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Workouts for Women

Are Ankle Weights Actually Useful? Experts Weigh In

Does this ‘80s staple still have a place in modern workouts? Our experts weigh in.

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Most fitness fads are short-lived, but some gear persists and survives the march of time. Take ankle weights: Though not nearly as popular as in days gone by, this training tool is still affordable (ringing in around $30), but is it money well-spent? Two trainers give their opinion, and the result is a split decision. Yea or nay?

Shayla Rog, CPPS 

New York-based transformation coach and owner of Operation: Badass

YEA 

Ankle weights don’t provide enough load to achieve a considerable increase in muscle size, density or strength, but they can heighten the intensity of certain exercises in the absence of more productive equipment. 

For example, when training at home, there are quite a few bodyweight movements that are difficult to perform and progress, such as glute kickbacks, abduction/adduction variations, hamstring curls and leg extensions. Using resistance bands tends to be awkward (especially if you have limited anchoring options for securing the bands). But ankle weights involve no setup and provide steady resistance throughout the movement (as opposed to the varying resistance of bands), increasing the difficulty of an exercise through its full range of motion. 

That said, I’m not a big proponent of wearing ankle weights continuously throughout the day or for cardio workouts; the minimal increase in energy expenditure is not worth the constant strain on your joints and tendons. 

Julia Anto, CSCS 

Indiana-based strength and conditioning coach 

NAY 

You have to evaluate the kind of exercise you’re going to do when considering ankle weights. For example, slapping them on and going for a long walk is a poor choice. Most people already have compensatory patterns in their gait, and adding weight to your ankles would alter how you lift your leg and take a step. This could make existing issues worse or even cause injury, so using ankle weights for cardio sessions is a solid “nay.” 

I’d also recommend skipping them for abdominal exercises like leg raises. If you already have poor abdominal strength, adding ankle weights could cause adverse movement patterns or could even lead to a back injury. 

One could argue that ankle weights are useful for things like a quadruped leg raise or fire hydrant, but you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck by purchasing more versatile equipment, such as a medicine ball or dumbbells. Using that equipment to do exercises like split squats and deadlifts will be way more effective than fire hydrants any day of the week. 

How to Use Ankle Weights

As our trainers expressed, ankle weights aren’t terribly versatile, but there are a couple of at-home moves where they can come in handy. Try the following moves and glute-focused Tabata as a finisher to a more totalitarian lower-body workout. 

How-to: Quadruped Single-Leg Kickback 

Secure ankle weights around both legs, and get onto all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips, spine neutral. Keep your knee bent 90 degrees, your hips level and your foot flexed as you lift one leg up behind you until your thigh comes parallel with the floor. Slowly lower back to the start. Complete all reps on one side, then switch. 

How-to: Fire Hydrant 

Secure ankle weights around both legs, and get onto all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders
and your knees underneath your hips, spine neutral. Lift one leg, knee bent, up and out to the side as high as possible without allowing your hips to open or your body to tip. Pause briefly, then lower to the start. Complete all reps on one side, then switch. 

Glute-Focused Tabata Finisher

Complete two rounds of the following workout: 

Exercise Seconds
Quadruped Single-Leg Kickback (right) 20
Rest 10
Fire Hydrant (right) 20
Rest 10
Quadruped Single-Leg Kickback (left) 20
Rest 10
Fire Hydrant (left) 20
Rest 10