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How Did Ankle and Wrist Weights Become the Breakout Stars of Quarantine Workouts?

Photo: Courtest Bala/Alexander Kramer

Since gyms shut their doors at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and we moved our workouts to our living rooms, there’s been a run on exercise equipment from kettlebells to Pelotons. Perhaps most surprising, though, is the booming popularity of wrist and ankle weights. Considered, not too long ago, a better-off-forgotten ’80s exercise fad, these wearable Velcro accessories quickly became as hard to find as toilet paper and Purell.

Bala bangles — the soft-hued, bracelet-esque weights at the center of the phenomenon — started taking off even before social distancing became the norm. Max Kislevitz and Natalie Holloway, the husband-and-wife team behind Bala, had already reached $2 million in sales when they appeared on Shark Tank at the end of February, walking away with a $900,000 investment from Mark Cuban and Maria Sharapova. Since then, Bala’s minimalist weights have been popping up on my Instagram feed on the wrists and ankles of fitness influencers like yoga instructor Marie Grujicic and personal trainer Taylor Rae Almonte. Celebrities — like Lucy Hale, James Franco, and Bachelor winner Hannah Ann Sluss — were soon to follow, and the weights began selling out everywhere from Goop to Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. Kislevitz says that the “one-two punch” of the exposure from Shark Tank and the ensuing need for at-home workout gear led to a giant surge in demand that the start-up could barely keep up with. So far this year, they’ve made eight times as much from sales as they did in all of 2019.

Bala’s eye-catching styles, a far cry from their bulky Jazzercise-era counterparts, were designed with aesthetics in mind. “We’ve deliberately blurred the line between fashion and fitness,” says Kislevitz. He and Holloway knew ankle and wrist weights were a great way to add intensity to a yoga or pilates class, but in our world where we expect stylish workout wear, Kislevitz says existing ankle and wrist weights were “fashionably and functionally deficient.” The old style of neoprene weights with iron filling soaked up sweat, absorbing odor and sliding around uncomfortably. Bala bangles improve on the design by featuring easy-to-clean silicone-coated cast-iron bars and a stretchy, adjustable elastic band to fit snugly on all sizes.

Bala isn’t the only player in the game. For years, Tracy Anderson, known for training big names like Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham, has incorporated ankle weights in her “muscular structure” classes to add resistance in glute and leg exercises. With Anderson’s studios closed and clients taking online classes, her proprietary ankle weights have also become a hot ticket item, currently on back order until October. P.volve, a functional fitness and resistance workout that utilizes ankle weights, sells coral and mint styles that have been spotted on Kate Bosworth and Victoria’s Secret model Nadine Leopold.

While they’re sleek enough to wear even when you’re not exercising, do these ankle and wrist weights actually add anything to your workouts? Carena Winters, a doctor of exercise physiology and associate professor of kinesiology at Jacksonville University, says yes — as long as you use them correctly. She recommends adding the weights to strength-training exercises that target specific muscle groups — like wrist weights for bicep curls and rows, or ankle weights for leg lifts — but not wearing them while walking or running. “Adding weight to your extremities changes your mechanics and has a big impact on the way you move,” she says, explaining that this can lead to joint or muscle imbalances or injuries over time. Winters stresses the importance of proper instruction when using the weights. If in-person training sessions aren’t an option right now, check out streaming classes like the ones from P.volve that use them in moves targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs. “Ankle weights require these muscles to work harder to move the increased load against gravity, therefore increasing strength and overall energy expenditure,” says P.volve master instructor Maeve McEwen.

An actually nice-looking tool to boost your workouts, it’s likely that this new generation of weights will still be going strong even after gyms and boutique studios reopen.

Although Bala has caught up with the huge demand for weights following its Shark Tank appearance, you’ll want to act fast if you want a specific color like these “banana” yellow ones.

Ankle weights are a staple in P.volve’s at-home and in-studio low-impact resistance training classes. The 1.5- and three-pound weights come in Instagram-friendly sorbet shades.

If you want to work out like Gwyneth, try Tracy Anderson’s ankle weights, available in 1.5- and three-pound sizes. They’re currently on back order but should be in stock in October.

A favorite of both actress Busy Philipps and Strategist writer Dominique Pariso, Lekfit’s low-impact (but definitely intense) workout classes utilize ankle weights, as well as other props like rebounders, for lower body toning.

An early ankle-weight adopter, writer Diane Chang told us back in 2017 that these ankle weights were like “dumbbells for my butt.” After a few weeks of weighted jump squats and leg lifts she says, “I’ve noticed a firmer crease under my bum where there never used to be one.” Compared to ankle weights she’s tried before, Chang says the All Pro ones are “comfy around the ankle and don’t slide around.” These are adjustable, with the option to add up to 2.5 pounds of weight on each ankle in quarter-pound increments.

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Why Are Ankle Weights the Breakout Stars of Quarantine?