Running with Ankle Weights
There is so much exercise equipment out there that it is only natural for you to feel confused. One piece of equipment that you may have come across is the ankle weight, used to help athletes build up their leg muscles. It was only to be expected that runners would soon incorporate ankle weights while running. However, it turns out that running with ankle weights is not as good an idea as it seems.
What Are Ankle Weights?
Ankle weights are pouches filled with materials such as sand or pellets, and weigh between 1 pound to 5 pounds each. They are designed in such a way that you can strap them on between your calf and your foot for additional resistance as you exercise.
The Risks Of Using Ankle Weights When Running
Running is considered to be a form of endurance training, while using ankle weights comes under the category of strength training. It is therefore commonly believed that running with ankle weights is an efficient combination of strength training with endurance training that utilizes exercise time more productively. Unfortunately, reality paints an entirely different picture. The risks of using ankle weights while running far outweigh any perceived benefits.
Imbalanced Muscle Development
Advocates of using ankle weights while running will tell you that this helps to strength the quad muscles in your lower leg. Experienced runner-turned-physiotherapist Gabe Mirkin agrees with this observation, but he also adds that this is not actually a good thing.
Gabe explains that while ankle weights help to develop the quad muscles, they tend to ignore the hamstring muscles. The result is that there is an imbalance between the muscles in the front and the back of the leg, increasing the risk of injury while running.
Increased Risk Of Tendonitis
Running with ankle weights places additional stress on bones, muscles and knee, hip and ankle joints. This increases your risk of tendonitis, or inflammation in the tendons that keep your muscles firmly attached to your bones. If untreated or ignored, tendonitis can lead to a complication known as tendon rupture which may require surgical correction.
Disrupted Sense Of Balance
While you are running, the ankles help to absorb some of the impact on your legs. They also help to maintain your sense of balance while running by pulling your toes in and up towards your shin so that your foot is prepared for your next step. If you strap on ankle weights while running, this action is restricted, which disrupts your sense of balance and may cause you to fall and hurt yourself.
Increased Stress On Your Joints
Running with ankle weights also increases stress on joints. Your joints are the point where your bones are connected with ligaments, and your muscles and bones are connected with tendons. This complex arrangement makes your joints a very sensitive part of your body, and you need to be extra careful not to strain them any more than is necessary. Ankle weights pull your leg down, while your muscles are trying to lift them and this “tug of war” can strain your joints or cause your ligaments to stretch or tear.
Increased Strain On Lower Back Muscles
Your spine is instrumental in providing stability to your body. When you run, your spine helps to absorb some of the stress caused by impact. But when you add on ankle weights while running, you are only increasing the pressure on your spine, which may affect its ability to absorb shock. This in turn affects your body alignment and stability, damaging your lower back muscles.
What Can You Do Instead?
Safer alternatives to using ankle weights for running depend on what your goals are. If you are trying to build up strength in your leg, try adding resistance training and weight lifting in your exercise routine. If your goal is to make running more challenging, vary your speeds or locate some hilly terrain. Or if you absolutely must use ankle weights, try some pool workouts instead. The buoyancy provided by the water will offset some of the added strain on your legs.
Don’t forget to consult your physician or health care practitioner before considering any changes in your exercise routines. Stay safe!