April 12, 2024

Cool Rabbits

Healthcare Enthusiast

‘I exercised with ankle weights for 30 days’

Let’s cast our minds back to 2012. The UK was hosting its third Olympics, the now cult brand Peloton had just spun onto the at-home fitness scene and Gymshark launched, making waves on the internet (and in our workout wardrobes). But 2012 was also when I first discovered my MO for affordable ways to strength train and in doing so this lead me to — you guessed it — ankle weights.

At the time, the small, unassuming and relatively inexpensive fitness aids saw me through full-body workouts in the comfort of my crumbling uni halls. They powered my morning yoga flows and added some much-needed resistance to my short and sharp lower-body blasts. Fast forward one pandemic, a cost of living crisis and 10-and-a-bit years later and these wearable weights are still having a hot minute.

Historically used for rehab purposes, some say ankle weights have now found a renewed sense of fitness fame through the rise (and rise) of Pilates, along with their ability to sprinkle some extra spice into any bodyweight workout — just ask Halle Berry, Kate Hudson or Hailey Bieber. So, to see what all the fuss is about, I’m exercising with ankle weights for 30 days on the trot. Four words: the burn is *real*.


My ankle weights challenge

Usually, I try to exercise four to five times a week, getting my workouts done before I start my 9-5. While completing this ankle weights challenge, however, I won’t be having any rest days, but I will be limiting my workouts to around 20 minutes or less to avoid overdoing it.

In terms of the types of workouts I’ll be doing, I’m intending to stick as close as possible to my usual schedule. I’ve only made slight tweaks to include moves that will best suit the use of ankle weights, like Pilates, yoga and other bodyweight exercises.

Here is how each week within my 30-day ankle weight challenge will look:

  • Monday: 45-minute lower-body resistance training workout at my local gym (including kickbacks, walking lunges, step-ups and kneeling rear leg raises)
  • Tuesday: 20-minute at-home Pilates workout (I tried Move With Nicole’s free YouTube vids)
  • Wednesday: 45-minute upper-body workout at the gym (including dips, pull-ups, lat and pull-downs)
  • Thursday: 5-minute full-body workout (I took inspo from fitness instructor Maddie Lymburner’s free at-home sessions)
  • Friday: 45-minute full-body strength training session at the gym (a mix of walking lunges, dips, pull ups, kneeling rear leg raises and kickbacks)
  • Saturday: 15-minute lower-body workout, courtesy of Krissy Cela (including front hip thrusts, kickbacks and standing leg abduction)
  • Sunday: 5-minute full-body workout with my ankle weights + 5k run (minus the weights)

PSA: this is, of course, my own personal exercise plan and includes a mix of movements that I enjoy doing, but remember that this is for the purpose of this article. I don’t intend on giving up rest days in the long term, and neither should you. If you’re thinking of taking on a challenge, it’s worth speaking to a PT who can help devise your own schedule based on your health goals and current fitness levels.

What are ankle weights?

‘Ankle weights are like mini sandbags with a velcro strap and come in different weights,’ explains Maria Eleftheriou, Head of Barre at boutique fitness brand Psycle.

And, despite their name, ankle weights can also be strapped onto your wrists to help fire up your upper body. But these wearable weights are by no means new.

‘Ankle weights have been used for many years to help aid balance rehabilitation,’ Eleftheriou recalls. ‘But over the last few years we have seen a trend in non-injured individuals using them to add more substance to their walks and body weight fitness, including barre, Pilates, aerobic exercise classes and weight lifting to increase the output of their workout,’ Eleftheriou says.

Reebok Women's Ankle Weights

Reebok Women’s Ankle Weights

Opti 0.5kg Wrist and Ankle Weights

Opti 0.5kg Wrist and Ankle Weights

Sportneer Ankle & Wrist Weights

Sportneer Ankle & Wrist Weights

How to use ankle weights

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  • Eleftheriou suggests starting with weights that are just 1-2 pounds. ‘It’s important to start light and work your way up,’ she says. ‘You can then gradually increase the weight as you get stronger.’
  • When placing them around your ankles, Eleftheriou notes you’ll want them ‘snug enough to stay in place, but not so tight you cut off your circulation.’
  • As is the case with every form of exercise, proper form is crucial. ‘If you feel like the form is being compromised, just use them for part of the workout to avoid injury,’ Eleftheriou adds.

What are the benefits of using ankle weights?

