Ankle Weights Are a Thing Again—Here's How to Use Them for a Crazy-Good Workout
A little bit of extra (well-placed) weight around your feet can take your workout to the next level.
Selena Gomez walks around Disney with them. And Kayla Itsines never flies without them. Ankle weights are having a serious moment right now. 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 can ankle weights help your fitness-and how exactly do you use them? We touched base with experts to find out.
The Benefits of Ankle Weights
Part of the reason ankle weights are so great is that they're versatile. You can bring them anywhere, strap them to your feet while traveling (if Kayla does it, you can, too), and use them on your ankles 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 (the glutes, which are inactive all day from sitting, for example). They can be useful in a physical therapy setting, too-say if you're suffering from something like injured or weak hamstrings or knee issues, notes Perkins. (Related: This Boxing-Style HIIT Workout Is Designed for People with Knee Pain)
They 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."
Even simply walking around with them on your feet can make a difference. Wearing ankle weights can add impact forces, which may help with maintaining bone density, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and adjunct professor at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL. (Related: The Low-Impact Walking Workout for Every Fitness Level)
How to Use Ankle Weights
If you're using ankle weights to walk, keep them light-3 to 5 pounds max. Any more weight can alter your stride, placing stress on your low back and pelvis, says Olson.
For specific exercises, you can use 5- to 10-pound weights on each leg (or less weight), 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 and secure them around your ankles for these three exercises, demonstrated by Perkins in her Instagram video below.
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 we do for our 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." (Related: 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." 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.