If you are a keen runner looking to enhance your training and improve your times, you are probably always on the lookout for ways to increase your training intensity. One way of doing that is to start running with ankle weights.
The problem is, just like with many fitness-related topics, the use of ankle weights is a hotly debated subject.
There are two main views that sit at opposite sides of the table. One group will argue that they can improve performance, while another group argues that they can actually have a negative effect on your running.
So, which are you supposed to believe?
Throughout this article, we will cover both the advantages and possible disadvantages of running with ankle weights. You can then draw your own conclusions and follow our tips to decide whether or not ankle weights are worth trying for yourself.
What are ankle weights?
Before getting into the pros and cons of them, it is probably best to describe exactly what we are talking about here.
Ankle weights for running are usually made out of a soft material strap that is weighted and fastened around the ankle.
The weights will range from around 2-10lbs per ankle. They are generally fastened to the very bottom of your shin using a Velcro strap.
A good pair of ankle weights will be fairly discreet, not bulky and should secure tightly but comfortably to your ankles.
The main idea behind the use of ankle weights is to make your legs work harder by forcing them to move around with the extra weight.
The difference between ankle weights and a vest is that ankle weights are less cumbersome and less likely to affect your posture during a run.
Benefits of Running with Ankle Weights
The added weight that you are forced to run with means that your muscles will need to do extra work in order to run at the same pace.
The extra work done by your muscles means that more oxygen needs to be supplied to them by your heart and lungs. This forces your cardiovascular system to work harder than it ordinarily would.
This extra work forces your heart and lungs to adapt to the stimulus by becoming stronger and more efficient.
As a result, when you run without the weights, your heart and lungs will have a much easier time. This should mean that they are able to work for longer, which translates into more endurance and hopefully better running times.
An efficient means of improving your endurance is by running with your ankle weights on the treadmill.
While some people prefer running outdoors, a lot of people find it convenient to hop on a treadmill at home. If you are looking to buy your own treadmill, you will find our reviews helpful.
The cardiovascular adaptations aren’t the only ones that occur as a result of your muscles being forced to work harder when wearing ankle weights. The muscles themselves will need to adapt to the added workload being placed upon them.
By adding more weight to your legs, you are making a lot of muscles work much harder. In particular, your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes will have to do more work if you are to keep up with the same running pace.
Just like your heart and lungs adapt to the increased cardiovascular demands, your muscles also have to adapt.
To be better equipped to handle the added resistance, your muscles will become stronger.
Of course, stronger muscles will make the ankle weighted runs easier over time. However, when you remove the weights is when you should see the big benefits.
If your muscles have gained enough strength to make running with the weights easy, running without them should feel like a breeze.
Burn more calories
If your goal is to lose weight or to burn fat then this could be a huge benefit.
All of that extra work that we mentioned above causes an increase in calorie burn when running with ankle weights attached. Harder working muscles and a harder working cardiovascular system requires more energy.
As you probably know, energy comes from the food and drink that you ingest as part of your diet. Calories are the units by which that energy is measured.
Therefore, increased energy requirements mean increased calorie burn. The biggest factor that determines weight loss or gain is energy-calorie balance.
In simple terms, if you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, weight gain will be the result.
Burning some extra calories by simply strapping a few pounds of weight to your ankles is a pretty efficient method.
Just to note, it must be said that this could be a potential downside if you are not looking to lose any weight. For those that do not wish to lose weight, but still want to get the other benefits of ankle weights, you will simply need to make sure that the extra calories burned are replaced by eating a little bit more to make up for it.
Potential Downsides of Running with Ankle Weights
Having discussed the major benefits of using ankle weights for running, it is only fair that you learn about some of the potential downsides as well.
Can alter running technique
This is probably the most commonly argued disadvantage to wearing ankles weights for running or even walking.
The argument here is that the added weight could be forcing you to change your running style to accommodate the resistance.
Of course, if this were to happen, it would have certain negative effects on your running performance. It could cause you to ingrain sub-optimal running patterns and force a change in your running mechanics that slows you down.
Using different running styles for weighted runs and non-weighted runs also mean that the potential benefits of running with the weights may not carry over to your performance when you remove them.
A suggestion to help reduce the risk of this happening would be to use lighter weights that do not have an impact on your running style. You can still progress to heavier weights over time, but make sure that you give your muscles a chance to adapt before increasing the weight.
If you find yourself altering your technique with the added weights, use a lighter weight until you get stronger.
Lower body injuries and muscle imbalances
Adding weight to your body increases the stresses and forces that are acting upon your joints when you run.
Loading your joints with weights that you are not used to can quickly lead to ligament or tendon problems and over-use injuries. To help combat this, make sure that you start with light weights and listen to your body.
If you feel that something isn’t right, stop right away. Continuing to run with an injury is likely to make it worse under normal circumstances, but the results could be even worse with the added weights.
As well as direct injuries, improper use of ankle weights might create certain muscle imbalances and lead to more injuries down the line.
This can happen if you are using a weight that forces you to change your running style like we discussed earlier. If your running style is different, you are probably working different muscles.
Constantly working a different set of muscles will make them stronger but could lead to problems when you switch back to running without the weights. The muscles that you have made stronger with the ankle weights can become overpowering and cause an imbalance that negatively affects how your joint is moving.
To prevent this, make sure that you don’t become over-reliant on weighted running and keep it balanced with running non-weighted.
Final Thoughts and Tips for Running with Ankle Weights
As you can see, there are some potentially great benefits to be had from the use of ankle weights. On the other hand, the potential downsides could also be quite off-putting.
The general advice we can give here would be very similar to many different forms of training. You must first weigh up the potential rewards with the potential risks.
Then you must manage the potential risks and decrease them as much as you can. In the case of ankle weights, many of the risks can be minimized by starting slow and some smart planning.
Begin with a light weight that doesn’t force you to change your running technique and build up as you get stronger.
Reduce the chances of building up unwanted muscle imbalances by keeping your training balanced. Do not use ankle weights for all of your running.
Finally, and most importantly, listen to your body. If your body is telling you something isn’t quite right, do not ignore it.
The longer you ignore a problem or injury, the worse it is likely to get. A small issue that only requires a few days of rest could become a big problem that results in a long time out of training if you choose to ignore it.
Hopefully, those tips are enough to get you started running with ankle weights as safely as possible. There are certainly some benefits to be enjoyed for your running performance, provided you are smart with your ankle weights training.