Ankle weights may seem like something straight out of an 80's workout video but they're one of the easiest ways to improve your workout with minimum effort required.
These are light weights, no more than two kilograms each, that are specially made to wrap around your ankles and offer a touch of resistance to workouts like walking, jogging, or yoga. While they were made famous by the likes of Jane Fonda for pilates-style workouts targeting the lower body, they've come back in a big way this year as many people have realized they're also hugely beneficial for improving overall fitness.
So why not give them a go? Whether you're Nordic walking or working out at home, ankle weights can instantly transform your workout. Here, a personal trainer explains all the benefits of using ankle weight for LISS cardio and how to use them in the best way for your individual health goals.
What are the benefits of ankle weights for walking?
1. Ankle weights can help you get stronger
Ankle weights are a simple way to add elements of strength training to your walking workout and, in turn, help you get stronger. "The additional weight creates resistance, particularly on the main muscle groups in your legs, such as the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes," explains personal trainer Jane Hart, who specializes in finding creative ways for people to stay healthy. "It makes them work harder to do the same motion."
There are plenty of benefits to this in itself. Being strong means you're better equipped for life's everyday challenges, with research from the University of Sydney showing that those who participate in some kind of functional resistance training are almost 35% less likely to have a fall over the age of 60. As you reinforce the support around your back, knees, hips, and ankles through training this way as well, you're much less likely to experience a targeted injury at any time in your life, further research from Carroll University explains.
Adding in even small elements of resistance training, like with ankle, weights provides loads of other benefits too - from weight loss, as we'll explain in detail, and managing blood sugar levels to helping you learn how to be more confident.
2. You can have more impact in a shorter amount of time with ankle weights
Intense workouts like HIIT training really aren't for everyone but they're famously one of the best ways to exercise efficiently as they offer you the chance to get into your maximum heart rate zone quickly. However, adding ankle weights to your walking or cardio fitness routine could be almost as beneficial.
"We always suggest to people as a foundation they aim to do a decent amount of walking every day consistently, usually 5-10k steps a day. We love ankle weights as they allow people to maximize the results in with limited time," says Hart, who is also the co-founder of GetMeFit, an online fitness platform suited for those who want this advantage from all their training regimes.
"They are really versatile too," she adds, adding to the many health benefits of walking. "If you are on a longer session and your legs are fatiguing, you can switch to holding them for arm resistance or pop them in a rucksack."
3. Ankle weights can help you train for harder workouts
We all know that learning how to get fit isn't an easy process but ankle weights can help make it a smoother journey, the PT says, especially if you're training for a race. "Having a training plan that incorporates ankle weights is particularly good if you have a challenge coming up. When you take the weights off on the big day, you'll feel like you're flying," Hart explains.
"If you have a running race coming up but need to squeeze more miles into the working day, adding weights while walking can be a great way to do this without needing a shower and full change of clothing," she says.
4. Ankle weights are great for those recovering from a injury
While we might not see ankle weights like we do the best dumbbells, as a primary piece of fitness equipment in our local gym, they've been used in the world of injury rehabilitation for decades. "Traditionally ankle weights have been used a lot for people building up after injury, illness, or time out," says Hart.
This is partially because ankle weights can help to redistribute pressure on certain parts of the body, a research review by Gimhae University outlines. For example, a study showed that adding a light ankle weight can help to increase the distance someone can walk by providing stability to the lower limb, thanks to the additional pressure on the glutes. Adding a heavier weight will do the opposite and reduce the glutes' work, ideal if you're recovering from a lower-body injury.
There's even research to show the benefits of using ankle weights for those recovering from a non-fitness-related injury. For example, a study by Daegu University describes how stroke rehabilitation patients greatly benefited from an increase of 3 to 5% weight increase on their ankles as it helped them to balance more effectively.
"Ankle weights may improve your walking mechanics and fitness," she agrees. "But you do need to be particularly cautious with them if you have back, joint, and balance issues and it's only recommended to do this with the supervision and support of a physio, medical professional, or specifically trained PT."
How to use ankle weights in a workout
Want to try out the benefits of using ankle weights for yourself? "I would suggest starting with the lightest weights, around 1 to 2kg, and building up gradually from there as you feel stronger," says Hart. "Wear the weights around your ankles at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes per session."
But if you're new to exercise, be sure to build up your core strength before taking on additional resistance and choose the right exercises. "Ensure you have a good foundation of core strength and stability before adding on addition weights, otherwise you run a risk of getting injured," she says. "You also need to be careful to use them for the right exercises. It's not advisable to use them for high-impact cardio exercises as this can be risky for your joints."
The technique is another important point, she adds, as moving up to additional weight without the right walking technique can lead to all sorts of issues both in the short-term with injury and in the long term. "When done sensibly, ankle weights can help to accelerate strength building, although it's very important to keep on point with technique."
If in doubt, ditch the walking for the time being and focus on floor workouts like yoga for beginners or Pilates for beginners. "Adding weights can be a great way to add some resistance to bodyweight and floor exercises like pilates or yoga movements."
Here are a couple of exercises to try with your ankle weights, as recommended by personal trainer Jane Hart:
- Seated leg lifts
- Single glue brides
- Prone hamstring curls
- Side lying hip abduction
Are ankle weights good for weight loss?
Yes, using ankle weights can be a great way to increase the number of calories you burn through your walking for weight loss or Pilates for weight loss workout. As the weights increase the amount you have to resist to do the same exercise, Hart says, "this results in faster calorie burn."
According to the American Council on Exercise, she says, wearing ankle weights between 0.5kg and 1.3kg causes an increase in oxygen uptake and an additional calorie burn of 10%.
This calorie burn is essential if you want to lose weight healthily because it will help you get into a calorie deficit without having to focus entirely on nutrition. While there are many ways to lose weight and various diets to follow, this is the baseline and without the deficit, there's no weight loss.
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A digital health journalist with over six years of experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness as well. Everything from the best protein powder to dating apps, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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