Ankle weights are another one of those pieces of exercise kit that seem a bit dated because they were popular in the 1980s, but just because people used them when spandex was standard gym uniform doesn’t mean that they aren’t a legitimate piece of equipment.
Ankle weights are great for a variety of different exercises. They can add just the right level of intensity to low-impact exercises such as walking to tone legs and boost calorie burn. When it comes to resistance training, they can help you introduce lifting and pulling exercises that activate muscle groups that are difficult to target with free weights. They are also a favourite of martial artists looking to strengthen their kicks.
Used the right way, leg weights can be an excellent tool in your arsenal for reading your fitness goals.
Read on as we explain exactly what ankle weights are and the different ways that you can incorporate them into your fitness routine. We’ll also share some of the best ankle weights that you can buy today, and some of the best resistance exercises to do with ankle weights.
What Are Ankle Weights
As the name suggests, ankle weights are weights that you can attach to your ankles. They are usually a series of sandbags tucked into a band that you can wrap around your ankle. They are usually secured with Velcro, but they can also be secured with buckles and other mechanisms.
How To Use Ankle Weights in a Workout
There are three principal ways that ankle weights are used to develop fitness.
The first is to use ankle weights to add intensity to low-impact exercise such as walking. The extra weight forces you to work that little bit harder which can help tone your leg muscles, without bulking up, and also burn more calories for a weight loss boost.
Ankle weights have also been shown to improve the quality of movement in low-impact exercises. They can improve knee joint repositioning and balance.
However, ankle weights are not recommended for high-impact or aerobic exercise. The main reason is that the weights will force you to prioritize your quadriceps, the muscles on the front of your thighs, over your hamstrings, the muscles on the back of your thighs, leading to muscle imbalance.
Secondly, the increased pull that the weights place on your ankle joints can increase the risk of tendon or ligament injuries, especially during aerobic activity.
For this kind of exercise, it is recommended to use a combined ankle weight of between 1-2% of your overall body weight, with an absolute maximum of 3%.
Weighted Leg Exercises
Ankle weights are also a useful tool when you want to do leg exercises that involve lifting or pulling rather than the typical squatting exercises that can be done with free weights. These exercises work different, often hard to activate, muscle groups and so can improve the overall strength and tone of your legs.
Typical exercises include standing front leg raises, donkey kicks, which involve raising your leg behind, and side leg raises. You can find our recommendations for some of the best ankle weight exercises further down in this article.
For this, you can use heavier weight, usually up to around 10 pounds. The perfect weight is when the last two reps of any exercise are difficult to complete.
As well as being useful for leg workouts, that can add extra resistance to abdominal workouts. Many abdominal workouts add intensity by activating the core by lifting and holding legs off the ground. As this becomes easier, leg weights can help add additional intensity. You will find examples of abdominal exercises using leg weights further down in this article.
Dynamic Strength Training
Ankle weights are also a useful tool for people who train activities such as martial arts and want to improve the speed and strength of their kicks. Adding ankle weights force you to work that little bit harder when giving a kick, so that when you remove them your legs feel lighter, stronger, and faster.
As a general rule, it is best to add weights for designated reps of an exercise, rather than use the weights throughout a training session due to the risk of injury and muscle imbalance.
Resistance bands can be a safe alternative to ankle weights in this case, but they are not appropriate for all movements due to the potential trip hazard.
Best Ankle Weights
The most important things to consider when choosing ankle weights are (1) the weight, (2) a secure closing mechanism, (3) stability as you don’t want them sliding around on your leg, (4) comfort, and (5) material that won’t become too smelly and dirty when you start to sweat!
You might also want to consider options where you can adjust the weight as you will likely need different weights for different exercises.
Here are our top picks, all available from Amazon.
XN8 Ankle Weights
This is one of the most popular options on the market, for good reason. They are highly affordable and tick the boxes in terms of weight and staying power (no sliding around on your calves). Be warned that heavier weights can feel quite bulky.
- 7 weight options for 0.5kg-3kg (per leg)
- Adjustable hook and loop strap with Velcro closing
- 7 colours to choose from
- Soft, breathable nylon fabric construction
Sprotneer Adjustable Ankle Weight Set
If you want to be able to adjust the weight of your ankle weights for different exercises, then this option from Sportneer is a great choice. The straps have pockets where you can insert or remove small, weighted sandbags to achieve exactly the weight you want for each exercise.
- Adjustable weight up to 1.6kg per ankle
- Extend weight to 4.5 kg with extra weights
- Adjustable Velcro strap between 15-31cm diameter
- Available in 4 colours
USINGFIT Ankle Weights Set
If your primary concern is comfort, then you will love these ankle weights by USINGFIT. These weights use iron beads rather than sand, which means that are more compact and the weight is evenly distributed.
- 4 weight options from 0.5-2kg (per weight)
- Made from soft elastic fabric that absorbs moisture
- Adjustable Velcro strap for a snug fit
- Iron bead filling for even weight distribution
Reebok Premium Ankle Weights
It is not always worth paying extra for a brand name, but if you are looking for weights that will stay in place no matter what you are doing, then it is work paying a few extra pounds for these Reebok weights that combine comfort and staying power.
- 4 weights from 0.5-2kg (per ankle)
- Flexlock technology for a more stable fit
- Cast iron buckle
- Isolated weight pouches for stability
Beenax Adjustable Ankle Weights
This is another pair of adjustable ankle weights, where you can add or remove weights for different exercises. You can achieve weights been 0.5 and 1.6kg by using up to five weighted sacks per leg.
