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 favorite ideas 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.
Inflammation is one of Mother Nature’s powerful double-edged swords: We need it to clear way damaged tissue, but excessive and uncontrolled inflammation brings unwanted destruction. Ongoing inflammation lies at the root of osteopenia and osteoporosis. It’s been known for years that individuals with higher inflammatory markers (like C-reactive protein) exhibit lower bone density and fracture more often.
New research looking at anti-inflammatory dietary components has found the adage that “food is medicine” is true when it comes to protecting bone from the ravages of inflammation. Ohio State University researchers recently reviewed data from over 160,000 women, mean age of 63, collected over 6 years. They found that:
- Women whose diet ranked highest in anti-inflammatory food components lost significantly less bone density as they aged than those with high intake of pro-inflammatory foods (even if they had lower bone density at baseline).
- Higher intake of anti-inflammatory food groups was associated with an almost 50% reduction in hip fracture risk among the subset of Caucasian women younger than 63.
How do I change my eating habits to get these benefits?
I know what your next question will be: How do I change my eating habits to get these benefits? The simplest way to start is to look for anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet (see below), and think about ways to eliminate pro-inflammatory foods (below) from your regular diet. My Alkaline for Life diet is helpful in this regard, since most of the foods it recommends are anti-inflammatory.
Using a weighted vest long term is just as effective as drug therapy in building bone mass, according to research reports. And based on my personal experience I can tell you that with regular use you will enjoy better balance, experience less falls and build both full body strength and bone strength.
With these amazing results, a lot of you have more questions about how the vest works, what you need to do and if it is safe for you to try. Here are answers to the top questions I receive about wearing a weighted vest:
Q: Will a weight vest really help me build bone?
A: Several clinical studies demonstrate how the regular use of the weight vest helps to build bone density by adding extra weight and a greater impact to your steps. This is especially critical for thin women, who have less of a weight-bearing effect to their bones when they walk.
As you use the vest over time, you’ll note you are building muscle strength. Remember, studies show you that as you build muscle you also build bone.
Q: How often should I use the vest?
A: It’s best to use the vest daily or at least every other day. The most bone-strengthening benefits are seen with regular, long-term use over the years.
Personally, I’ve worked up to putting 19 pounds in my vest — and I really like to wear the vest when I walk my dog. Each time the dog stops to smell a mail box, I do a few small hops giving additional impact to the hip.
Q: How much time should I wear the vest?
For most healthy individuals the answer is the longer time you have it on the better. Various studies used the vest for at least 1 hour, 3 times a week. Remember, it is important to build up strength and work up slowly on the weights. And, take the vest off when you find yourself getting fatigued.
Q: How much weight do I start with?
A: You should start with 1-2 pounds of weight. The vest itself weighs 1 pound, so a gentle start is to add 1 extra pound (which equals 2 of the flexible weight packets) to get started. You’re working toward a goal of loading the vest with 10% of your body. For example, a woman who weighs 100 pounds would work up to 10 pounds in the vest.
Q: What is the maximum amount of weight I can use in the vest?
A: The vest has pockets to hold 18 pounds of flex-weights, plus the vest itself which weighs 1 pound.
Q: How do I put the weights in the vest?
A: The unique soft flex metal weights are very easy to manipulate in and out of the pockets on the vest. They are even easy to use for anyone with arthritis.
Q: What activities can I do in this vest?
A: Most all activities! It is great to wear the vest while doing a wide range of activities — from walking to housework to strength training, Pilates and yoga. Wearing the vest is a great way to accomplish more during your exercise time.
Q: Can I jog while wearing this vest?
A: Yes, if you like to jog and jogging with the vest is comfortable this is a great way to get extra bone-building impact with each step. This particularly strengthens the hip.
Q: Does the vest adjust to fit my size?
A: This vest is fully adjustable and fits most everyone from very petite women to larger-boned women. It adjusts on the shoulder for women who are short in the torso or for those who are tall (from under 24 inches to over 50 inches). In addition this vest adjusts around the waist for a snug fit. This high quality Women’s Zipper Front Vest™ can quickly be adjusted to fit women from below 5 feet to over 6 feet tall.
Q: What is the vest made of?
A: The outer shell is nylon with a knitted nylon stretch neoprene chest. The vest has soft double stitched bound edges with Lycra and neoprene stretch pockets for the weights. There is comfortable padding in shoulders with the back and waist shoulder adjustments.
Q: Is the vest washable?
A: The Women’s Zipper Front Vest™ can be hand washed with the weights inside or machine washed with the weights removed.
Q: Where can I get additional weights?
A: Extra flex-weights are available here.
Q: Will the extra flex-metal weights from my existing vest also work with this vest?
A: Yes, you can add other weights you have as long as they fit into the pockets.
Q: I have pain issues. Can I use this vest?
A: This really depends on the sort of pain you have. You should always check with your physician or physical therapist before beginning any exercise regimen if you have pain. Take special care to seek professional advice before using the vest if you have any sort of back pain.
Q: What if I don’t like, or can’t use, this vest after I buy it?
A: You can try the vest for two weeks from that date of delivery. If in that time you decide it is not for you we will refund you for the cost of the vest.
Q: Do I need my doctor’s permission to use this vest?
A: The vest is very safe because you totally control the amount of weight you put in it. By itself, or with say one weight in it, it is like wearing a jacket. If course, if you have a special health concern, or a back issue, it is wise to discuss the use of this vest with your doctor.
You can learn more about my weight vest here.
Jessup, J et al., 2003, Effects of exercise on bone density, balance, and self-efficacy in older women, Biol Res Nurs 2003, 4:171-180.
Snow, C et al., “Long Term Exercise Using Weighted Vests Prevents Hip Bone Loss in Postmenopausal Women”, Jr of Gerontology: Medical Sciences 2000, Vol. 55A, No. 9, M489-M491.
Snow, C, Marcus, R et al., 1991. “Exercise, Bone Mineral Density, and Osteoporosis”, Jr of Exercise and Sport Sciences 1991, Vol. 19:351-388.