How to Build Your Bag of Bones

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Articles, Thought of the Day

When I turned twenty I cared nothing about my bones.  I worried about the food I ate to stay lean and I worried about the exercises I did to look muscular and tone as well as improve my athletic performance.  I was not concerned at all with the structure that holds my body upright and allows it to be propelled through space.  Now, an active young man swiftly approaching my thirtieth birthday, with an occasional ache and pain, as well as being a personal trainer with an older population, I constantly worry about bone health.  However, when you watch fitness programs on TV, read health magazines and talk to trainers, rarely do they discuss bone mineralization or include exercise programming with bone density building in mind.

Many of you may have had a bone density scan; hopefully none of you have heard the words osteopenia or osteoporosis.  Both of these conditions refer to the loss of bone density, which heightens your chances of breaking a bone.  Osteoporosis is the more severe of the two.  Usually, when you get a bone density scan doctors are concerned with the hips, spine and femurs.  These are the largest bones and carry the most weight and when someone has a break in any of these bones it considerably constricts movement.  Therefore, one of the best things you can do to help build bone mass or limit the loss of bone mass is to perform exercises that focus on the hip, spine and femur.

However, many exercises that may be beneficial for building muscle or improving cardiovascular endurance may be ineffective at building bone mass. The exercises which are best at building bone mass are those that are weight bearing.  In order for a bone to begin the process of ossification, or building, it must first be stressed by a force one tenth of the force that is needed to break that bone.  Thus, many exercises performed on machines, such as a stationary bike or any typical weight machine is not weight bearing and subsequently is not nearly as effective as using free weights.

Another problem with using machines over free weights in this regard is that exercises on machines are not multi joint exercises.   Multi joint exercises are those that involve more than one joint to perform the movement and are superior to single joint exercises when it comes to fighting off osteopenia and osteoporosis.  Examples of multi joint exercises would be a squat, standing up and down out of a chair with a weight or pressing a weight overhead.  Unfortunately, most weight machines only stress a single joint.  So, this combined with the absence of weight bearing on bone during machine exercises really limits an individual from maximizing their ability to gain bone density during their workouts.  Those with low bone density should strive to incorporate multi joint weight bearing exercises into their exercise program.

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