I Asked a Physical Therapist If It's OK to Walk With Ankle Weights, and to My Surprise, It's Not
Ankle weights can be used for a variety of different training modalities and workouts, from mat Pilates to rehabbing and strengthening your lower body. One of the most common ways people use ankle weights is for walking. It seems foolproof: throw on your favorite leggings, put on some comfy shoes, strap on your weights, and head out the door. But according to board-certified sports physical therapist Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS, it's not a good idea to walk with ankle weights.
Is It Bad to Walk With Ankle Weights?
"Most trainers and clinicians actually don't recommend using ankle weights during walking," Dr. Malek told POPSUGAR. She explained that it's not advised to walk with ankle weights because the repetitive motion can cause a greater load on the knees, hips, and back, which impacts your natural gait pattern. But if you do choose to walk with ankle weights, Dr. Malek said to walk a short distance, no further than half a mile, with one- to two-pound weights. "You can pair a shorter walk with a strengthening routine to make better use of the weights, too," Dr. Malek said.
If you want to walk with additional resistance without putting too much stress on your joints, Dr. Malek recommends wearing a weighted vest. "The weighted vests provide a more even weight distribution over someone's center of gravity, which makes it easier to control," she explained. Additionally, walking with a weighted vest can improve balance, leg strength, bone density, and overall cardiovascular endurance and help with weight loss for some individuals, according to Dr. Malek.
She recommends beginning by walking one to two times a week for 10 to 15 minutes. "This walk will be more intense than others, so it is important to start slower than your usual pace and distance," she said.
What Workouts Can I Use Ankle Weights With?
Walking with ankle weights should be avoided, but you can use ankle weights for most strengthening exercises, especially those that target the hips and legs, Dr. Malek said. Additionally, you can use them around your wrists for lightly weighted exercises. Using ankle weights in your strengthening workouts can increase the load and ability to challenge your muscles.
Dr. Malek recommends starting lighter than you think with one- to two-pounds weights, gradually increasing the weight to something that is challenging but not impossible. But before beginning any type of exercise with ankle weights, she recommends speaking with your doctor or physical therapist if you have a history of back or joint pain, because using the weights could exacerbate pain due to the change of biomechanics with the added load.
What Workouts Shouldn't I Use Ankle Weights With?
In addition to walking, you should avoid using ankle weights with cardio and aerobic workouts. This is because of the "repetitive nature of the movements and the load of the weight favoring some muscles and not others, causing a muscle imbalance." Running with ankle weights is not advised because the heavier weight can lead to dragging of the legs, which doesn't translate to proper running technique, and it can also lead to tripping or rolling your ankle.
If you're looking for ways to mix up your workout routine and challenge your muscles differently, ankle weights are a great option. They may not be the best for dynamic styles of training such as walking and running, but they're a great addition to workouts that incorporate controlled movements, such as strength training. Before adding ankle weights to your routine, consult your doctor, physical therapist, or trainer.