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The added resistance of ankle weights can give you more shapely leg muscles.
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Sometimes a little can go a long way, and that's the case with ankle weights. Even a relatively light set of ankle weights can make a difference in the tone, strength and power of your leg muscles. But weights at the end of a long lever can also pose hazards that can lead to injury.
Resistance to Change
In order to change the tone and shape of your thigh muscles, you must increase the amount of resistance they're subjected to. Overload is a fundamental principle of fitness based on the premise that when you subject your body to stresses greater than those to which it is accustomed, it will adapt. Adding extra weight at your ankles will stimulate a training adaptation in your leg muscles, provided you are moving about and not just sitting still. In addition to improved muscle tone, adding resistance will make you stronger, improve your bone density, decrease your body fat, improve your cardiovascular health, lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of diabetes, according to exercise scientist Len Kravitz, PhD. Ankle weights are used in physical therapy to improve bone density in patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Leveraging the Force
Your body is made up of a system of levers, formed by your bones and joints, and held in place and moved about by your muscles and connective tissue. Most human movement is generated by third-class levers, where the fulcrum, or pivot point, is at one end of a bone, the resistance is at the other end and muscular force is applied somewhere in the middle. The farther the resistance is from the fulcrum, the more force is necessary to produce movement. When you attach a weight at your ankle, the force required to move your knee is less than the force required to move your hip, because your ankle is farther away from your hip. Wearing ankle weights for activities like walking, running, cycling, swimming and other long-lever activities will make your muscles work harder, resulting in more muscle tone.
Jazz Up Your Jump
If you're an athlete in a sport that requires maximal vertical jumping, such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, ballet or martial arts, adding ankle weights during training can help improve your jump height. A Texas Tech study compared track and field athletes doing weighted jump training to athletes performing traditional strength training. At the end of the six-week study period, the jump training athletes had significantly greater improvements in jump height than the traditionally trained group.
The Down Side
While ankle weights can improve the tone, strength and power of your thighs, they also pose risks. Adding weight to the end of a long lever increases momentum during movement that places greater force loads on your joints. The extra momentum can also throw you off balance, causing you to fall. Before you add ankle weights, make sure you're at your optimal level of fitness. Start with lighter weights and gradually progress to heavier weights as your leg muscles grow stronger.