Running with ankle weights: Does it work?

While you may feel like you’re smashing a run and strength workout in one, it might be not be the best training solution.

running with ankle weights may not be as safe as you think
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As a runner, you might already be aware that strength training is good for both your running performance and overall fitness. But running and strength training – who has time to do both? We’re often pushed for time, so it might just make sense to run with ankle weights so you can fit both into one workout.

‘The perceived benefits of the ankle weights trend might allow for strength training and aerobic fitness to get done in the same workout,’ says Dr Colleen M. Brough, a clinical specialist in orthopaedic physical therapy and Founding Director of Columbia RunLab. ‘Some think that greater strength gains are happening because of the greater load being towed during the run.’

But are the perceived strength gains a reality? We spoke with experts to weigh in on the matter and determine whether running with ankle weights really can reap rewards.

Benefits of running with ankle weights

As a start, adding weights to run does require more effort from your cardiovascular system, muscles and joints.

‘The added weight makes the muscles work harder,’ says orthopaedic surgeon Eric A. Eifler. ‘Muscles that work harder get stronger through muscle fibre growth, more efficient muscle fibre recruitment, or more blood vessel growth to or within the muscle to deliver more oxygen to the working cells.’

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Training with ankle weights might also mean you’ll be able to run faster when you race without the weights. ‘By adding weight to their body, runners are stressing their body more than without the weight,’ says Eifler. ‘When they subsequently run without the weight, it is easier to run.’

Running with extra weight means you’re training your heart to work harder, too. ‘As a result of this increased training stress, the [cardiovascular system] undergoes adaptive changes,’ continues Eifler. ‘Thus, the added weight increases muscle strength and time to fatigue and improves cardiovascular endurance.’

Risks to running with ankle weights

While it may seem like a golden hybrid training hack, running with ankle weights is not free from risk – and one of the most significant downsides is that it can change your gait.

‘Added load on joints, such as your back, hips and knees, can throw off the gait pattern and lead to serious injury,’ says Emily Hutchins, a certified personal trainer at On Your Mark. ‘The repetitive nature of walking or running can lead to improper technique, creating muscle imbalances or acute injury.’

Eifler adds that disrupted biomechanics can a lead to lower back and joint pain, patellofemoral syndromeIT band syndrome, cartilage damage and muscle strains – which no runner would ever wish for.

‘If the muscles can’t handle the sudden added weight, the weight gets transferred to the bones and joint cartilage. The added weight results in damage to those structures in terms of stress fractures or joint pain – and stress fractures of the feet and the hip are already common in runners due to overtraining,’ says Eifler.

So – should you run with ankle weights?

Probably not. The risks associated with carrying a heavier load are likely to outweigh the potential performance gains for runners.

If you already have experience in running with ankle weights and haven’t suffered any injuries or issues as a result, then you’re probably safe to continue as you are. But, if you haven’t tried running with ankle weights before, it would be safer and more effective for you to run with a weighted vest, or to train with weights on other occasions at home or in the gym.

‘A weighted vest at least adds more weight around your centre of gravity, versus your extremities, and it may be more comfortable for some,’ says Katie Lawton, exercise physiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. ‘You can still cause injury if not done properly, but there are benefits if done correctly.’

This doesn’t mean you need to put the ankle weights in the bin, though. Walking with ankle weights can be good for easy cross training, with a 2022 study showing that this helped older adults in particular to build lower body strength. You can also intensify your strength training by wearing ankle weights while doing exercises like standing hamstring curls, standing shoulder raises and bicep curls – all of which are beneficial for runners.

Just make sure you leave the ankle weights at home when you go out for your runs.

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