When it comes time to start up a workout routine, it’s easy to think you need all the fancy (and expensive!) equipment to help you reach your fitness goals. The funny thing, though, is that one of the best tools for toning, improving your strength, and building up muscle is one that’s been around for years and hardly costs anything at all: ankle weights.
When you imagine ankle weights, your mind probably immediately goes to those ’80s aerobics videos where they’re utilized by ladies rocking spandex and sweatbands. Well, a lot has changed in the past few decades. Now those same ankle weights are trendy must-haves in some of the most highly-rated boutique fitness classes, and there’s a simple explanation for that: they’re an incredibly effective way to up the intensity of the moves you’re already doing, allowing you to fine-tune your muscles on another level.
“Incorporating any sort of resistance, such as ankle weights, to your workouts can give you exactly what you need to elevate your workout and make your muscles work harder, strengthening them in the long run,” says Heather Parrish, a founding trainer at GHOST in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Implementing specific ankle weight exercises can also help target certain muscles that are often underused, like the gluteus medius. Strengthening these underused muscles reduces muscular imbalances and makes for more efficient movement in both everyday life and your workouts.”
Aside from targeting the often forgotten muscles you might not be able to as easily hit without using that added resistance, there’s also another perk that will help you better achieve your workout goals, too.
“Muscles must use more energy to perform movements under a higher resistance, so more calories are burned in the process,” Parrish says. So, how do you start using ankle weights to you advantage? The key is starting small and using them during stationary movement — not high-speed walking through malls.
“Start with two-pound ankle weights to get used to the added strain on your muscles and joints. As your muscles strengthen and each exercise becomes as easy as it was without the added ankle weight, work your way up to five, eight, and even 10 pounds per leg. If you start compromising your form, or feeling any pain, you’ve gone too far,” Parrish says. “Also avoid any running or jumping with ankle weights. Both movements are strenuous enough on your ankle and knee joints, and the added weight puts you at a higher risk for injury and overuse.”
When you’re ready to amp up your fitness routine with something as simple as the old-school classic, Parrish has three exercises to work your butt, core, and beyond.
1. Side leg raises
What it works: “These are a great way to target your gluteus medius, an often underworked muscle on the side of your glutes,” Parrish says.
How to do it: Lay on your side with your head supported by your arm. Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe. Take your top leg and move it slightly behind your body so the toes of your top foot are in line with the heel of your bottom foot. Flexing your foot and pushing through your heel, raise your top leg to about 45 degrees, squeezing your glute to raise your leg. Contract your core to keep your torso and hips from rocking. Lower and repeat.
How many: Three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
What it works: “Adding ankle weights to a standard step-up works your core, glutes, and quads,” Parrish explains.
How to do it: First, find the right surface height to use. Your knee should be at 90 degrees or less when stepping onto the surface. You should have one ankle weight on each ankle. Place one foot entirely on the step-up surface. Pressing through your heel, stand up onto the surface in a smooth, controlled motion. To challenge your core and balance, bring your non-standing knee to hip height, contracting your core to lift your leg. Step off of the surface and return both feet to the ground. Repeat again on the same side.
How many: Three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions on each side
3. Plank toe taps
What it works: “Ankle weights can make plank toe taps even harder on your glutes and lower abdominals,” Parrish says.
How to do it: Wearing an ankle weight on both legs, start in a plank position with hands below your shoulders, toes on the ground, and pushing through your heels so they extend behind you. Squeeze your glutes and pick up your right foot, keeping the leg fully extended, and tap your toe to the right of your body. Repeat on the other side. Tighten up your core and make sure your lower back does not arch as you move your leg. To make this even harder, drop down to your forearms with your elbows directly under your shoulders and palms flat on the ground