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Ankle and Wrist Weight Safety Concerns

Should you wear ankle weights?
Should you wear ankle weights?

There are lots of ways to make running more challenging. You can choose routes with more hills, increase your pace or throw in some bodyweight exercises every few minutes. One thing you should avoid, is strapping weights to your ankles or wrists.

In the 1980s ankle and wrist weights were promoted as a way to lose weight and build muscle during your run. The idea certainly seemed logical. Make someone carry around more weight and you'll increase their heart rate and burn more calories. But that's not how things worked out.

When runners were allowed to set their own pace, researchers found that runners tended to slow down if weights were added. In fact, when weights were added it "caused a significant decrease in the running speed..." As runners slowed down, any additional fat burning effect of the weights was eliminated. The runners heart rate and oxygen consumption with ankle weights on were virtually unchanged from the unweighted runs.

So researchers changed things up. They decided to try testing runners on a treadmill, but force them to run at the same speed, with and without weights. Over a four week period, runners were measured while running at various speeds and weight configurations. From carrying nothing, to as much as 5 pound weights in each per hand.

When running at the same speed with and without weights, the results were surprising. Researchers said that using hand-held weights of 5 pounds or less per hand, was "insufficient stimulus for significantly increasing oxygen uptake or heart rate." In other words, they didn't really provide much additional help.

In fact, physical therapists and locomotion experts have found that adding weights to a cardio routine can cause serious problems. It increases the impact forces on your joints as you run. Ankle and wrist weights increase the risk of injury from dislocations, ligament tears and sprains. Over time it even increases the risk of tendinitis.

That's not all. Ankle weights tend to "bounce" and cause blisters and rub skin raw. Hand held weights change the gait of runners that leads to pain and injury in the lower back and hips. It's even more serious for people with stability issues. Adding weight to your ankle or wrist can alter how you walk, destabilizing your balance. That increases the risk of tripping or falling.

There's a reason weight training and cardio programs are done separately. When you're moving weights, you want to be sure the movements are deliberate and controlled. Veering off in the wrong direction can cause injury. You never move too quickly, so your form is always good.

For cardio to work, you MUST move quickly. The goal is to increase your heart rate and rapid movements are the best way to do that. Carrying weights along as you do cardio, reduces the effectiveness of an aerobic workout, puts unnecessary stress on the joints and adversely affects balance.

For the small calorie burning boost or 5 to 8%, the dangers of using hand or ankle weights while running just doesn't make sense. But, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be used in the gym.

Ankle and wrist weights are great tools when used in stationary exercises, for neurologic rehabilitation or during some stretching moves. Physical therapists and trainers use them for exercises that require resistance, and when they don't need all the weight that dumbbells or machines would provide.

Ankle weights in particular can be very useful. Most people can hold weights with their hands to build upper body strength. However, our feet don't really have the ability to grip much. Weights that attach to the ankle are a great way to perform some lower body resistance exercises.

Consider the advice not to use wrist or ankle weights while running or walking to include things like weighted gloves or shoes. Moving the weight from the ankle to the foot doesn't eliminate the dangers or suddenly make it a good idea. Use weights for resistance training and skip weights for cardio. 


Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 1990 Mar;71(3):231-5.
Physiologic and perceptual responses during treadmill running with ankle weights.
Bhambhani YN1, Gomes PS, Wheeler G.

Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 1989 Dec;29(4):384-7.
Physiological effects of walking and running with hand-held weights.
Owens SG, al-Ahmed A, Moffatt RJ.

Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1988 Apr;20(2):167-71.
Effects of extremity loading upon energy expenditure and running mechanics.
Claremont AD1, Hall SJ.

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9/25/2016