are a commonly found weight used in many activities. Further from the core, fixated above the ankle around the lower shin and Achilles tendon, due to leverage much less weight is needed to increase the forces on the body.
As they are attached to a region with a far smaller diameter than the thigh, there is not room for much weight without greatly changing the effective width of the lower leg. An advantage over thigh weights is that they are not attached to any major muscle or fat storage region, so tightness is not a factor and it can be used in almost any exercise.
Being above the ankle, movements incorporating the calf muscles such as calf raises can benefit from ankle weights.
Ankle weights are useful in adding weight to pull-ups and dips, especially when incorporating leg raises into the movements. They are also useful in slow kicking katas, and static-active stretching of the legs when balancing on one leg, or suspended in the air.
Light ankle weights have a history of use resistance for kicking in swimming, and of forward flexion in kicking, walking, jogging, and sprinting exercises. Concern has been expressed regarding this type of training. It may put too much stress on the joints, similar to the shearing forces found in leg extension and leg curl exercises.
Practicing weighted movements at high speeds also causes the nervous system to fire at larger intensities. If an individual loses the weight without being trained to adapt to the transition, he may overexert himself without checking at the end of the movement and overextend a tendon. This is more of a risk when people fully extend their limbs in such movements and do not come to a controlled stop at the end, limiting muscle flexion. Generally, the muscle being extended is more at risk, not one held statically. For example, the quadriceps muscle could overexert in a snap kick trained with ankle weights, but in a rising kick, it is the hip flexor muscle more likely to overextend. In either case, the hamstring and associated ligaments would be at risk for a tear.
One major advantage to ankle weights, unlike wrist weights, is that it adds a whole new component to exercises that wrist weights do not, since we can’t grip dumbbells with our feet like we can with our hands. It is a major advantage in training rotational hip stabilizers, to work on turnout for martial arts and dance postures. To do this, the leg is bent 90 degrees at the knee, and then rotated inwards and outwards to bring the foot upwards. This is commonly seen in footbag kicks and holds.
One major disadvantage to ankle weights is the ankle weight adds stress to ligaments in the knees and ankles. For this reason, it is advised to not run while wearing ankle weights.
Myth: Using hand, wrist or ankle weights increases exercise benefits
No. It’s not uncommon to see walkers and joggers carrying hand weights or wearing Velcro weight straps around their ankles or wrists. If it’s crossed your mind that these ‘fit bods’ are probably getting more benefit from their sessions than you are, don’t worry — they’re not!
Wrist, hand or ankle weights aren’t heavy enough to provide any strength training benefits. In fact, they decrease your activity gains by slowing you down and messing with your natural walking rhythm which raises your risk of injuries. So it’s probably best to give them a miss.
Don’t Wear or Carry Weights When You Exercise
Wearing ankle weights will not help you to run faster or longer, or jump higher. Training is specific. To run faster in competition, you have to run fast in practice. Ankle weights slow you down because they interfere with your coordination and make you work much harder to raise your knees. To train your muscles so you will be able to run longer, you have to run faster or for a longer time. The heavy weights will tire you earlier so you will not be able to run as fast or as far.
Using ankle weights won’t help you to jump higher, either. To jump higher, you have to strengthen your leg muscles in the same way that you would use them to jump. When you wear ankle weights, you strengthen your leg muscles for lifting weights off the ground with your feet. When you jump, you raise your body off the ground. To help you to jump higher, you have to raise your body up against resistance. You do this by doing leg presses or squats with heavy weights on your shoulders.
Ankle weights can also increase your chances of being injured. Since they force you to lift a much heavier weight when you raise your knees, they strengthen the quadriceps muscles in the front of your upper leg without strengthening the hamstrings in the back equally. This can make your quad muscle proportionately so much stronger than your hamstrings that you are prone to injury. The same principles apply to carrying weights when you walk or run, or wearing weighted belts or other devices. Strength training should be done using weights with proper form in specific exercises, and should be kept separate from your aerobic activities.
The Dangers of Exercising with Ankle Weights
The additional effort that goes into exercising with ankle weights can actually make you weaker and more prone to injury. Ankle weights cause added stress to joints, especially the knees. Torn ligaments and pulled muscles in the calves, thighs, and ankles can also be caused by exercising with ankle weights. According to the Mayo Clinic, walking with ankle weights changes how a person normally walks. This destabilizes balance and increases the risk of tripping and falling. People with preexisting orthopedic problems should definitely avoid using ankle weights.
An easy rule of thumb to follow is that ankle weights and aerobic exercises do not mix. Although ankle weights seem perfect for running and walking exercises, many health experts agree that walking with ankle weights is a risky activity.
The Benefits of Exercising with Ankle Weights
Many trainers and health experts will agree that while ankle weights can seriously damage your knees while running, they are great for resistance training exercises. Ankle weights are a valuable piece of resistance training equipment that work particularly well with leg lifts. These exercises benefit from the extra work needed to lift the weights without applying unnatural stress to the joints. Aside from leg lifts, ankle weights can improve the effectiveness of pull-ups and bicycle crunches. Proper usage of ankle weights will strengthen muscles and help burn more calories without causing too much stress on the joints.
A safe choice for using ankle weights is to combine them with exercises done under water like water aerobics. Water ankle weights will continue to force the body to work harder; however, there is far less risk of harsh stress on the joints.
Caution with Exercise Routines
The best advice when it comes to using ankle weights and all exercises in general is to err on the side of caution. If the ankle weights cause any aches and pains, it is a sure sign that it is time to rethink their use. To be safest, consult a doctor about using ankle weights before employing them in a workout routine.