• The Blog of Physical Therapist and Dancer Tony Ingram

  • Over 100 Articles and Blog Posts on Science, Training, Injuries and Dancing

  • Dance and Injury Prevention Workshops

  • Tony Ingram in 'Practice' dance video by Bold Creative

  • e-books: Common Injuries and their Recovery Explained Simply

Subscribe to BBoyScience by RSS! Connect with BBoyScience on LinkedIn! Watch BBoyScience on YouTube! Circle BBoyScience on Google Plus! Like BBoyScience on Facebook! Follow BBoyScience on Twitter!

B-Boy Q&A: Should I practice with ankle weights?

Would my flares be better if I practiced with ankle weights on? hmm...

Last updated: Aug 27, 2012

Should we add weights to our ankles when we practice?

It makes sense at first: wear the ankle weights while practicing strengthen the right muscles, then you’ll do it with more speed and power when you take the weights off, making the move easier.

Seems pretty straight-forward. But does it really work that way?

Let’s check out some science!


Reviewing Research:

There isn’t much research in the world of dancing, and pretty much none on b-boying / b-girling in particular 1, 2. For this question, we’ll have to logically infer our conclusions from research on other sports.

Many powerful movements in dancing are rotational in nature, involving muscles throughout the whole body, including those that twist the torso (your “core” muscles).

Therefore, a good example to look at is baseball, because of the importance of bat swing velocity and pitching speed. They’ve also been trying “donuts” to improve their bat swings, which are weights placed at the end of a bat to add resistance (very similar to our idea of using ankle weights).

So how does the research look?

Yes – Strength is important:

Generally, baseball players with the highest bat swing velocities have the greater strength, power, and lean muscle mass. 3 For example, a players “three rep maximum” (3RM) on the bench press correlates well with their bat swing velocity. 4

Research confirms that general strength training is effective in improving bat swing velocity. 3 Therefore, work on getting stronger, especially if it’s early in your career. This shouldn’t be a surprise – strength training has been shown to improve sports performance in many sports. And no, strength training does not slow you down 5 – that’s a myth.

Furthermore, lateral (side-to-side) field tests correlate well with pitching speeds 6, so lateral and rotational exercises are important to include as well. 7

But beyond that, does training more specifically help? (like using weighted equipment)

Warming up skills with weights:

Research has consistently shown that warming up with weighted bats or “donuts” during a warm up does not help. Neither does warming up with a lighter weighted bat. Furthermore, using a weighted bat during warm up can actually decrease your bat swing speed! 8, 9, 10, 4

It seems that warming up this way actually causes you to change your specific swing mechanics, therefore throwing off your skills. Basically, you’re calibrating yourself incorrectly! Therefore, warm up with the weight you’re actually going to use.

Conclusion:
– Stay away from donuts. (just like in your diet)
– And probably ankle weights too. (at least during your warm-up)

Training skills with weights:

While warming up with weighted equipment seems to be useless, there is a little evidence that training skills with added weight might be beneficial. Altered weight bat swinging (+/- 12% standard bat weight) can improve swing speed in elite trained athletes. 3

However, the research is pretty limited, so it’s probably not much more effective than regular strength training and lots of specific sports practice (with a regular weight bat).

What about other sport skills?

Maybe these results are specific to baseball? It’s possible.

However, a recent review of the research on weighted-jump and weighted-sprint training made a similar conclusion – so far, it’s inconclusive. 11 Weighted jumping as a warm-up for jump height doesn’t seem to help either. 12

However, regular strength training does seem to help. 13

Starting to see a trend?


Why is this?

(Just my opinion here) – Strength training improves your muscles ability to produce more force. Force is part of the equation for power, and power is often what is needed in many sports. Therefore, improving muscle strength indirectly improves sports performance.

However, if you don’t have any coordination using your strength, then it’s pretty useless!

Power is just one part of the equation – speed, conditioning, and coordination are important factors too. Highly practiced and specific skill is probably the most important factor in elite sports performance. You can be just as strong as a baseball player, but without their years of experience, you probably aren’t going to throw a ball as fast as them (and let’s not forget how coordinated the aim has to be).

