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How to Use Ankle and Wrist Weights Safely

Juliette Kando is a dancer, choreologist, author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.

How and when to use ankle and wrist weights, that is the question.

How and when to use ankle and wrist weights, that is the question.

Ankle and Wrist Weights: Good or Bad?

Ankle and wrist weights can speed up training and help you lose weight faster, but if used indiscriminately, they can also be harmful or even dangerous. While doing some in-depth research for this article, I read with dismay that wearing ankle and wrist weights is often recommended for the wrong kind of activities.

This article is particularly important for beginners, but it will also help many of you at intermediate or advanced levels to understand the pros and cons of using ankle and wrist weights in your workouts.

How Dangerous Can Ankle and Wrist Weights Be?

Even people at more advanced and professional levels, who should know their bodies well enough to use ankle and wrist weights responsibly, can learn something new here to prevent the risk of injury and permanent damage to the body.

Dos and Don'ts


Use weights that are filled with water or sand and are made of breathable material.

Don't keep ankle or wrist weights on all day or sleep with them on.

Wait until you can raise your legs 90 degrees while lying down before adding ankle weights.

Don't use them if you are already carrying a lot of extra weight on your body.

Use weights with gravity while stretching.

If you are overweight, don't use weights for strength or endurance.

What Are the Best Ankle and Wrist Weights?

Ankle and wrist weights are usually filled with fine lead or iron powder- not very environmentally friendly when disposed of. Try to find some that use water or sand as filling. Tie them around the wrists or ankles with Velcro straps. On the outside, they should be made of some breathable nylon material.

When to Wear Weights

Ankle and wrist weights are used to increase the workload in the following three areas of fitness:

  1. Strength and Endurance
  2. Toning
  3. Stretching

Doing regular exercise needs enough devotion without making it more difficult with extra weights, right? An overweight person already carries too much weight for their skeleton. But if you have reached a certain level of fitness and are very short of time, wearing ankle or wrist weights may speed up your training provided they are used with proper caution and awareness.

Wear weights while walking, jogging, running, sprinting, step aerobics, cycling, swimming, kickboxing, karate, and even on the treadmill to accelerate weight loss, strength, and endurance.

Avoid keeping weights on too long. It is hard on the body to carry extra weight all day (or all night) so don't keep them on for the entire day or sleep with them on.

Strength and Endurance for Advanced Users Only

No adult has a perfect posture. No gait is absolutely correctly balanced. Therefore, any activity that requires the entire body's weight to land with impact on the ground—like walking, running, or aerobics—will aggravate the faults and imbalances in the ankle, knee, hip, spine, and neck without adding any extra weight. And let's face it: Most of you guys and gals who are so keen on getting fit already carry the extra weight on your bodies anyway. So, don't use ankle or wrist weights for endurance and strength training unless you're a pro.

Weights With Certain Toning Moves

If you are trying to firm up your triceps (backward arm lifts) or buttocks (lying prone, lifting a leg up) and don't have a lot of time before the holidays, by all means, wear the weights. Be sure you don't strain your back in doing so. See this article on counter moves to avoid injuries.

Using Weights With Gravity Inversion Stretching

The main requirement for flexibility is that the area to be stretched should be relaxed. It is impossible to stretch a muscle or tendons when the muscle is contracted. That is a paradox, a contradiction in terms. We can use weights with the assistance of gravity to help stretch the hamstrings, as in the two Scooping Kick moves described below.

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Scooping Kicks With Gravity and Weights

The way to get the most out of this exercise is with visualization. Imagine that you are lying on the beach. Scoop up some sand with one foot and throw it as far as you can over your head. I recommend you close your eyes during this imaginary experience so you can really concentrate on what you are doing. That way, you won't get any sand in your eyes (ha-ha).

  1. Lie on the floor on your back, on a mat or on your bed.
  2. Bend one leg and raise the knee as far as you can without bending or lifting the other leg.
  3. Bring the foot back down to the floor.
  4. Straighten that leg and raise it up as high as you can while leaving the other leg on the floor. Keep both knees straight.
  5. Bring the first leg down to the floor again
  6. Repeat alternating a knee lift with a full leg lift eight times.
  7. Repeat steps 2-5 with the other leg.

How high does your foot reach with the leg raised? If it does not reach 90 degrees, don't use weights. Once your foot passes the 90-degree mark, you may wear ankle weights. With extra weight tied to your ankle, your legs want to go downwards with gravity. To stretch your hamstrings fully, all you need to do now is to keep one straight leg up there, past the 90-degree mark, while relaxing the hip joint.

Why the 90 Degree Stretch Is Crucial

In the above moves, once your foot passes the 90-degree mark, you may wear ankle weights, but not before.

Wearing weights before you can achieve this stretch will make it harder and take longer to stretch. When you can reach the 90-degree point, the ankle weight and gravity actually help your foot go down further and further towards your head. Once you are past the vertical (90 degrees), your hamstrings can stretch in a painless, almost passive way.

Isolation and Coordination

With more practice, you will be able to isolate the coordination of the only two necessary actions of kicking up and bringing the leg down. Concentrate on:

  • Keeping the knees straight requires a certain amount of tension in the thigh.
  • Controlling the action in the hip joint so it stays as relaxed as possible to allow for maximum movement range.
  • Keeping the hamstring muscles (behind the knee) relaxed.

Stiff Hamstrings?

Hopefully, they are not stiff to the point of being chair-bound or chair-shaped as shown by Juliette Kando in the next video.

