Person exercising with ankle weightsPhoto: Africa Studio (Shutterstock)

Ankle weights have tunneled through a wormhole from the 1980s to the present day and have appeared on tons of TikToks and Instagram posts. Do they really help tone your legs? Are they even worth buying? Here’s what you need to know.

Illustration for article titled Do You Really Need Ankle Weights?

Where they are useful

The best use of ankle weights is to add some resistance to exercises that involve moving your legs against gravity.

For example, side leg raises will do a lot more work on your muscles, even with a pound or two of weight on the ankle you’re lifting in midair. Donkey kicks and hollow body handles would also fall into this category.

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In these examples, the ankle weights don’t necessarily make your ankles or legs work harder. You only add resistance, which is still an exercise for your hips, buttocks, or abs.

This use of ankle weights makes sense as it provides a way to provide resistance over time. To move forward, you’ll need to use heavier weights when your current ones get too easy. You may reach a point where an ankle weight exercise is no longer a challenge and you need to work the same muscles differently.

Where they are not useful

If you run, jump, or walk, ankle weights can make movement a little difficult, but they’re probably not a good addition. Think about why you are doing these exercises in the first place. If your goal is to burn calories while running or walking, you can do it more efficiently by running faster or farther without the need for ankle weights.

Some coaches even warn that wearing ankle weights while running or walking can cause muscle disorders or injury. although it is not clear whether this is really the case or not. (I couldn’t find solid evidence of an injury, but historian Conor Heffernan pointed this out to me a paper from 1988 The finding that the ankle weights didn’t add any significant extra calories and weren’t worth the potential risk.)

Illustration for article titled Do You Really Need Ankle Weights?

How much does a little weight help you?

Every time you look at a small weight – be it a pair of ankle weights or a tiny dumbbell or anything else – you think of a progressive overload.

Progressive overload is one of the basic principles of strength training. To keep getting results, you need to use heavier and heavier weights. That way, someone who starts deadlifting with just the bar can become strong enough to lift hundreds of pounds. Small weights can help you start this journey, but they won’t be able to stand it.

Ankle weights are often only a pound or two each, although I have a set that can load up to about ten pounds if you tuck all of the small sandbag inserts into just one cuff of the pair. It came in handy when I was rehabilitating an injury; My physiotherapist recommended doing the side leg raises, and I needed most of the weights in the set at the time of my rehab.

Fitness products are often only available because they are easy to sell

While looking through ads and Instagram posts for this article, it became clear why ankle weights are suddenly popular. You can promote her by sitting her on a model with great legs in some fancy leggings and having her exercise on the beach or in front of a colorful wall. They just look cool, especially some of the newer styles that look like blocky bangles.

Since they are quite light, they are cheaper to manufacture and ship than a kettlebell, for example. While they have a place in your exercise routine, it would be a mistake to believe that you are buying a versatile or durable piece of equipment by indulging in a pair of ankle weights.