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Resistance Exercises to Improve Bone Density in the Spine

by Kelly Spivey

About Kelly Spivey

Kelly Spivey began writing for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2007. She authored chapters in the "ACE Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist Manual" and "ACE Personal Trainer Manual." Spivey holds a Doctor of Naturology from the American Institute of Holistic Theology and a Master of Sport Science in fitness management from the U.S. Sports Academy.


More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 34 million are at risk, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Physical activity, which is an important factor in the prevention of osteoporosis, can keep your from contributing to these statistics. Resistance training, for instance, requires muscle to pull on your bones. The stress and strain that occurs improves bone density and reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Additionally, you get rewarded with a toned, strong physique.

Intensity Matters

Many health conditions improve with mild to moderate levels of physical activity but increasing bone density requires significant effort. Light to moderate weight training activities are recommended to start, but the goal is use the heaviest weight possible. For premenopausal women with no history of osteoporosis, the American Council on Exercise suggests setting the resistance high, enabling completion of eight repetitions or less. Perform two sets of each exercise. As your body gets accustomed to the exercises, you can perform the first set as usual, add more resistance, then perform another set, trying to achieve another four to six repetitions. Wearing a weighted vest will provide further benefits. Weighted vest loads of 7 to 15 percent of your body weight provide an effective way to load the skeleton during strength training activities, especially when standing.

Incorporate Machines or Cable Systems

Dynamic movement patterns provide more benefit than static exercise. For example, a pushup is more beneficial than a plank. In the weight room, the seated row, lat pull down and rear deltoid fly machines all target the muscles of the mid- and upper back. If you use these machines without relying on the seat for support, you can further challenge the spine and torso. Dips and pullups are also beneficial for strengthening the mid- and upper back; a weight-assisted machine can help if you have trouble performing multiple repetitions. It is also important to stress the spine in different directions, challenging it beyond typical daily activities. A standing cable rotation is a dynamic exercise for the spine. Then add cross-diagonal movement patterns with "wood chops" -- reaching from high to low -- and "hay bailers" -- reaching from low to high.

Whole Body Training

According to the American Council on Exercise, skeletal bones require forces greater than or equal to six times your body weight. Lower extremity plyometric activities that require jumping, hopping and bounding also increase bone density of the spine. Incorporating whole body exercise training is a good way to improve spinal strength but can also positively impact balance, stability and enhance caloric burn. Once you've built a fitness base, try to incorporate any or all of these exercises into your routine: overhead medicine ball slam or overhead medicine ball throw, medicine ball lunge to chest press, lunge with overhead press, mountain climbers or spider walks.

Change is Gradual

It takes six months or more to realize noticeable changes in bone density. It is also important to stay with it; gains in bone density will not be maintained without constant attention. Weight-bearing exercise, combined with high-intensity resistance training, not only increases bone density but also decreases fracture risk. Calcium and vitamin D intake have also been shown to have a synergistic effect with exercise. Discuss any supplementation with your doctor.

Exercise Precautions

Using heavy weights is optimal for building strength in muscles and bones but can cause problems for your joints. If any exercise causes joint pain or swelling, modify your exercise or reduce the amount of weight. Those at risk of spinal fracture should avoid twisting exercises or forward bending. If you have osteoporosis or are postmenopausal and haven't had a bone scan, discuss your exercise options with a health care provider. Your doctor may recommend a modified exercise program, supervised by a physical therapist or rehab specialist.

References (2)

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.