As a Health Editor, I've worked out with ankle weights for years - why they’re a staple in my workout routine

Small but mighty, consider this your full-service ankle weights review.

Ankle weights review: Morgan trying the ankle weights at home
(Image credit: Morgan Fargo)

Eight years ago, if you'd told me I'd be writing an ankle weights review and raving about the benefits of low intensity exercise, I'd probably have laughed at you. My routine was about heavy weights, high intensity exercise, and treading the thin line between exhaustion and elation post-workout. While highly beneficial in some ways, pushing myself to the limit every time I decided to exercise just wasn’t sustainable for me. 

So, I turned to forms of exercise that would help me build muscle but keep my stress hormones from spiking each time it was time to return to the mat. Pilates, Barre, walking, swimming and exercising with ankle weights all became part of my weekly fitness routine, interspersed with slow, sustainable weight training to help keep me strong through to my golden years. 

Using ankle weights, two unassumingly small additions, was a game changer for me, and I now understand why Hailey Bieber, Lori Harvey, and Kendall Jenner are all rumoured to be fans. As this 2022 study highlights, they're great at increasing the intensity of your workouts, strengthening the muscles in your lower body, and targeting the smaller (as well as the larger) muscles in my arms and legs. (Remember, ankle weights can also be wrist weights, just swap them to your wrists et voila). 

But, before I get ahead of myself and race through this ankle weights review, let’s hear from the experts about the benefits of ankle weights, as well as how to pick the right ankle weights for you. Don't miss our guides to Pilates for beginners, the best 30 minute Pilates workouts, and Reformer Pilates, while you're here.

My ankle weights review is full of positives - I've sworn by them for years

Are ankle weights actually effective?

The short answer is yes, ankle weights are effective. They help to increase the resistance of your workouts and improve balance and stability, as well as build muscle and strength. For a slightly longer answer, keep reading. 

“Ankle weights add extra resistance to your workouts which can help to strengthen and tone the muscles in your legs, including your calves, thighs and glutes,” explains celebrity personal trainer, Pilates instructor and founder of Omni-Wellness, Aimee Victoria Long. “This can make your workouts more challenging and effective.”

Not only that but, by adding resistance to leg exercises, Long says ankle weights are an easy way to build muscular strength, balance and endurance, something that can be beneficial to those who also want to improve their athletic performance, like long-distance runners for example.

That said, they're also hugely beneficial for boosting your fitness from home, whether you're a total beginner or at a more advanced level of fitness.

How heavy should ankle weights be for walking and other workouts?

The weight you choose will depend on your current fitness and strength levels, as well as what you want to do with them. Fortunately, there are a range of weights and types on the market.

“You can find a variety of wrist and ankle weights, from adjustable ones to fixed weight ones which range from one to three pounds (around 0.5 to 1.5 kg),” explains personal trainer and founder of the Louisa Drake Method, Louisa Drake. “Most ankle and wrist weights are designed as mini sandbags you attach with a Velcro strap. They usually contain sand or tiny iron fillings but these can leak sand all over the place.”

She continues: “The ankle or wrist weights you wear shouldn't be too heavy." Because did you know? Even wearing weights ranging from one to three pounds on each wrist can effectively boost the intensity of the workout. Her advice is to gradually incorporate them into appropriate workouts, whether that's home Pilates sessions or daily walks. “For exercises with big ranges of motion, such as a leg lift that is at the end range, keep the weight light to allow you to reach the right muscles," she advises. "Try them for a short walk first and see how you feel the next day before attempting to use them again.”


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Can you use ankle weights on a treadmill or stairmaster?

Another big benefit of using ankle weights is that they can be used for a variety of workouts, including cardio exercises like the Stairmaster or on the treadmill (read Senior Health Editor Ally Head's walking desk review, here). However, there are some caveats. Walking or slow to moderate stepping can be great opportunities to wear ankle weights. Anything faster than that and you could run into some sore difficulties. 

The added weight of ankle weights means your body needs to exert more energy than normal to cover the same ground distance at the same speed. This means you’ll burn more calories on the treadmill or Stairmaster,” says Drake. “However, they're not ideal during more vigorous runs or activity."

“I'd only consider using them during endurance exercise if you're already conditioned and it serves your overall goals," she continues. This is because wearing ankle weights during high-intensity cardio can strain your ankle joints or leg muscles, as well as alter your stride which can place stress on your lower back and pelvis and put you at risk for injury.

Can you travel with ankle weights?

The fact that ankle weights are so easy to travel with is what makes them a non-negotiable in my workout wardrobe. They usually weigh about 1 pound (0.4kg) each and are small enough to stash in an overnight bag or, for further-flung trips, hand or checked luggage. 

Sure, they’ll eat up a small portion of your baggage allowance but I don’t mind that, especially when it means I can still get a great workout in when not at home.


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When should you not use ankle weights?

While fantastic, portable pieces of kit, ankle weights are not always appropriate. In fact, in some instances, they can do more harm than good. Long says that if you have any joint or muscle injuries or lack the proper form and technique, avoid using them. 

“Ankle weights should only be used by individuals who have proper form and technique in their exercises. If you are new to exercising or unsure of the correct form, it is recommended to seek guidance first,” she says. 

I've used ankle weights for years - and think you should, too

By now, you've probably guessed that I'm a big fan of ankle weights. They're easy to use and effective - what's not to love?

That said, rewind eight or so years and I probably would have shrugged off a suggestion of using them. That is, until my high intensity, heavy-lifting workout routine left me frazzled and reaching burnout and I knew it was time to try other options.

This is when Pilates and low intensity exercise entered my life. Now my go-to if I want to boost endorphins or shake off my day, the beauty of investing in ankle weights for at home is that you can use them pretty much anytime - whether that's for a morning walk or lunchtime Pilates flow. 

Ankle weights review: Morgan working out with ankle weights

Morgan working out with ankle weights at home

(Image credit: Morgan Fargo)

While I use them pretty regularly, I’ve found ankle weights to be most effective when I feel like I’ve hit a plateau in my workouts. For example, when I can make it through a particular mat Pilates workout without feeling adequately exerted or challenged, popping on a pair of ankle weights immediately ups the ante, making me work harder and helping me stay more mentally engaged. 

I love that they help to maintain and build muscle from the comfort of my home and also keep my stress hormones from spiking each time I exercise. Plus, you can use them for a whole range of workouts spanning Pilates, Barre, and walking, making them an all-round investment. 

All in all, ankle weights have been a total game changer for me. Sure, they might not look like a lot, but don't underestimate how much they'll up the intensity of your workouts, not to mention the muscles they'll target.

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Are ankle weights actually effective?

Short answer: definitely, or so share our experts. “Ankle weights add extra resistance to your workouts which can help to strengthen and tone the muscles in your legs, making your workouts more challenging and effective,” explains celebrity personal trainer, Pilates instructor and founder of Omni-Wellness, Aimee Victoria Long

Bottom line: ankle weights are effective tools to incorporate into your workout routine, come in a variety of weights for every fitness ability, and are brilliant to travel with. 

If you’re new to working out or are still struggling with exercises without using weights, wait until you’ve built up enough strength to use them without compromising your form while doing so.

Morgan Fargo

Morgan Fargo is a freelance beauty editor and wellness journalist who has worked extensively on creating beauty and lifestyle content for titles such as Stylist Magazine, Women's Health Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, Elle and more.