Bone responds to certain levels of physical strain in a really interesting way — it gets stronger.
Any type of strain on bone that applies enough impact or compressive pressure to stimulate new bone growth is called “osteogenic loading.” Our wise body constantly monitors strain, and in the brief moment of impact, when strain is enough to slightly stretch, bend or compress the bone matrix, this impact sends a warning message: high loads are coming, and the bones should grow stronger to carry them. This signal tells the bone-building osteoblast cells to increase their minerals uptake and build bone —which is why we emphasize the importance of having those minerals in your diet or using a well-constructed multivitamin like our Better Bones Builder.
Even when just standing upright, the simple act of resisting gravity puts a load on bone, but this is a one that our body is well adapted to. To build stronger bones, a much higher load — that is, greater compression and bending — is needed to encourage our bodies to spend the necessary energy and resources.
The load put on bone can be measured in terms of multiples of body weight. The higher the load, the better able the activity is to stimulate bone growth. Calculations of multiples of body weight look like this for common physical activities:
Swimming: 0 (Your load is actually lessened in water.)
Brisk walking : 1–2
Power jumping: 4+
Resistance, strength training: 4 to 10 (Depending on impact.)
Safe impact training programs for osteogenic loading
Most physical activity loads bone to a degree, but for strong osteogenic stimulation, the load needs to reach around 4 times body weight.
At these higher multiples of body weight, however, safety becomes an issue. Any bone will succumb to fracture under loads that exceed its capacity. When training with high multiples of body weight, professional guidance is mandatory.
Simple ways to increase your osteogenic load
- If you have a desk job, stand frequently and walk, or stomp/skip around every hour.
- Walk more, walk faster, jog if you can.
- Practice stepping down stairs with a thud, or walk downhill.
- Do 100 heel drops.
- Turn up the music and kick up your heels in dance.
- Practice jump rope or 1- or 2-legged hopping or jumping, if your knees permit.
- Begin a strength training program, even in a moderate one. Many studies report a gain of both bone and muscle mass with regular resistance training done just twice a week.
I have seen uncounted clients gain significant bone density doing our full Better Bones, Better Program while amplifying our exercise component with serious strength training. We are now documenting a variety of successful exercise programs and will be detailing them to you in this weekly blog and on our new Exercise Evolution Channel. Not everyone is suited to lifting heavy weights, but everyone can and should work to increase muscle mass and bone strength.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004.
Jaquish J, Singh R, Hynote E, Conviser J. Osteogenic Loading: A New Modality to Facilitate Bone density Development. A: Jaquish Industrial Research, LLC, 2017.
Westcott W. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports July/August 2012;11:4P209216.
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.