Increase Bone Density With Weightlifting Exercises

October 05, 2018

A woman performs barbell lifts
Increase bone density with weightlifting.

A woman performs barbell lifts.

Jonathan Thompson

As you age, your chances of developing osteoporosis — a condition in which bones begin to lose their density and therefore weaken — increases. Luckily, it is possible to increase bone density through the use of well-selected weightlifting exercises. Before really delving into the solution, it's important to thoroughly understand the problem. Why is osteoporosis such a concern? How can you effectively use weightlifting exercises to steadily increase bone density?

The Problem With Osteoporosis

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, someone experiences a bone fracture every three seconds as a result of osteoporosis. Your risk of experiencing this type of injury can as much as double from bone loss as small as 10 percent. When you think about the support and structure your skeletal system provides on a daily basis, this injury rate makes sense.

Each step you take applies impact forces roughly equal to 1.5 times your actual body weight according to Harvard Medical School. A weakness in one part of the body, such as your hips, can cause imbalances in your spine, shoulders and other areas, increasing your overall risk of injury. Fortunately, there are several weightlifting exercises you can do to slow the progression of osteoporosis.

The Role of Weightlifting

In the same way that your muscles steadily grow stronger through exercise, strength training has been shown to improve bone health. Essentially, by exposing your bones to controlled and gradual amounts of stress, your brain realizes that your bones must become more dense in order to properly fulfill their purpose. Just like any other exercise routine, though, your bone density boosting program must be properly designed.

In order to achieve results most efficiently, stick with compound exercises. These large movements challenge multiple musculoskeletal regions at once, both increasing the strength of those areas and improving your overall stability. Here are all of the lifts that will help you increase bone density:

  • Barbell Squats: Stand upright with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell across your shoulders. Slowly drop your hips back and bend your knees to lower your torso. Stop once your thighs are roughly parallel to the ground. Keep your core tight and your back straight throughout. With control, reverse the motion to return to your starting position.
  • Bent-over Rows: Stand upright with your hands at your sides, your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell on the ground in front of you. Bend your knees slightly and drop your hips back so that you can lean forward and grab the bar. Keep your back straight and roughly parallel to the ground throughout the exercise. Drawing your shoulder blades in toward your spine, bend your elbows and pull the bar to your chest. Slowly lower it to the ground.
  • Overhead Press: Sit on a chair or bench with a barbell resting across your shoulders. Keep your core tight and your back straight. Hold the barbell with your palms facing away from you. Draw your shoulder blades together and straighten your elbows to press the bar upward. Slowly lower the weight to return to the starting position.
  • Bench Press: Lie on a bench with a barbell positioned above you on the rack. Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you and your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your elbows and lower the bar toward your chest. Stop when your upper arms are jut about parallel with the floor. Straighten your arms to press the weight back up and into the starting position.

Building Your Routine

To effectively increase bone density, perform these exercises two or three time each week. Choose a weight that will allow you to perform no more than 8 to 10 repetitions per set. Perform 3 sets for each movement and rest 120 seconds between each set. As you progress and grow stronger, gradually add more weight from week to week.

While the above recommendations are well-proven to increase both muscular strength and bone density, they may be difficult for new exercisers — or those recovering from an injury — to follow. Fortunately, the Berkley University of California Wellness center reports that similar results can also be achieved with low weights and high rep counts. Keep in mind, however, that the research used very high rep ranges — reaching around 100 reps per exercise.

However you choose to go about it, the fact remains that regular weightlifting can increase bone density and is an effective way to improve your overall health and mobility.

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