Here's How to Use Ankle Weights for a Crazy-Good Workout

A little bit of extra (well-placed) weight around your feet can take your workout to the next level.

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photo of a person using ankle weights
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Ankle weights are easy to use and easily accessible, which means they aren't going to go out of style any time soon. And trainers agree the fitness accessory of the '80s has staying power in both a healthy lifestyle and a workout routine of today. But how exactly do you use them, and how can they help your fitness? Here, experts explain the benefits, plus how to use ankle weights properly.

The Benefits of Ankle Weights

Part of the reason ankle weights are so great is that they're highly versatile. You can bring them anywhere, strap them to your ankles while traveling or taking a walk, and use them at your feet or in your hands as weights if you're stuck at a gym-less hotel, says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., author of Lift to Get Lean.

When used correctly, ankle weights can also target and isolate muscles that grow weak (for example, the glutes, which are inactive all day from sitting). They can be useful in a physical therapy setting, too — say if you're suffering from an ailment such as injured or weak hamstrings or knee issues, notes Perkins. (Here's more on how to activate underused glutes.)

Another big benefit? Ankle weights allow you to move freely and perform movements you can't with traditional weight equipment. (Have you ever tried doing a donkey kick with a dumbbell? Case in point.) "Ankle weights allow you to move in nearly every direction and rotation imaginable," says Perkins. This is particularly important for hip work. "The hip is a 'ball joint' that moves in all directions. It's important to strengthen the numerous movement patterns and large and small muscles that are at play," she explains.

Even simply walking around with them on your ankles can make a difference. Wearing ankle weights when walking can add impact forces, which may help with maintaining bone density, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and senior clinical professor at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.

How to Use Ankle Weights

First things first when learning how to use ankle weights: Make sure you're using the right weight load for the intended exercise. If you're using ankle weights to walk, keep them light — three to five pounds max. Any more weight can alter your stride, placing stress on your low back and pelvis, says Olson.

For specific exercises (such as the aforementioned donkey kick), you can use up to five- to 10-pound weights on each leg, but the right weight varies for everyone. "The perfect weight load for any exercise is one where the last two reps of every set are really hard to complete," says Perkins.

Interested in exercising with ankle weights? Pick up a set (such as these from Amazon: Buy It, $18, and secure them around your ankles for these three exercises, demonstrated by Perkins in her Instagram video below.

Donkey Kicks

Make sure you can perform a full range of motion for each move without rotating your pelvis or moving your spine. Keeping your core braced will help stabilize your pelvis.

Prone Leg Lifts

Ankle weights can make most of the facedown exercises you do for your glutes more effective. "Nearly every client I have ever worked with has significantly weak glutes," says Perkins. "Ankle weights are brilliant for loading the glutes in a way that isolates them, without requiring much involvement from the hamstrings," she explains. (Also: 5 Reasons It's Important to Have a Strong Butt)

Side Leg Lifts

Ankle weights can enhance the intensity of lateral glute work, activating the gluteus medius muscles that tend to be super weak but are key for hip stabilization, says Perkins. "Ankle weights are perfect for correcting this imbalance that often leads to knee problems," she notes. Flip over and lie faceup, too, if you want. "Doing leg lifts in this position enhances quad activity, which is a boon for keeping your knees healthy," says Olson. (For more: The Complete Guide to Your Butt Muscles)

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