Is it helpful or harmful to wear ankle weights while doing cardio exercises? Will it strengthen and tone the legs, or will it put stress on the knees or ankles?
Nancy De Luca
We asked two experts to weigh in on the pros and cons of adding ankle weights, which many walkers do to increase calorie burn and muscle strength.
Dr. Anthony Luke, assistant professor of orthopedics and director of primary care sports medicine at UC San Francisco, says that ankle weights make muscles, such as hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, work harder to do the same motion. “It’s giving a better workout for those big muscles.” There’s also a bigger cardiovascular benefit, because you’re using more exertion.
Now for the downside: “It will put more force on the joints as well as the muscles,” he says. “If there’s an existing problem, it can make things more difficult.”
If you’re healthy and have no joint problems, you may be fine. But if you feel any aching in your joints, or you change the way you move to accommodate the weights -- and that results in pain -- then stop.
Luke also recommends not using the weights every time you do your cardio activity. And don’t use them if they get in the way, for instance when you’re riding a bike.
Kent Adams, director of the exercise physiology lab at Cal State Monterey Bay, isn’t a big fan of adding extra weight, because it can increase the impact loading on the joints, causing unnecessary stress. And you won’t just feel it in your ankles: Hips and knees can feel it too, especially in the case of people who are frail or overweight.
If you want more bang for your workout, instead of adding ankle weights, Adams suggests increasing cardio intensity by varying your speed or climbing hills. That will give you a bigger calorie burn as well.
And if you want to develop your leg muscles, you can do that during weight training, Adams says.