9 Best Strength Exercises for Better Bone Health
Bone health is one of the most undervalued components of healthy aging. Fortunately, one of the best ways to support healthy bones is through exercise. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), strength training exercises force muscles to do more work and gain strength. These exercises also stress your bones, making them more dense and robust. Additionally, strong bones are essential for maintaining an active and independent lifestyle as you age. That's why, today, we're breaking down some of the best strength exercises for your bones.
To find out which exercises are most effective for boosting your bone health, we connected with Michael Masi, CPT, a certified personal trainer at Garage Gym Reviews, who reveals the nine best bone-strengthening exercises. So, if you're ready to invest in your bone health, keep reading. We'll guide you through each exercise and explain why they work to support healthy bones. Then, check out The #1 Daily Workout To Prevent Muscle Loss.
Squats are a fantastic lower-body strengthening exercise. They also put your spine and hips to work, which is excellent for bone density.
"Squats target the core and lower body, putting stress on the bones of the hips, spine, and legs," says Masi. "This stress, when applied safely and progressively, stimulates the bones to increase in density, enhancing their strength and durability. Furthermore, you can load squats by adding a barbell to the back, which distributes increased stress at the spine to the upper back, promoting increased area of stimulus effect for increasing bone density."
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your body by bending your knees and hips, keeping your back straight. Go as low as your mobility allows or until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to return to the starting position. Aim for four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Lunges target your legs and glutes while encouraging balance, a crucial aspect of bone health.
"Like squats, lunges are a weight-bearing exercise that places demand on the leg and hip bones, encouraging them to become stronger," says Masi. "However, unlike squats, because the lunge requires one leg to be off the ground for a portion of each repetition, a large stimulus is placed through the leg remaining on the ground, versus being distributed across both legs."
Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. Step one foot forward, and lower your body until both knees form 90-degree angles. Your back knee should hover just above the ground. Push off your front foot to return to the starting position, and switch legs. Perform four sets of 12 to 15 reps per leg.
Deadlifts may sound intimidating, but they're one of the most effective exercises for overall strength and bone health.
"Deadlifts apply tension to the entire skeleton, particularly the hips, leg bones, and entire spine from the lower back up toward the shoulders. This tension signals the bones to reinforce themselves against these loads," explains Masi.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell or two dumbbells in front of you. Lower the weight by bending at your hips and knees while keeping your back straight. Go as low as your flexibility allows, keeping the weights close to your body. Straighten your hips and knees to return to a standing position. Shoot for four sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Overhead presses engage your shoulders, arms, and upper back, promoting stability and strength in your spine—a crucial combo for strong bones.
"Overhead pressing exercises exert stress on the bones of the arms, shoulders, and spine, prompting these bones to augment their density. If performed while standing, they can also promote increased bone density of the thigh and lower leg bones," says Masi.
Stand or sit with a dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent at 90 degrees. Press the weights overhead until your arms are fully extended. Lower the weights back to shoulder height to complete one rep. Do four sets of 10 to 12 reps.
This classic chest exercise isn't just for building your pecs; it also engages your wrists, forearms, and shoulders. Plus, the weight-bearing aspect is excellent for bone density in your upper body.
"Pushups are a weight-bearing exercise for the upper body, particularly beneficial for the bones in the arms, shoulders, and wrists," says Masi. "Adding a weighted vest or a band around the body is an excellent way to increase the exercise resistance to increase further the load tolerated by the upper body muscles and bones."
Begin in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Lower your body by bending your elbows and keeping your back straight. Go as low as possible, then push back up to the starting position. Aim for three to four sets of as many reps as possible.
Think of plyometrics as bone-boosting cardio. Jumping exercises like box jumps and burpees put a healthy amount of stress on your bones, encouraging them to adapt and become more robust.
"The impact from jumping exercises produces a ground reaction force that's larger than you would typically experience from your normal activities of daily living," explains Masi. "This force is a stress that your bones will respond to by increasing in density so long as it is introduced gradually and progressively."
Plyometrics include exercises like box jumps or squat jumps. For box jumps, stand in front of a sturdy box or platform. Bend your knees and hips, then explode upward, landing softly on the box. Step back down and repeat for 12 to 15 reps across three to four sets.
Your hips play a significant role in overall mobility and balance. Hip thrusts sculpt your glutes and strengthen the bones around your hips and lower spine.
"Hip thrusts target the hips and lower back, common sites of osteoporotic fractures. Strengthening these muscles is crucial for mitigating fracture risk," says Masi.
Sit with your upper back against a bench, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Hold a barbell or a weighted plate across your hips. Push your hips toward the ceiling until your thighs and upper body form a straight line. Lower your hips back down and repeat for four sets of 15 to 20 reps.
If you're up for a challenge, try handstand pushups with the expert guidance of a personal trainer. This advanced exercise engages your shoulders, arms, and core while promoting bone strength in your upper body.
"Weight-bearing exercises are excellent for improving bone density, so when targeting the bones of the upper body, handstand pushups are a fantastic choice," says Masi. "Unfortunately, this is a rather advanced exercise. But it can be scaled by adding a kipping motion to aid the concentric phase of the rep, or can be performed in a pike position with feet on a bench to unload some of your body weight."
Begin in a handstand position against a wall or using parallel bars. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your head touches the ground. Push back up to complete one repetition. Perform three or four sets of as many reps as possible.
Farmer's walks engage your entire body, especially your grip strength, which can help keep your hands and wrists in excellent bone-health shape.
Masi tells us, "Carrying heavy weights for time or distance loads the entire skeletal system, promoting overall bone health. Due to the load being placed through the shoulders, this exercise influences most of the spine."
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. Walk for a set distance or time while maintaining good posture and a firm grip. This exercise strengthens your grip and engages your entire body. Do three or four sets of walking 50 meters or 30 to 60 seconds.