Fitness Tips

6 Ankle Weight Exercises To Strengthen Small (But Important) Muscles

Tehrene Firman

Tehrene FirmanSeptember 8, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images / Luis Alvarez

Strapping on a pair of ankle weights before your workout instantly ups the challenge, allowing you to strengthen even your tiniest muscles. And with the right ankle weight exercises, they work your booty, legs, abs, and beyond. Just ask Abbey Woodfin, a New York City-based fitness instructor, who considers them a staple in her workouts.

“I love ankle weights because their purpose is to accentuate the movement, and to add control and stability in an exercise. A simple leg lift gets turned up a notch when you add a 3-pound ankle weight because suddenly you need to go a little slower, stabilize your standing leg, and find your balance,” she says. “Ankle weights also make you pay attention to the move a little bit more, making sure you’re doing the exercise with proper form.”

Because ankle weights are having a serious comeback, there are plenty of different options you can choose from to amp up your workouts—two of which, as an ankle weight aficionado, I swear by. There’s the ever-so-coveted Bala Bangles ($49) that aren’t just comfortable and effective, but also really nice to look at in your home gym. Like, you’ll want to display them on a shelf. And there’s a no-frills option from Nordic Lifting ($36) that will always get the job done. Whichever choose, here are Woodfin’s favorite ankle weight exercises.

The best ankle weight exercises for your booty, abs, and legs

Booty

1. Clamshell variations

“This clamshell series is my absolute favorite for when I’ve been sitting all day. Adding ankle weights instantly ups the intensity, as well as holds you accountable on form,” says Woodfin.

  1. Begin by lying on your side with your head resting on your arm and your feet in the shape of a V, with the heels in line with the booty.
  2. Keeping the feet together, open your top knee up and close it back down like a clamshell. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Next, elevate the feet. Keep them together, with your knees resting on the ground.
  4. Once again, open your top knee up and close it back down. Repeat 10 times.
  5. This time, lower your bottom foot to the ground, separating your feet for the first time. Keep your other leg bent and elevated, and make sure the hip, knee, and ankle are in alignment, and the foot is flexed.
  6. Lift the leg up three inches, then down three inches. Repeat 10 times.
  7. Finish with your top leg rotating, touching the knee to the opposite knee and the foot to the opposite foot. Repeat 10 times.
  8. Repeat on the opposite side.

2. Classic donkey kick with a twist

“This is my go-to booty lifting exercise. I like to call this one the instant booty lift,” says Woodfin.

  1. Start on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips.
  2. Keeping your right knee bent, flex the heel and lift it toward the sky as if you’re going to make a footprint on the ceiling.
  3. Stop when your leg is at hip height. You should feel it underneath your bum where the booty and hamstring meet.
  4. Bring the knee back down toward your belly button, rounding your spine and crunching your abs. Repeat 10 times.
  5. This time when your leg is lifted, and your foot is pressed toward the ceiling, cross the knee toward the outside of the standing (left) leg, squeezing the inner thighs together.
  6. Press the foot back up, and bring the knee back down toward your center, crunching your abs. Repeat 10 times.
  7. Finish by bringing your forearms to the ground, and pulsing the foot up toward the sky. Do this 10 times with a flexed foot, and 10 times with a pointed foot.
  8. Repeat on the opposite side.

Abs

1. Slow weighted mountain climbers

Why Abbey loves it: “Everyone who takes my classes knows I love a good plank, especially to end class,” says Woodfin. “This exercise is one of my favorites.”

  1. Start with your hands underneath your shoulders, and your fingers spread wide.
  2. Extend your legs out into a plank and squeeze your inner thighs together, as if you’re squeezing a lemon. Hold for 10 seconds.
  3. Begin slow mountain climbers with your right knee pulling forward toward your belly button.
  4. Return your right root to the mat and repeat on the left leg.
  5. As you’re doing this, remember, you want to go slow. Your leg and ankle weight should hang for a few seconds mid-air before your foot returns to the mat.
  6. Repeat for 40 seconds.

2. Squat-crunch

“I love a good cardio-ab burst in the middle of my classes. This move spikes the heart rate, and it works the booty and the abs—especially because you’re wearing ankle weights,” says Woodfin.

  1. Begin in a squat position with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your elbows bent in front of you.
  2. As you stand, shift your bodyweight onto your right leg, and lift your left knee up to waist height.
  3. Using your elbows as a target, bring the knee and hands together and crunch your abs.
  4. Return to the squat and switch the legs, balancing on your left and lifting your right knee.
  5. Continue to alternate at a quick pace for 30 seconds.

Legs

1. Frontal leg lifts and single leg squats

Why Abbey loves it: “This one is sneaky,” says Woodfin. “It begins super easy and simply, but quickly builds as you fight to keep your balance. Then it ends with some killer single leg squats.”

  1. Begin by standing in a small squat with your knees softly bent, feet together, and left heel lifted.
  2. Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle and hold.
  3. Sit back into your booty as you lower down a few inches and come up a few inches. The weight should be more in your right leg than left. Repeat 10 times.
  4. Hold your sit, and tap your left foot in front of you and back to center without moving anything else. Repeat 10 times.
  5. Keep your left leg extended. Lift your left leg up, bending the knee, then lower it back down to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
  6. Keep the left leg lifted and pulse the thigh up one inch and down one inch 10 times.
  7. Finish with 10 single leg squats on the right side by lowering your right booty down one inch and up one inch.
  8. Repeat on the opposite side.

2. Foam roller leg lift

“Anytime I can use an object like a foam roller in my workouts, I do; it adds an extra challenge,” says Woodfin. “This exercise is great because it helps with foot-eye coordination, balance, and works the outer thighs, glutes, abs, and more.”

  1. Using a small foam roller, place it to your side, a leg’s distance away from you.
  2. Begin standing with a soft bend to your knees and your left heel lifted.
  3. Tap your left leg out to the side and back to your center, making sure the foot is in front of the foam roller. Repeat 10 times.
  4. Keep your left leg extended in front of the foam roller and your right knee softly bent.
  5. Lift your left leg up and over the foam roller, tapping the foot on the other side.
  6. Lift the leg up and over the foam roller, bringing the foot back to the front. Repeat 10 times.
  7. Finish with 10 leg lifts in front of the foam roller.
  8. Repeat on the opposite side.
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