You might be wondering if it’s a good idea to slap on those old ankle weights you’ve got lying around at the house. Surely the extra weight will help your legs get stronger and improve your vert, right? Wrong.
Do not put the ankle weights on!
When training with ankle weights, you put virtually no additional load on the muscles involved in triple extension (i.e. the vertical jump) and create an unnatural strain on the knee joint which can lead to injury.
This article is going to explain exactly why this is the case so that it’ll be really obvious to you why wearing ankle weights is an awful idea. We’ll also touch on some much better things you can do to increase the load when training.
Understanding Triple Extension
I’m just going to briefly explain what’s actually happening with the body during the vertical jump movement. I wrote a full article about the biomechanics of the vertical jump that goes into much greater detail on the matter.
Triple extension is the motion we create with our bodies when we jump off the ground: our ankles extend, knees extend, and hips extend all generating force. Ankle, knee, hip.
Before we begin the jump, we build up potential energy by flexing at the ankles, knees, and hips, and then release said energy after ground contact through extension.
Ankle Weights Do Virtually Nothing For Force Generation!
The problem with ankle weights is that the load is on the ankles, which is below our knee and hip joint.
Because of this positioning of the weight on our ankles, our knee and hip extensors don’t have to do any additional work during the concentric movement compared to what they’d be doing if jumping without ankle weights.
Right up until ground contact time and during ground contact time, we’re getting absolutely no additional force generation out of our ankle, knee, and hip flexors.
During the concentric movement (upwards phase), we’re only getting very little additional work out of our extensors, partly because of the additional ground contact time. Our ankle extensors take the brunt of the additional weight but they simply aren’t being stimulated in an effective manner.
Our ankle extensors aren’t used to having this strange unnatural load and our legs are simply confused as to why our hip and knee extensors are doing so little work relative to the ankles. The ankles and knees are on a completely different page when we load the body like this.
Unnatural Loading = Potential For Injury
If you’ve ever worn ankle weights and tried to do plyometrics, it’s one of the worst feelings you can experience. Everything feels horribly disjointed and goofy. Your coordination is horrible. And there’s this awful sensation of pressure on the knee joint. That’s never a good sign.
Plyometrics or any explosive movements are extremely taxing on the joints at the best of times.
Most people struggle to handle their own bodyweight efficiently as it is. Using ankle weights for any jumping activity is just asking for trouble.
And don’t even bother jogging with ankle weights either. Jogging to begin with has very poor carryover to the vertical jump. And jogging with ankle weights is probably one of the worst things you could do for your vert!
One of the best ways you can increase your vertical jump is to increase the longevity of your training life and take really exceptional care of your joints. You should aspire to emulate the limberness of Kadour Ziani who is still throwing down at age 47!
When doing any training exercise you have to weigh up the risk vs reward. I’m okay with taking risks if the potential reward is very high, but in the case of vertical jump training with ankle weights, we have an extremely high risk with exceptionally low reward.
Swap The Ankle Weights For A Weight Vest
It’s definitely a good idea to train with additional loads. And we should 100% be doing jump work with additional loads as well, but not when it’s positioned on our ankles.
If we put the additional load above our hips, suddenly we’re having to work harder right through the eccentric loading phase and through full triple extension. Our hips, knees, and ankles all get overloaded through both the eccentric and concentric and it’s done in such a way that is smooth and not disjointed.
This allows our different muscle groups to generate action potential in a far more efficient manner. The ankle, knee, and hip muscles are able to communicate effectively and coordinate well for maximal force generation.
Usually when you gain weight, it’s gradual and spread all throughout your body. But most of it goes to the midsection. Your body knows what to do with additional loads around the midsection.
Using a weighted vest is 100 times better than using ankle weights for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. If you want to do plyometrics with additional load, a weighted vest is going to be your best option by far.
Dumbbells Work Better
You can accomplish a similar effect just by using a couple light dumbbells when you’re doing all sorts of plyometrics. Again, because the load is much closer to your torso it’ll be much more manageable.
If you’re holding dumbbells by your sides when doing a jumping movement, the additional load will be slightly below your hips – so it’s not perfect. But it’s still a lot better than using ankle weights!
Add Load With A Box
The whole point of using ankle weights in vertical jump training (at least the idea) is to increase the load which increases the amount of work our muscles have to do. But there’s a way easier, safer, and cheaper way to do this.
Literally just use a bit of extra gravity by doing the same exercises off a box. If you were planning on doing tuck jumps or depth jumps or countermovement jumps or bounds – pretty much anything you were planning to do plyometrically with ankle weights can be done more effectively by increasing the height of the eccentric movement.
One Exercise That Isn’t So Bad
The only exception I can think of is jumping rope with ankle weights. This actually isn’t a terrible idea because the overall movement is very minimal that it doesn’t put a ton of extra stress on your joints.
You’ll get decent shin and calf activation so there’s definitely some good stimulation going on, but I still think the relative slowness of the movement would make it convert pretty poorly to the vertical jump.
A waaaay better vertical jump skipping variant would be unweighted ‘double unders’ which is where the rope moves under your feet twice while in the air. This forces extreme power output from the ankle extensors and is biomechanically one of the best lower, lower body exercises for the vertical jump.
How Ankle Weights CAN Help Your Vertical Jump
If you use them for the purposes in which they were intended, ankle weights can actually be useful to you as an athlete. They probably won’t directly increase your vertical jump but can be used to strengthen certain jump-involved muscle groups.
A good way they can be used is to train the hip flexors. A really simple exercise is to stand on one foot and raise your opposite leg up toward your chest, to a point where you can comfortably hold it for a couple seconds.
This should be a relatively easy exercise for most people, which is why overloading with 10-30lb ankle weights can add a solid amount of resistance to make your sets more worthwhile.
Isometric holds like these are really where using ankle weights shine; basically the complete opposite of things like running and jumping.
Ankle weights make great additions to any bodyweight hip abductor movements and holds as well. Additionally, they work well for hanging leg raises when training your core.
One of the ways I used to use ankle weights was to just wrap them around my toes before doing my ankle dorsiflexion work. This is hitting the tibialis anterior or the muscles on the front of your shin, which is a crucial vertical jump muscle.
Ankle weights do have a place and can be used to effectively strengthen leg muscles, but they really have no place when it comes to vertical jump specific training.
They overload your joints in a hideously unnatural and awkward manner. The positioning of the load so low on the leg causes almost no biomechanical overload on the muscles involved in the vertical jump.
If you were planning on going out and buying some ankle weights in an attempt to improve your vertical jump, just don’t. You simply don’t need to be that creative with vertical jump training to get amazing results.
If you absolutely need to buy some piece of vertical jump training equipment, a weight vest is going to be a far better investment than a set of ankle weights, though neither are necessary.
Save your joints and say no to ankle weights!