Do Ankle and Wrist Weights Actually Help Your Workout? Experts Explain

Ankle and wrist weights are back in style, thanks to TikTok. But before you rush out to buy a pair, read this.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda Fitness and Nutrition Writer
I'm a Fitness & Nutrition writer for CNET who enjoys reviewing the latest fitness gadgets, testing out activewear and sneakers, as well as debunking wellness myths. On my spare time I enjoy cooking new recipes, going for a scenic run, hitting the weight room, or binge-watching many TV shows at once. I am a former personal trainer and still enjoy learning and brushing up on my training knowledge from time to time. I've had my wellness and lifestyle content published in various online publications such as: Women's Health, Shape, Healthline, Popsugar and more.
Expertise Fitness and Wellness
Giselle Castro-Sloboda
5 min read
A woman straps on an ankle weight

Ankle and wrist weights may not be suitable for all of your fitness goals.

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If you've been on fitness TikTok or Instagram lately, then you've probably come across influencers using ankle and wrist weights during their workouts. I've even been targeted by some sponsored posts by brands promoting their own set of weights. If you're not familiar with what these weights look like, they're usually designed like mini sandbags that you strap around your ankles and wrists with a Velcro strap. However, many brands have changed up the traditional look to make them appear more modern and stylish. They can be as light as a quarter pound or as heavy as 20 pounds.

I thought ankle and wrist weights were fitness equipment we left behind in the '80s and '90s, but clearly they're making a comeback. I used them briefly in the past, but I wondered if there was any benefit to including them in other forms of workouts. I spoke to some experts to get their insight on whether or not you should start adding ankle and wrist weights to your workout routine. 

How to use ankle and wrist weights

man wearing wrist weight making a fist

Ankle and wrist weights have been traditionally used in light cardio conditioning. 

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Typically, ankle and wrist weights are used to add extra resistance during light cardiovascular activity, like walking. Dr. Haniel Hernandez, doctor of physical therapy with Redefine Healthcare, said, "The most effective way to use them while exercising is understanding the phrase 'less is more.'" This means the ankle or wrist weights you use don't have to be heavy. Instead he suggests using weights that are anywhere between one and three pounds since they're just as effective as the heavy ones. 

"Wrist and ankle weights use gravity in order to create resistance, but when you're walking, the weights are swinging like pendulums from your shoulder and hip joints," explained Dr. Dave Candy, a physical therapist and owner of More 4 Life

There are also some instances where people use wrist weights in Pilates and yoga classes. Others like to use them as a replacement for dumbbells for upper-body exercises, and ankle weights for lower-body exercises like leg extensions or leg curls.

Pros and cons of ankle and wrist weights

Pair of ankle weights

Like any other form of exercise equipment, there are some pros and cons to using ankle and wrist weights. 

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Like any other fitness exercise method, the pros and cons of ankle and wrist weights depend on how they're used versus your personal exercise goals. 

"Largely, most people can use ankle and wrist weights safely," said Candy. "It's just a matter of if using them gives you the most bang for your buck in regards to how you spend your time exercising." 

Because they are free weights, Candy says, any exercise where the primary movement is parallel to the ground makes them ineffective. He says in this scenario the weights are moving mostly horizontally, and gravity only affects the vertical motion of the weights. Therefore, you may want to keep them light if this is what you're using them for.

But it's better to use these weights for up-and-down types of movement to get the most out of them. For example, you can use ankle weights for exercises like glute bridges, or use wrist weights for lateral raises — instead of running with a pair of them on. In fact, running with ankle weights isn't the best idea because they can strain your joints and muscles as well as alter your running mechanics, potentially causing an injury.

Candy says if you're using ankle or wrist weights for strength training, the weight you use depends on a couple of factors. "You should be able to do the desired number of repetitions with good technique, so six to 12 reps are typically used for strengthening, whereas more than 12 reps per set are used for muscle endurance training," he said. 

However, if you're using ankle or wrist weights for walking, he says to stick to one pound or less. It isn't his favorite way to use this modality, but if you do use them for walks, keep in mind that the weight you choose shouldn't impact your form while walking. 

Going too heavy with these weights does come with negative effects. "The cons to utilizing ankle and wrist weights are the added stress they place on the joints proximal to them," warned Hernandez. The elbow and shoulder can be affected while using wrist weights, and the knee and hip can be at risk if you're using ankle weights. "It's never a good idea to utilize these weights with highly volatile or high-impact movements such as plyometrics, especially to fatigue," he said. He also advises that if you have issues with ligaments in the knee it's best to steer away from ankle weights in most instances. 

Other ways to use ankle and wrist weights 

Woman rehabbing knee injury with ankle weight and ball

There are appropriate times to use ankle weights like physical therapy settings. 

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Ankle and wrist weights can be helpful in physical therapy settings. "If you're dealing with a patient who has had a stroke and can't grip a hand weight, wrist weights can be a helpful way to do resistance training," said Candy. Hernandez agrees and says he uses ankle weights in rehabilitation settings while treating balance disorders and neurological pathology-related weaknesses like strokes.

I've used ankle weights during physical therapy sessions for hip strengthening exercises and have found they are challenging after a few sets. A Japanese study even found that older adults who used ankle weights for a period of three months developed stronger lower limbs and trunk muscle strength, which is essential to preventing falls. So ankle weights do serve a positive purpose other than trying to make cardio or yoga exercises harder.

Limitations with ankle and wrist weights

Man deadlifting barbell

There are better ways to get stronger and build muscle that don't include ankle or wrist weights. 

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Although there are some good ways to use ankle and wrist weights, they are limiting if you have certain fitness goals. "I always prefer functional exercises whenever possible, meaning exercises that mimic things you would do in real life such as squats, lunges, deadlifts or shoulder presses," said Candy. "These activities have more functional carryover into doing meaningful activities in your everyday life." 

If you have a clean bill of health and your goal is to make changes to your physique like putting on muscle or getting stronger, then ankle and wrist weights can only do so much. In order to build muscle you need to focus on hypertrophy training, which is done by adding volume during strength training and being consistent with it. Usually this looks like lifting for high reps using a manageable weight that lets you complete the set. Whereas if you're trying to get stronger, you will need to focus more on lifting heavier weights and doing fewer reps of an exercise. 

Candy advises that instead of focusing on adding items like weights when walking or while doing cardiovascular exercise, the focus should just be on the exercise at hand: "Just walk or run or use an elliptical instead of trying to make the exercise something that it's not." 

The bottom line

Ankle and wrist weights have their time and place and can be beneficial if used properly. It's best to avoid doing high-intensity activities while wearing them, and instead focus on using them during lower-impact exercises or while rehabbing an injury with guidance from a professional. But if you're looking to make serious changes to your physique, you'll fare better with a structured strength training program to help you achieve those goals. When in doubt, consult with a certified personal trainer who can provide guidance and help create a workout plan that is tailored to your individual needs. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.