Scooping High Kicks in a Side Lying Position

  1. Lie on your side on the floor (on a mat) or on your bed. Keep the knee of the lower leg bent to create a more stable structure for maintaining this position.
  2. Raise your upper knee up towards your shoulder.
  3. Bring it down to the floor.
  4. Now raise the whole leg up as high as you can while keeping the knee straight and leaving the other bent leg on the floor.
  5. Bring the upper leg down to the floor again.
  6. Repeat eight to sixteen times.
  7. Turn around onto your other side and repeat steps 2-6 with the other leg.
Half and full backward arm circles to loosen the shoulder and strengthen the arm.

Half and full backward arm circles to loosen the shoulder and strengthen the arm.

Using Wrist Weights With Arm Swings and Circles

Master this exercise without wrist weights first. Arm swings and circles are perfectly suited to be practiced with wrist weights on, but you might tear a muscle or ligament if you have not mastered it on its own first.

  1. Swing one arm up as far as it will go without turning the wrist.
  2. Swing the same arm down and back to its limit.
  3. Repeat eight times or more.
  4. Now do a full backward arm circle and repeat that eight or more times until all the stiffness and crunchy noises have vanished from your shoulder joint.
  5. Repeat with other arm.

Once familiar with these moves you can go much faster to allow momentum and gravity to fully loosen your shoulder joint.

CAUTION: Start slowly and remember my motto: "No Pain, Just Gain!"

That’s It!

I hope that this article on ankle and wrist weights has clarified some of the myths and taught you how to use them properly and safely on your arm or leg.

Please contribute to the questions/answers below to learn more!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: What will happen if I wear ankle and wrist weights for a whole day?

Answer: If you use them all day, it may put too much strain on your joints. So, I would not recommend this. Just use them when you want to use the ankle or wrist weights for floor exercises to help you extend your movement range (to stretch), and to tone and strengthen your muscles as shown in the article.

Question: What will happen if I wear ankle and wrist weights for half the day walking?

Answer: You'll get tired. On a serious note, please read the article again and the answers to previous questions which all point to the fact that ankle weights are best used to stretch and tone the body in non-weight bearing positions (floorwork) to avoid aggravating existing miss-alignment of the feet, ankles, and knees.

Question: Can my 10-year-old son use a 1kl sandbag for training? He plays taekwondo.

Answer: This article explains why children should not use weights fr training as it could damage their growth plates.

Question: My upper back hurts when I walk with wrist weight on. What is the best position to hold my arms in while walking? My wrist weights are not heavy, only 2.5 pounds on each wrist.

Answer: If you feel pain in the upper back while walking with wrist weights on you must check your posture. Keep your entire body weight balanced centrally. The head should be above the body, and not in front of it. Read this article on How to Improve Your Walking Style to Ease the Pain:

Once you are aware of your posture, you can try this exercise while you walk.

Upper Arm Toner With Wrist Weights:

Perform the arm sequence without walking in slow motion first until your arms get used to moving in this way.

STARTING POSITION: Stand with the arms relaxed by your sides.

Now, turn the left palm in to face back and the right palm out to face front. We are going to swing, right arm forward, left arm back.

With the right arm going forward and the left back, do only one swing as in normal walking but higher, up to 90 degrees or maximum height. Try to keep the arms straight.

On the second swing, swap the direction that the wrists are facing. In other words, always keep all palms up while swinging. Practice this on the spot until you can easily coordinate the moves.


1. Walk for eight steps swinging your arms as normally.

2. For the next eight steps, hold the arms in the upper-most position palms up. You are still walking on, but your arms are static for eight steps.

Repeat the walking sequence as many times as you can / want.

N.B. You can do the same exercise to the side (one arm across the body, the other to the side).

Question: Would it be okay to use ankle weights for cycling (1.5 kg for each leg). I asked the same question in some cycling forum. They said that I would probably end up needing hip or knee surgery. Is that true? I want some really tough legs.

Answer: Think about it: the extra weight is shared between the two pedals, While one pedal lifts, an equal amount of weight drops (makes it easier) on the other leg so, the two weights actually cancel each other out. Therefore, wearing ankle weights while cycling serves no purpose at all. And yes, I do agree that unnecessarily forcing your body may land you in hospital

If you want your legs to work harder, just go faster or cycle uphill.

Question: How often are ankle and wrist weights safe to use?

Answer: Good news: I used to have severe attacks of sciatic pain shooting down my left leg to the point of not being able to walk. Ever since using the gravity inversion table regularly, at least once a week for a few minutes, my sciatica and back pain are completely gone.

Question: Can I wear ankle weights for about 10 or 12 hours?

Answer: The body is not meant to deal with the stress of additional weights at the extremities for that many hours, especially if the body is not perfectly aligned. If you wear weights for 10 or 12 hours a day, you may end up with damaged wrists, ankles, and knees or even having to get both hips replaced later in life. Don't do it! To be on the safe side, just use the weights for floor exercises as shown in the article.

Question: I'm fourteen-years-old and 5'3. I want to start wearing ankle weights to improve my basketball training. Would that be OK?

Answer: Wearing ankle weights while training for basketball or any aerobic high impact sports for that matter is not recommended especially at your age because you are still growing. It will cause problems with joints, put too much stress on the bones and may stunts growth. Think about it: while your body is trying to grow upwards towards the sky, the ankle weights are pulling you down in the opposite direction. In that situation the weights are fighting against your body's wishes and intentions. Like it says in the article, wearing ankle weights during vertical high impact activity is definitely a no-no, even for adults, let alone for a young growing body. You could seriously injure yourself.