So, why wouldn’t practicing with weighted equipment help?
Aren’t you getting the best of both worlds?

  • Skill: If you add weight, you’re probably just throwing off your skills. You should always practice a skill exactly the way you need to perform it (such as in a competition) – and that isn’t with weights attached!
  • Strength: The amount of weight you can safely add to your ankles is pretty small. Two pound ankle weights are more likely to just put more stress on your ligaments than they are to improve muscle strength.

Therefore, you’re actually doing neither very well.


Conclusions / Recommendations

Being stronger is helpful for almost every sport. One of the best ways to improve strength is a simple weight training program, covering the basics. If you don’t have access to weights, you can try body-weight exercises instead. For the sports discussed above, I’d recommend including lateral (side-to-side), and rotational exercises as well. But remember, strength training should never throw off your specific skill training!

Practicing skills should be as specific as possible. If you’re a new baseball player, just practice speed and precision with a normal bat. If you’re a dancer, practice your moves wearing whatever you will when you perform, and focus on technique. Want to improve your kick strength? Kick harder! Practice hard, and practice often.

Research shows that practicing skills with added weight doesn’t seem to have any dramatically positive effects (and warming up this way seems to be bad).

However, there is some evidence that this type of training might be beneficial for elite athletes. So if you want to try this type of training, make sure you are only using the added weights when drilling movements you are already pretty good at (for safety, and probably won’t help moves you’re bad at). And be sure to practice just as much (if not more) without the weights, so that your skills re-calibrate to normal conditions.


Discuss!

I’m sure this post will spark some kind of debate about optimal training protocols for athletes. It would actually be a healthy, informative conversation. So by all means, if you have something to say, or have a question, comment below!

Share the love!

    12 Responses to B-Boy Q&A: Should I practice with ankle weights?

    1. Roberto TegRoc says:

      i use 5lbs ankle weights when i train and i also wear a 20 lbs weighted vest i have been training with it for the past 3 months and i have seen a very big change in speed and endurance.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        That’s great results Roberto. However, have you tried just doing some regular strength training to compare it to? Your results might not be typical either – perhaps it works for you, but it doesn’t mean it works for everyone. You might also just feel faster when you take the weights off, while not actually being any faster.

        I believe you probably did gain what you said, I’m just adding some food for thought. :)

        • Tony Ingram says:

          I mean, really, I think any way of strengthening will work. I just wonder if the risks of ankle weights (stress on the joints) is worth it.

          I think the weight vest idea is cool though. What moves do you practice with it?

          • Roberto TegRoc says:

            yeah i also do other weight training i separate my training days from my practice days usually do training on weekends and practice on weekdays. It does put some stress and i warm up and stretch before i put on the gear and try to limit my time using them. with the ankle weights i train my foot work by doing basic footwork drills and toprocks and also with the weighted vest i do toprocks and go downs. and what i mostly practice with the vest is turtle freezes and popping up from a turtle freeze or baby freeze to a headstand and up to a hand stand and back down. For more support i take glucosamine and cacium and vitamin d-3 to help support the bones and joints

            • Tony Ingram says:

              Sounds like you got a pretty good method there. At least you’re not doing crazy power with the gear on (I’m not sure how you could anyway). The freezes are a good idea. As you continue with these methods, keep me posted about your progression.

    2. Patrick says:

      I mostly agree with your conclusions. Especially for movements that would eventually lead to high precision actions such as throwing a ball or any other object. I don’t think it’s a good idea to train with weights in such conditions since you are getting your body used to a different training context. I mean, at the time of your performance you won’t have the weights on, that might create some sort of offset. I don’t know as much as you do about muscles(Haha), but I believe our muscles behave like a natural logarithm(ln). As you train your muscles eventually attain a limit(or should I say sustainable effort and do not feel a need to grow more than that).

