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7 Ankle Weight Exercises to Work Those Legs

A woman wearing ankle weights and doing leg lifts outside.
Focus and Blur/Shutterstock.com

Ankle weights have been popular since the ’90s and they aren’t going away any time soon. They’ve remained popular for so long because they add a minimal, but still notable, amount of weight. This allows you to perform a ton of exercises while wearing them, which can really challenge your leg muscles.

Ankle weights are just mini sandbags with velcro straps, but these fitness accessories are an incredibly easy way to add some extra intensity to your leg day. These are some of the best leg exercises you can perform while wearing ankle weights.

Lying Leg Lifts

Lie on your belly on your mat. Grab your elbows and place your forehead on your forearms. Using your entire upper body as leverage, push yourself deep into the mat and avoid arching your back.

Inhale and slowly lift and extend one legs. Hold for a few seconds, and then lower your leg as you exhale. Repeat with the other leg, and then alternate for 20 reps.

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Side Leg Lifts

Lie on your side and place your elbow underneath your torso for stability and balance. You can also place your opposite palm on the floor in front of you for even more stability if you need it. Or, challenge yourself and rest it on your hip.

As you inhale, slowly lift the leg on top and hold it in an extended position. You can flex or point your toes, but just make sure your leg muscles remain fully activated. Exhale and lower your leg. Perform 12-15 reps, and then switch sides.

Additionally, if you want to challenge your adductors, you can rest the upper leg on the floor and lift the lower one. This is a much harder move, as your inner thighs aren’t as strong as your outer. Still, it’s a great way to work your weaker leg muscles.

Ankle Weights

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Side Leg Circles

Lie on your side, in the same position as you would for side leg lifts. This time, as you inhale, lift your upper leg, and then hold it in place as you exhale. As you inhale, make circles with your leg in a clockwise motion.

You can make your circles as big or small as you wish, but this will depend on your balance, core strength, and hip mobility.

Keep your upper body and hips as still as possible. The goal is to completely isolate your leg muscles and glutes and let them do all the work. Once you’ve completed 10 circles, do 10 counterclockwise, and then repeat with the other leg.

Squat Leg Lifts

A more dynamic version of squats, the side leg lifts challenge your whole body. Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale, and then slowly lower down into the deepest squat you can manage, keeping your back straight and core tight.

As you exhale, lift and extend one leg before you completely return to standing. Squeeze your oblique muscles and try not to compensate with your lower back muscles. As you finish exhaling, return your foot to the starting position. Repeat with your other leg, and then alternate for 20 lifts.

These aren’t kicks—side lifts are more controlled. They’ll help you improve your balance and build strength in all areas of your body, including your abs, obliques, glutes, and hamstrings.

Donkey Kicks

Starting on all fours, place your palms on your mat directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Activate your core to protect your lower back, and then push the ground away from you, creating space between your shoulder blades.

Keeping your legs bent, inhale and lift one leg behind you. Flex your foot as if you were trying to touch the ceiling with it. Feel the isolation of your glutes and hamstrings, and use the power of those muscles to kick upward.

You can perform the full motion and return your knee to the floor, or, when it’s at its highest point, perform a few pulsing movements with your leg. These promote muscle hypertrophy, which increases muscle mass. Repeat with the other leg, and try to do 20 reps on each side.

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Fire Hydrants

Fire hydrants work your outer glutes and thighs. They actually completely isolate the outer part of your leg. And if you haven’t yet guessed how they got their name, ask a dog.

You start on all fours. Inhale, and then, as you exhale, lift a bent leg out to the side. Try not to lift your hip at all, but keep it squared with the other one. Your weight will naturally begin to shift over to the support side, but just do your best to prevent that.

Return your knee to the starting position and inhale. Take an exhale, and then lift it again. Perform 12-15 reps before switching to the other leg.

Lunge Kicks

Start in a standing position with your legs hip-width apart. Step backward with one leg. Inhale, and then, as you exhale, bend both knees until you’re in a lunge position.

Hold here for a moment to solidify your foundation, which includes keeping your core strong and your hips squared. Keep those legs active by pushing into the ground through the ball of your back foot and the heel of your front.

Take an inhale, and then, as you exhale, kick upward with your back foot, and then return to the starting lunge position. Do 12-15 reps, and then switch to the other leg.

Wearing ankle weights is an easy way to upgrade any type of workout or exercise. If you really want to focus on your legs, though, incorporating ankle weights with these moves is an excellent way to reach your goal.

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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