Beware the ankle weight. In fact, it might be a good idea to put warning labels on the 1-pound or 2.5-pound devices that you wrap around your ankles. Nothing as drastic as the skull and crossbones labels you find on certain drugs or poisons is needed, but a caution symbol is appropriate, since ankle weights should be used carefully and for limited purposes. The people who most commonly use ankle weights are walkers and runners. Unfortunately, experts believe walkers and runners derive few benefits from ankle weights, while raising the risk of injuries from overstressing joints and muscles.
Walkers and Runners
You don't want to use ankle weights if you're a walker or runner, states Kent Adams, director of the exercise physiology lab at Cal State Monterey Bay. Adams told the Los Angeles Times that ankle weights can increase pressure on your ankle joints, as well as your hip and knee joints, especially if you are overweight or frail. Dr. Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic puts it simply: "Ankle weights generally aren't recommended for brisk walking." In addition to stress on your joints and muscles, using ankle weights can mess up your biomechanics by altering your gait and stride. Instead of ankle weights, both Adams and Laskowski recommend picking up the pace or walking or running hills if you want to get more out of your workout.
You can use ankle weights effectively as a substitute for a weight machine for certain types of exercises. In a discussion of a knee extension exercise, which works the quad muscle, Laskowski states that an ankle weight enables you to effectively perform the same exercise if you don't have access to a weight machine.
Some professional athletes derive benefits from ankle weights. For example, ballet dancers such as Nicholle Rochelle, principal dancer with the North Carolina Dance Theatre Company, use light ankle weights for training purposes. However, Rochelle was trained at a ballet school that emphasized safe training practices and injury prevention. In addition to using light ankle weights, Rochelle received detailed instructions in the safe use of strength-training equipment and resistance bands.
Even those who give ankle weights a tepid thumbs-up warn of the dangers of the devices. Dr. Anthony Luke, director of sports care medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, told the Los Angeles Times that ankle weights can strengthen the muscles of your quads, glutes and hamstrings by making them work harder. You can obtain a more rigorous cardio workout as well. However, Luke says there is a substantial downside to ankle weights -- it puts more force on your joints and muscles. If you have an underlying problem, ankle weights can exacerbate it. Plus, there are plenty of safer ways to make your workouts more taxing without resorting to ankle weights
- MayoClinic.com: Could Ankle Weights Help Me Get More Out of My Usual Walking Routine?
- Los Angeles Times: Ankle Weights: Pros and Cons
- Gaynor Minden Pointe Shoes: Nicholle Rochelle, Prinicipal Dancer North Carolina Dance Theatre
- MayoClinic.com: Video: Knee Extension with Weight Machine
- Runner's World: Ask the Coaches: Ankle Weighs
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.