      Although I would be very interested in training two intense months with weights on my ankles doing footwork to if I can, efficiently increase the speed of my steps.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Hey Patrick, good intuition. I think you’re right on about training methods and keeping it specific.

        Also, for muscle growth, you may also be right. Many fitness experts I’ve read and spoken with do believe there is a genetic potential for muscle growth in people. I’d also say it’s specific to the sport/activity. The top b-boys in the world are usually not that highly muscled, because they don’t need to be. Really this dance is all about relative strength – strength/body weight. You can go above that with weight lifting if you keep demanding heavier lifts of your body – it’ll get bigger than your “natural” amount of muscle (whatever that is). To get very far beyond this “genetic limit”, you probably need steroids. However, I do believe most people today can use a bit more muscle, so I usually promote strength training for its many benefits.

        I think if you’re going to try ankle weights, it would be for footwork drills like you said. I’m tempted to try it too, actually, but just moves I already have down pretty solid.

        • Patrick says:

          Yeah, I was thinking of doing six steps and other fundamental ones which I’ve done a thousand times with weights on. Before undertaking BBoying back when I was around 17(Boy I feel old) I did a lot of strength training and eventually went for endurance(Essentially increased the number of repetitions and lowered the weight) with more focus on stretching. I’ve received a lot of comments about my strength and why I can do a hundred hand stands before feeling a little worn out. I think I owe this to the sessions I spent building my body.

          It’s also interesting that you bring up the point of people lacking in the muscle department. I’ve seen some BBoy’s struggle after 1-2 dips or chin ups. I was a big fan of cross-fit a few years ago so that also helped.

          Sadly, with the schedule nowadays I entirely focus on breaking and stretching, if I incorporate a workout scheme I would probably be training 6 hours+ a day, a luxury most of us haven’t had since high school…

          Peace

          • Tony Ingram says:

            I don’t think bboys need (or should do) a long, comprehensive strength training program anyway (then it starts to look like a bodybuilding program) – just something once or twice a week that covers the fundamentals – probably 30 minutes total a week. I’m gonna write about it soon!
            Sounds like you are already pretty strong, so you might not have to worry about it as much.
            “I’ve seen some BBoy’s struggle after 1-2 dips or chin ups.” haha, yeah, I was talking about the general population needing more strength, but you’re right – a lot of bboys probably aren’t very strong either. They probably figure out their moves with good technique (which is fine) to overcome their lack of strength. I’d say most top level bboys have done some sort of strengthening though, even if it was just push-ups and things like that early in their career.

    3. I’m not really a Bboy, but I’m doing some research to help create an exercise program for Bboys and Bgirls. I just wanted to ask if putting small metal strips inside your kicks can increase the speed of V-leg air flares.

      Also, I would like to ask if you think that integrating Wing Chun Kung Fu training with basic training methods can increase speed and flexibility of breakers. I was lead to kung fu by reading Lilou’s wiki and it says there that he practiced Kung Fu before bboying, so I figured that strength training would not really help since Lilou has a very small frame.

      I really hope you can help me on this, since it’s quite hard to do research when you’re not a practitioner yourself.

      • Tony Ingram says:

        Hi Bboyresearcher,

        I’m not really sure why putting metal strips inside shoes would increase air-flare speed (plus, it sounds unsafe). I think just practicing faster kicks is probably the best way to achieve speed.

        Certainly Lilou probably benefitted from Kung Fu training before bboying, as it definitely conditioned him for the demands of the dance. But I don’t think it’s necessary for developing flexibility and speed. Rigorous stretching will develop flexibility, and intense training of technique with a focus on speed will develop speed.

        Strength training is beneficial for just about any sport, for any frame – and it does not slow you down, that’s a myth. Think about it: sprinters (the fastest athletes, period) strength train like crazy. Stronger muscles produce more force, which increases speed. Of course, it’s all about relative strength (per bodyweight), so I’m not suggesting bboys should start bodybuilding and get bulky. But strength train? Hell yes!

        I hope these answers helped, let me know when you get the program finished, I’d love to see it.

        Peace,

        Tony

    Leave a reply