Strengthen your bones and prevent fractures by doing heavy weight training and playing “power sports” that involve jumping. Bone needs to be built at a young age and then maintained into old age to avoid fractures. Even though osteoporosis is much more prevalent in women, fracture rates are very similar between the sexes.
Research shows there are a few very effective ways to build bone: plyometrics, doing loaded jumps, and lifting heavy weights will significantly increase bone mineral density. Using walking or running for your primary mode of exercise is discouraged because, although they are weight bearing, they have little affect on bone development and both lead to muscle loss over the long-term. Non-weight bearing activities like swimming and cycling should absolutely be avoided by older people and anyone interested in building bone since they are linked to fairly significant bone loss.
Two recent studies show how to train for bone strength. First, researchers tested ground reaction forces (GRF) and rate of force development (RFD), which indicate osteogenic or “bone building potential” for the following exercises: A back squat with a load of 88 percent of the 1 RM, a jump squat with a 30 percent of the 1RM load, a depth jump, running, and walking.
Results showed that the depth jump, squat, and jump squat all produced significant GRF and RFD, making them superior exercises for strengthening bones. The GRF indicates the strain magnitude and RFD indicate the magnitude of loading, both of which have been found to correlate with bone development. Jogging and walking had minimal GRF and RFD, and researchers write they are not “likely to be effective osteogenic stimuli.“
A second study by the same research group tested GRF with three loads in a half squat. The loads tested were 80 percent, 100 percent, and 120 percent of the 1RM for the parallel squat—naturally, participants could squat more than their maximal amount when they only did a partial squat. Bone building may be the one and only time for which partial squats are favored over deep squats!
Results showed that the supramaximal load of 120 percent of the 1RM produced a 13 percent greater GRF and RFD than the 80 percent load, and a 9 percent greater GRF than the 100 percent load. Researchers conclude that best bone building results will come from doing a periodized training program with full-range of motion lifts for strength and hypertrophy, and to include wave-like cycles of supramaximal lifting with partials. In order to be able to lift super heavy loads, base levels of strength and muscle development are necessary, as is impeccable exercise technique.
Avoid non-weight bearing activities in favor of weight bearing ones. Also, favor activities and sports that load the body with weight (strength training, wearing a weight vest) and involve jumping. For individuals with arthritis or joint pain, weight training should be the primary exercise mode with the goal being to eventually include heavier load training cycles.
Ebben, W., et al. Magnitude and Rate of Mechanical Loading of a Variety of Exercise Modes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010. 24(1), 213-217.
Ebben, W., et al. The Optimal Back Squat Load for Potential Osteogenesis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010. 26(5), 1232-1237.