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Ankle Weights for Dancers - Love it or Leave it?

Are ankle weights safe? Should my dancers use ankle weights? Will they help my dancer get higher legs?

These are some questions that may be circulating amongst the dance studio parents, teachers, or in your own head. In this article, I'll include considerations for ankle weights for dancers and give my honest and informed opinion as to whether or not you need to rush to Target to buy some.

In this quest for technical improvement, some dancers have turned to ankle weights as a means to add resistance to their workouts. But before you strap those weights on, let's take a closer look at whether they're really a step in the right direction.

The Power of Social Media and Peer Pressure

Where did you first see dancers wearing ankle weights? Probably from social media. I know I see tons of videos and posts about dancers with ankle weights doing crazy leg extensions. While it may look cool, from a trainer's perspective, it's all flashy and not providing as much benefit as we may think.

You may see videos of a dancer doing a beautiful leap across the floor as soon as they take off their ankle weights, and while yes, this feels like you're soaring across the floor and jumping higher, it is only a short-term sensation.

I could write a whole other blog post about social media and carefully consuming accurate and safe content, but that's for another time. Let's talk more about ankle weights...

Considerations for Dancer Age, Strength Levels, and Skill Levels

First things first, let's talk about who might benefit from using ankle weights. Age, strength levels, and skill levels all play a crucial role in determining whether ankle weights are suitable for a dancer.

For younger dancers, especially those still in the midst of growth spurts, extra weight on their ankles could potentially cause strain on developing joints and muscles. It's essential to prioritize proper form and technique over adding resistance prematurely.

Similarly, dancers at different strength levels may have varying responses to ankle weights. While seasoned professionals might be able to handle the added challenge, those newer to dance or with weaker muscles may find the weights more burdensome than beneficial when considering the increased resistance on the furthest point of the leg.

Skill level is another factor to consider. Advanced dancers who have already built a solid foundation of strength and technique might use ankle weights sparingly to target specific muscle groups. However, for beginners or intermediate dancers, focusing on mastering fundamental movements without added resistance is often more beneficial.

Why Ankle Weights Might Not Be the Best Choice

Now, let's address the elephant in the room – are ankle weights really all they're cracked up to be? While they may seem like a convenient way to amp up your workouts, the reality is that they can pose more harm than good, especially for dancers.

One of the main concerns with ankle weights is the risk of injury. The added weight can alter your natural alignment and put undue stress on your joints, potentially leading to strains, sprains, or even more severe injuries over time.

Furthermore, ankle weights can negatively impact your technique. Instead of improving your form, they may encourage compensatory movements or hinder your ability to execute movements correctly, ultimately hindering your progress as a dancer.

To get science-y for a minute, let's use the example of a développé to the front. As our leg lifts to the front, gravity is pulling the leg down, and our muscles are pushing against gravity to lift the leg. This is producing a rotational force on the hip joint as it moves into hip flexion. When we are calculating torque, we are multiplying the force x the moment arm (aka your leg). So in other words, the length of the leg x the amount of resistance pulling on the leg. If we place a weight closer to the knee, we are increasing the mechanical advantage of the hip joint allowing for more targeted strengthening. When we place a weight closer to the ankle, we are increasing the force, therefore increasing the torque or rotational force on the hip.

Some dancers may be able to withstand this rotational pull, but for young dancer bodies, this could lead to more muscle strains and potential overuse injuries.

Better Alternatives to Ankle Weights

So, if ankle weights aren't the best answer, what are some better alternatives for dancers looking to build strength? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Bodyweight Exercises: Focus on bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges, planks, and push-ups. These movements engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously and help improve overall strength and stability without the added risk of injury from external weights. This is especially beneficial for younger dancers who are just starting to develop more body awareness.

  2. Resistance Bands or Weights: Incorporate resistance bands or weights into your workouts to add resistance without the added strain on your joints. They're versatile, portable, and come in varying levels of resistance to accommodate dancers of all levels. Check out my Instagram page for exercise ideas.

  3. Pilates or Yoga: Both Pilates and yoga emphasize core strength, flexibility, and alignment – all essential components of dance technique. Plus, they offer a low-impact way to build strength and improve body awareness.

  4. Dance-Specific Conditioning: Consider incorporating dance-specific conditioning exercises into your routine.These movements mimic dance steps and help target muscles used in dance technique to understand the mechanics of the skill first.

In conclusion, while ankle weights might seem like a tempting shortcut to building strength, the potential risks outweigh the benefits for dancers. Instead, focus on safer and more effective alternatives that prioritize proper technique and injury prevention. Your dancer's body – and their dancing – will thank you in the long run!


Kendall Baab, MSc, BA, CPT

Owner of BodyKinect

P.S. If you're looking for safe and effective strength training, I have a few options for you! Check out my 6-week online training plans for dancers here. Or if you want something a little more comprehensive and longer, I have a 3-month training program called BodyKinect Blueprint. As always, feel free to message me on Instragram if you have any questions or send me an email!

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