- Adjustable weight between 0.5-1.6kg (per ankle)
- Adjustable Velcro strap
- Strong metal look closure
- Neoprene material that is soft, breathable, and moisture resistant
Colixpet Ankle Weights
These weights are ideal if you want something that is really comfortable, especially for walking and similar activity. These weights are made from a composite diving material that feels good on the skin, with a secure Velcro locking mechanism.
- 7 weight options from 0.5-5kg
- Adjustable elastic 360-degree Velcro strap
- Composite diving fabric construction
- Choose from two colours
Core Balance Ankle Weights
These are probably the most affordable ankle weights that you will find, and they are still good enough to do the job. Great if you are just starting out and not exactly sure what you want yet.
- 4 weight options from 0.5-2kg (per ankle)
- Comfortable neoprene fabric
- Enlarged and elasticated Velcro strap
- Comes with handy carrier sack
Best Ankle Weight Exercises
Standing Leg Raises
One of the benefits of ankle weights is that you can add resistance while challenging yourself to raise your legs using pulling muscles. There are many varieties to this exercise, but standing leg raises basically means standing and raising your leg as high as you can in a slow and controlled manner. You can raise your leg in front of you, to the side, or behind if you have the leg flexibility.
You can choose to squat between exercises of not. A good progression is to work rotation by raising your leg in front of you, and then rotating it around to the side while raised before lowering.
Forearm Glute Exercises
The glutes are one of the best muscle groups to work with ankle weights as you can add resistance when raising your leg behind you. There are many variations, but most start from the hands and knees or the forearms and knees position. You can raise your leg directly behind you, to the side, or open the hip by kicking the foot towards the opposite wall. All exercises should be done with control.
Again, you can add rotation to these exercises by opening the leg to the side and then circling to the back or viz. Adding pulses when the leg is in the raised position is also a good intensification.
Abdominal Leg Raises
Ankle weights can be used to intensify any exercise that uses leg raises to activate the abdominal muscles. This can include straight leg raises, where you lay on the ground and raise your legs up at a 90-degree angle. When you lower, you should try to hover your legs an inch or so off the ground for an intense core activation.
The weights can also be used with leg flutters, leg crosses, bicycle site ups, Russian twists, v-ups, and anything else.
Plank Leg Raises
You can do your leg raises standing or on the floor, which are often better for side leg raises. To add intensity, rather than just lying on the floor, hold yourself in a side plank position and do your leg raises from here. You can do the same with back leg raises, holding a standard plank and then lifting your leg behind you as much as possible.
Dynamic Leg Raises
Ankle weights are also excellent for dynamic leg raises. These can include a variety of exercises, such as leg skips where you raise one knee as close to your chest as possible, and then switch between legs in a dynamic jumping motion. The knee to elbow is another classic. Close your elbow and your opposite knee in front of your chest and repeat dynamically on one side for a set before switching to the other.
These exercises work the legs and the abdominals, which are required to hold your leg in position.
The back muscles are some of the hardest to activate, but supermans are a good way to do this. Lie flat on the ground on your stomach, and then lift your head arms chest and legs off the floor in a superman position. Again, ankle weights can add some impressive extra intensity to this exercise.
Looking for more tips on home gym workouts? Find our article library here.
Ankle Weights Benefits
There’s a lot to consider when deciding when and how to incorporate ankle weights into your fitness activities, but below are the principal benefits.
- Endurance – The extra force that you need to exert when moving with ankle weights when walking or doing low-impact exercise will make regular activity feel easier in the long run.
- Weight Loss – Similarly, the extra effort needed to move with ankle weights means that you are burning more calories, which can boost weight loss.
- Stronger more Toned Legs – Ankle weights, whether used for walking or weight exercise, utilize some of the smaller leg muscle groups that are harder to target with other exercises. This not only strengthens these muscles but helps tone up your legs.
- Versatility of Exercise – The nature of free weights means that they tend to target specific muscle groups, for legs this usually means the muscles required for squatting or pushing the weight away. Ankle weights allow you to incorporate more lifting and pulling exercises into your workout.
- Improved Abdominal Workouts – The abs can be a difficult muscle group to target but requiring the abs to hold the weight of the legs is one of the most beneficial exercises. Adding ankle weights can add intensity to these workouts.
How heavy should my ankle wights be?
For exercises such as walking, your ankle weights should be 1-2% of your total bodyweight. For resistance training, the ideal weight is when the last two reps of any exercise are challenging to complete.
What does putting weight on your ankles do?
Putting weight on your ankles means that your body has to work harder to complete any movements that involve raising your legs. This can help you burn additional calories, and also strengthen some of the smaller muscle groups in your legs that are harder to target with free weights.
What happens if you wear ankle weights all day?
It is not recommended to wear ankle weights all day because they can pull on your ankle ligaments increasing the likelihood of tendon or ligament injuries.
How many calories do you burn wearing ankle weights?
How many calories you will burn using ankle weights depends on you and what you are doing, but best estimates suggest that it can increase calories burn by 10%, so instead of burning 500 calories, you will burn 550.
Ankle weights can be a great way to add intensity to bodyweight workouts and include weighted lifting and pulling exercise into your routine that activate smaller, hard to reach muscle groups.
While ankle weights are best avoided during aerobic exercise, they can be an excellent addition to low impact exercises such as walking to increase endurance and burn extra calories.
A good pair of ankle weights can be a fast and effective way to take some of your workouts to the next level, so why not check out some of the options on our list.
- Wearable Weights: How they can help or hurt – Harvard Health
- The Pros and Cons of Ankle Weights – Your Fitness House
Last update on 2022-04-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API