Ankle weights can help benefit everything from your bones to your bum — and in more ways than one. They can also:

  • Increase your muscle mass. But how so? ‘They increase the intensity of certain movements,’ Eleftheriou recalls, ‘which makes the muscles work harder, increasing the lean mass of that muscle over time. They will also target all your micro muscles, similar to barre and Pilates, which you don’t get so much in compound exercises.’ And given that your muscle tissue decreases by 3% to 8% per decade after the age of 30, learning how to build muscle with ankle weights could combat this.
  • Strengthen your bone mass and density. As Eleftheriou explains: ‘Seniors actually really benefit from using light ankle weights even when walking, as they can increase muscle mass, help cardiovascular systems, and as bone density decreases in older years when used consistently, they may help to offset osteoporosis.’
  • Boost your metabolism. ‘Walking with ankle weights can give you a higher metabolic output so you burn more calories as well as building more strength in the lower body,’ Eleftheriou tells us. ‘They will also elevate the heart rate,’ she adds.
  • Lower your body fat. Evidence is limited on this front, but in the Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, participants who wore ankle weights three days a week for at least 20 mins showed ‘significant improvements’ in their waist circumference, body fat percentage and skeletal muscle percentage. Pretty impressive, huh?
  • Improve your balance. That’s according to Eleftheriou who notes: ‘Ankle weights will help to increase the endurance of the lower body whilst also really helping to improve your balance.’

5 things I learned from using ankle weights every day for 30 days

1.Light ankle weights doesn’t equal easy

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    Available in a 0.5kg weight right up to 10kg (!), I initially felt that adding a 1kg ankle weight to my basket was a little bit — dare I say it — silly. Would 1kg make a difference? Should I go heavier? Or would I buy this weight and then need to upgrade it in a couple of weeks time?

    However, with my rational head on, as someone who gets her kicks from weight training and who has done so for the past decade, I know 1kg in the world of lifting is absolutely nothing to be scoffed at, and so that’s what I went with.

    After completing just 10 kickbacks, the pump was most definitely on. And even four weeks after completing every workout, I can still feel the burn. Consider me (and my bottom half) humbled. My advice? Start small, go slow to really deep the mind muscle connection and thank yourself a whole lot later.

    2. There’s an art to walking in ankle weights

    It actually feels like you’re wading through shallow water. At first I felt a bit sceptical about plodding around too much in my ankle weights any more than I need to, despite most experts giving it the green light (providing you’re not injured, have joint problems, arthritis and maintain the correct form).

    But to avoid overloading your limbs or doing yourself a mischief, I personally found that there’s an art to walking safely in ankle weights. The trick? Instead of rocking your weights with your usual walking gait, focus on a ‘marching style’ of walking to really pick up your feet and plod with purpose.

    3. Lower-body workouts are best for ankle weights

    ankle weights challenge

    At the risk of stating the obvious: lower-body exercises like walking lunges, side leg raises, kickbacks and step-ups worked best when using ankle weights. That’s because these types of movements really isolate specific areas, like your quads, glutes and calves, and put my legs under more resistance than they were used to at home.

    Even after my first lower-body workout, everything from my glutes to my calves were on fire. Me: 0, ankle weights: 1.

    4. Ankle weights are multifunctional

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    I’m a sucker for a piece of kit that doubles up. And ankle weights are a prime example, as most can be used as wrist weights too. As long as the weights can be fitted securely enough around your wrists without sliding up and down, you’re basically getting two pieces of fit kit or the price of one. Winning!

    5. But, you defo don’t need to use them every day

    In fact, this was something Eleftheriou highlighted. ‘I suggest a few times a week for short periods of time so you are not consistently overloading the joints,’ she said.

    And with the mountains (and mountains) of research showing just why rest days are so major, going forwards I don’t intend to ditch them anytime soon.

    This challenge was an exception, in the name of journalism, to find out everything I could about ankle weights. Thank me later.

    Final thoughts

    After 30 days of using ankle weights to exercise, I’m pretty sure these wearable wonders are a budget-friendly shortcut to a more conditioned, well…everything. Want to strengthen your arms? Try some weighted arm circles. Hoping to hone your glutes? Kneeling rear leg raises will do the trick.

    But don’t be fooled. Ankle weights are a deceptively tough addition to any bodyweight workout and IMHO, I’m here for it. For me, there’s only so many bodyweight workouts I can do at home until my motivation runs dry and my progress starts plateauing. But that’s where ankle weights step up to the plate.

    Of note, my lower half feels much stronger than it did at the start of this challenge. Give me four more weeks and I’m sure I’ll consider adding some 1.5kg weights to my basket.

    In a nutshell: will I be using ankle weights in the gym? With a room full of plates, dumbbells and kettlebells, there’s not much point. But for home workouts where space is of the essence? Load me up!