Building Stronger Bones Safely
Updated: Jan 18, 2022
Let's be honest, when we hit the gym, most of us are not thinking about bone health or building bone mass and bone density. It’s more likely we are thinking about looking "so-fabulous" in our skinny jeans.
But strength training isn't just for the young, and building strong bones isn't just for your grandma.
Osteoporosis is a Lifelong Lifestyle Disease
Osteopenia and osteoporosis happen long before the diagnosis. They result from a sedentary lifestyle, a standard American diet (heavy on processed foods and acidic), stress, chronic illness, and other factors. Osteoporosis doesn't just happen overnight.
Starting in our 30's, the average American woman slowly begins to lose bone mass. The most significant bone loss occurs in the few years following menopause. That's why attention to bone health is essential at any age.
Build Back Bone Through Strength Training
Strength training doesn't just boost our metabolism, build a toned physique and muscle; it also ramps up the body's bone-building mechanism. According to Ken Hutchinson, pioneer of slow-motion strength training and researcher on the Nautilus Osteoporosis Study, slow-motion strength training builds up to 1% bone density a month.
How Strength Training Builds Muscle
When your muscles resist the force of weight and hit the point of fatigue, several processes occur in the body. The first is that the muscles contract, tugging on the bones where the muscles attach. Tiny micro tears occur in the muscles. During the recovery period following the workout, the body responds by activating growth hormone, repairing and building muscles, making them more powerful, and releasing osteoblasts, which are are the body's bone builders.
The more intense the workout, the more significant will be the bone-building stimulus.
Slow Motion Strength Training is the Safest Method to Build Bone Mass
In 1982, Ken Hutchins and a team of researchers pioneered the Nautilus Osteoporosis Project. This study proved whether strength training could reverse osteoporosis in patients with severe bone loss. What they found was counter-intuitive. Low weights and high reps increased the risk of injury to the participants with such brittle bones. Even with low weights, the velocity of the exercise increased the force produced on the bones, which increased the risk of injury.
The Power of Ten Seconds
The question for the researchers was how to keep the exercise regimen safe. The answer came in slowing down the velocity to 10 seconds on the positive and negative phases of the exercise. This cadence is 5x slower than traditional weight lifting. Hutchins targeted this slow pace while using a high enough weight to stimulate growth hormone.
The results were again unexpected. A slower pace with high weights produced a deep metabolic response in skeletal muscle and significantly increased bone density. Slow-motion strength training was an effective method of building bone density in elderly subjects.
Build Bones Fast by Going Super Slow
Lifting weights slowly eliminates momentum, and the muscles do more work. It's safer for the joints and bones, and the higher weights with fewer reps stimulate bone growth.
When you train your muscles to capacity, all of the other systems in the body need to respond. This includes muscle and bones and the immune system, lipid profiles, and mental health.
Super Slow Saves Time
By taking the momentum out of the equation, the muscles work harder. Think about it this way; you can either train hard or train long. You can't do both. Consider a sprinter. An athlete can sprint the 400-meter dash but cannot sprint a mile. Slow Motion Strength Training is the high-intensity resistance training version of the 400-meter sprint.
Strength Training Twice a Week for Stronger Bones
You can achieve stronger bones in just two 30 minute workouts a week. Strong bones are fundamental to our overall health.
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Your future self thanks you!
Hutchins, K. (1992). Super slow: The ultimate exercise protocol. Media Support by Ken Hutchins.
Jaquish, J. (2013).Multiple-of-bodyweight axial bone loading using novel exercise intervention with and without bisphosphonate use for osteogenic adaptation Osteoporosis International. 198; 24(4), s594-s595.