How to Build Stronger Bones with Impact Exercise

Just about everyone knows exercise is important for preventing and treating osteoporosis.  But do you know which types of exercises are safe?  Which exercises actually build bone density? Have you heard of impact exercise?  Impact exercises generate a mechanical load on your bone through ground reaction forces. The force from the ground stimulates bone growth. Examples are step-ups, dancing, and various hopping exercises.  If you are not already doing impact exercises, you should start.  This article teaches you how.

Bone best responds to mechanical stimuli applied either through impact with a surface, like the ground or through muscle contractions.  Walking is not an adequate stimulus to develop bone because the impact forces with the ground are low.  Also, walking requires only low-force muscle contractions that are inadequate to trigger bone changes.

Impact Exercises Proven to Increase Bone Density and Function

A 2021 study through the International Osteoporosis Foundation looked at changes in bone density and physical function following home-based impact exercise.  Fifty postmenopausal women with low bone density performed daily single-leg hopping exercises for 4 months.

After the study, no participants reported injuries related to the exercise program.  Significant improvements in hip and lower leg bone density were observed after only 4 months, ranging from 1% to 3%.  Also, chair stand and stair climb times improved significantly after the exercise program.  Sustaining such an exercise program for longer would likely lead to even greater improvements.

Before You Get Started with Impact Exercises    

We do not recommend everyone begin with high-intensity jumping exercises.  Before starting impact exercises it is important you have a strong base of strength.  This base is developed through foundational weight-bearing exercises like the squat, lunge, and deadlift.  Also walking with a weighted vest and performing spine strengthening exercises are great ways to prepare your body for impact exercises.  We recommend you perform these types of exercises for 6 to 8 weeks before starting impact exercises.  If you are unsure, always speak with your doctor first.

4 Simple Impact Exercises to Build Bone

Step-ups are a great way to start training with impact exercises.  Be sure to add weight in the form of hand weights or a backpack.  Shoot for at least 10% of your body weight as a starting load.  This is needed to create the ground reaction and muscles forces necessary to stimulate bone changes. Perform 3 to 5 short sets (4-8 repetitions) with increasing loads (10% to 30% of your body weight).  For an additional stimulus make the step higher.

Jumping jacks are done in your home or just about anywhere.  Start with your body weight but over time add weight using a backpack or vest.  Also, this is not meant to be an aerobic exercise.  Keep the repetitions intense and the sets short (only 5 to 10 repetitions).  Repeated (3 to 5 sets) bursts of loading are best to stimulate the bone.

Ankle hops in place introduce your body to a little more impact.  This creates greater ground reaction forces than the step-up.  You really want to push hard into the ground or floor.  Do this exercise in front of a chair or counter just in case you become unbalanced.  The first few sessions may lead to muscles soreness in your calf.  This will resolve after a few days.  Do 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions daily.  To increase the stimulus, add a backpack, weighted vest, or hold hand weights.

Overhead medicine ball slams incorporate many muscles throughout your body.  When you attempt to slam the ball really hard it actually causes you to jump a bit from the ground.  The strong muscle contractions and force through the ground are ideal for bone building.  Do 3 to 5 sets of 4 to 5 repetitions daily.  Start with a light-weight ball (around 2 pounds) but progress up to 8 or 10 pounds with practice.  For safety, stand near a wall or chair just in case you become unbalanced.

Your Physical Therapist Will Help You Develop the Best Exercise Program

Spend a good 6 to 8 weeks getting stronger with the strength training exercises we recommend.  Then start to add in these 4 impact exercises.  Combining weight-bearing strength training with impact exercises is your best medicine for osteoporosis.

Many people we work with prefer to get started with the help of their physical therapist.  Your therapist will guide and hold you accountable along the way.  Contact us for help developing the program that is best for your abilities and goals.


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