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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Onley

When to use ankle weights

Let's talk about the correct application of ankle weights, when they are safe, and when they are not.

They can be dangerous when students buy them as another dance accessory (like a turn board) and don't really know what to do with them, and they can also aid training when used in the right way when the student is ready. Personally, I would avoid them and I will explain why.

I have seen young dancers walking around at competitions wearing ankle weights. This is an incorrect and unsafe way to use them. Wearing ankle weights while walking, running, or dancing is a quick way to injury.

Imagine holding an object in one hand close to your chest for as long as you can. Now imagine holding the same object in one hand at arms length away from you. You're not going to be able to hold it for anywhere near as long because of leverage. Take this as a starting point for ankle weights.

Now lets break down some of the forces in play when walking. Your legs move like pendulums attached at your hip and lower back. Momentum helps to carry the leg forward and backwards with ease. Add weight to the end of the pendulum and that is going to introduce a new dimension to the forces involved and disturb the natural biomechanics of the legs, hips, and back.

Let's consider performing a grand battement (kick) with ankle weights attached. The additional weight places excessive stress on the ligaments and muscles of the hip and lower back, as they work against the momentum generated by the weights. Any existing alignment issues will be magnified under this added load, significantly increasing the potential for serious injury.

The safe application of ankle weights is with slow and controlled movements of the leg, and methodical progressions. Before adding any form of weights into training, students must demonstrate a high level of technical accuracy and the ability to maintain focus. It's crucial to carefully consider the student's age, taking into account the ossification timeline, to ensure that the additional weight does not interfere with bone and joint development.

To incorporate ankle weights, start with exercises performed while lying on the floor, where the gravitational pull and, consequently, the load, are minimised. When transitioning to standing exercises, begin with movements that remain close to the centre of the body, such as drawing up into a retire position, as these will offer a greater leverage advantage.

While ankle weights can be safe if used in the right way, there are other, smarter ways to increase load and develop strength if you know how. I would argue that working with your own body weight is the safest way to train, and in reality, all you need.

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