New research: Low-weight, high-repetition strength training builds bone
Here’s good news for those of us who avoid rigorous high load strength training – either due to risk of injury or personal preference. New research shows powerful bone-building benefits can also be obtained with low-load, high-repetition strength training.
To determine this, researchers compared the results of a 24 week strength training program for two groups – one using the Body Pump Program,™ a full body, low-load, high-repetition resistance training program using weights with the other group using a combination of Pilates and yoga exercises without weights.
At the end of the 24 weeks period those doing the low-load, high-repetition strength training increased their bone density (BMD) significantly, while those doing the core strengthening program didn’t increase bone density.
Gains in bone density in the low-load, high-repetition group
- 4% gain in arm BMD
- 8% gain in leg BMD
- 6% gain in pelvis BMD
- 4% gain in spinal BMD
As for gains in muscle strength, both groups experienced improvements in body mass composition and muscular strength, but the gains were greater in the low-load, high-repetition strength training group.
My take on the study results
Personally, I find a low-load, high-repetition system works well for me. And this approach fit right into the strength training program I was already doing at my local Y.
This well-designed study clearly shows that you can build bone density with a gentler form of strength training, but you must commit yourself to do 3 hours strength training per week and find time for 3 hours of aerobic exercise each week also. I know that this may sound like a lot, but remember, if you don’t change things up to keep challenging your bones and muscles, you won’t get results! Here are some of my exercises for osteoporosis to help you get started.
More details about the study’s strength training program
- All sessions were one hour
- First, participants did a three-week preparation program learning the proper form of each exercise.
- During the first 12 weeks of the full study participants did 2 strength training sessions per week and 3 bicycling aerobic sessions per week.
- During the second 12 weeks period there were 3 strength training sessions and 3 by bicycling sessions per week.
- Each session consisted of 8 loading exercises done with a load of only 20% of the individual’s 1 repetition maximum. (Traditional high-load strength training uses weights of 70-85% an individual’s 1 repetition maximum with only 6-12reps per set).
- Each of the low load exercises was done for 100 reps, thus the entire class involved some 800 repetitions with a low-weight load.
- Participants were asked to increase the weights in any particular exercise if the exercise did not feel hard enough by the end of the 4 to 5 minutes of repetitions.
- 8 exercises were done each session including squats, dead lifts, chest press, triceps variation, bicep curl, lunges, pushups and clean and press.
For further specifics on this type of low-load, high-repetition strength training program see the BODYPUMP Program™ info.
Petersen BA, Hastings B, Gottschall JS. Low load, high repetition resistance training program increases bone mineral density in untrained adults. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2017;57:70-6. DOI: 10.23736/S0022-4707.16.05697-8
I’m Dr. Susan E Brown. I am a clinical nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer and motivational speaker. Learn my time-tested 6 step natural approach to bone health in my online courses.