Resistance Training for Strong Bones

Exercise is important to help improve and maintain healthy bones, as well as benefit your overall health. Follow these top tips and workout ideas to help build your bone strength. 

It’s not often you go to the gym thinking, “Today I’m going to do a workout for my bones” but guess what? Cranking out a good quality bone workout is probably one of the best things you can do for your health.

Exercise works on your bones much the same way it does on your muscles. That is, it makes them stronger.

Most people don’t realise that bones are made up of living tissue, basically a range of minerals, which the body is always breaking down and rebuilding again. This means they change in response to diet, lifestyle and the forces you place upon them. In other words, they adapt.

When you lose weight, you lose bone density too and when you perform the right kind of weight-bearing exercise and feed your body good quality food, your bones will build more cells and become more dense.

Dense bones mean less risk of fracture both when you’re young and into older age, so you’re able to be more consistent with your exercise, get better results and stay in your best shape possible, all while preventing crippling conditions like osteoporosis, where your bones become brittle and prone to breaking very easily.

If that’s not enough to convince you to get started, increasing bone density can also reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, including back pain, arthritis, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

So what should you be doing to make sure your bones - and body - stay strong?

The best exercises for your bones are the weight-bearing kind, which force you to work against gravity.

Start with walking or running, climbing stairs, skipping, or playing team sports. But when you’re ready to get serious about your program, resistance training is where it’s at for optimal bone health.

Don’t worry, launching into a strength training program doesn’t have to mean lifting huge weights and building a lot of muscle. It’s just about putting enough stress on your body to make your muscles engage and kick start bone building.

Try these bone-loving workout styles:

Bodyweight training – use your own body weight to perform resistance exercises, by adding movements like push-ups, squats, lunges, tricep dips, pull-ups and planks to your routine. Using a TRX suspension tool is a way of advancing your bodyweight moves once you’re confident.

Resistance bands – cheap and seriously effective, you can increase the effectiveness of just about any resistance exercise with a simple band and they’re perfect for both beginners and advanced exercisers. Wrapping your band around an attachment point, you can push and pull it to strengthen your chest, arms and back. Pop it under your feet and hold on to the ends to increase resistance for your squats, lunges and jumps. Wrap it around your ankles and perform leg pulses in multiple directions to increase glute engagement and strengthen your hips. The sky’s the limit!

Free weights – any weighted exercise tool that’s not attached to a machine could be considered a ‘free weight’. Think dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, ViPR and medicine balls. Use these to add resistance and difficulty to your exercise routine. The best approach with free weights is to stick to compound exercises that move multiple joints. Examples are squat-to-press, lunge-to-curl and plank-row.

Weight machines – stationary machines are a great place for beginners to start, as they’re predictable, safe and come with guided instructions for how to use them. As you get stronger, you can increase the weight progressively to slowly add difficulty to your workouts. The only downside to machines is that a lot of the exercises performed on them are done sitting, or lying down, which are both positions that don’t encourage bone to increase in density, so you get less bang for your buck. Once you’re confident, get on your feet and pick up those bands or free weights! Just make sure you ask a pro for help if you’re not sure how to use them.

How to get started
• Aim for 4-5 x 30-minute, load bearing workouts per week.
• Mix it up – you might do a few resistance workouts, plus a walk or run and a session on the stairs.
• Once your fitness picks up, aim for at least 30-minutes of exercises, 6 out of every 7 days.
• Make sure you leave time to recover. Your body needs time to adjust and that means rest! Over-training can have the opposite effect you want it to have on bone density, so make sure you schedule in a few “easy movement” days, like walking, swimming, or yoga, between resistance training days.

Nutrition considerations
• Eating a range of nutritious whole foods and keeping processed and fast food to a minimum is incredibly important.
• Vitamins C and D, as well as calcium and zinc, are all super important for bone health.
• Great options for your diet are seafood (particularly small, fatty fish like sardines and salmon, as well as oysters), fresh fruit and colourful vegetables, a little good quality dairy like greek yoghurt and a daily supergreens supplement (I love Nu-Zest Good Green Stuff, or Sunwarrior Ormus Supergreens)

Try this simple bone friendly workout – no equipment required!
• 20 Squats
• 15 Prone Rows
• 10 Lunges (per leg)
• 5 Push-ups
• 1-minute High Knees on the spot OR Skip Rope
• Hold Plank for a slow count of 10 seconds
• Repeat 3 times!

Fast facts
1. Your muscles are attached to your skeleton by tendons. When you workout with resistance, those tendons exert a harder pull on your bones, which signals them to slow down bone loss.
2. Younger people can build bone up until around age 30. After that, it’s a matter of keeping that peak bone mass as long as possible.
3. Bone loss is most rapid in a woman’s life in the few years before and after menopause, so it’s extra important that you get your strength sessions in around this time.
4. Swimming and cycling are not great for increasing bone density. They’re perfect for boosting cardio health though!
5. Yoga is amazing for flexibility, mobility and balance, but not as effective on bone density as resistance training. It’s the perfect recovery tool though and great for helping you create body awareness and mindfulness when you workout, so it gets a big thumbs up!

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