Building strong bones is a big one. Experts recommend starting to do resistance exercises for bone health as young as possible, since our bones are constantly rebuilding themselves and physical activity stimulates their growth. Once women hit their mid-30s, they already begin to lose more bone density than they’re building. Which is why adding strength training to your fitness regimen becomes even more urgent.
Although walking is also shown to improve bone density, the best bone builders are strength-based exercises. "Resistance exercises, including classic strength training, rely on muscle contractions that tug on bones to stimulate them to bulk up," say the experts at Harvard Health.
That’s one of the reasons trainer Liz Hilliard took up strength training when she was in her 50s. Now 69, Hilliard says she feels stronger and healthier than she ever was in her 30s. Her signature Hilliard Method uses Pilates to build a solid core to support strength exercises for musculoskeletal health.
“When you age, there’s a hormonal change in the body, so we have to take up the slack,” Hilliard says.
But Hilliard doesn’t believe in toiling away for hours at the gym. Her favorite moves for bone health are all compound exercises, meaning they work more than one muscle group at a time. That means you’re supporting your bones and your body from your head to your toe—including your brain, since compound movements contain a mentally challenging component, too.
“Why not do a compound exercise that does a lot of things at one time?” Hilliard says. “We can drop down for five or 10 minutes and do short sets and get a lot of, I always say, ‘bang for your buck.’”
Hilliard’s three favorite bone-building moves are designed to work every muscle group in your body, from your legs to your core to your arms and shoulders and back. They can all be modified by dropping the weights or resistance bands, and just doing the moves with bodyweight—which we promise will still help you build muscle and work up a sweat.
3 compound resistance exercises for bone health
1. Plank rows
- Get in a plank position, but place a dumbbell in each hand, so the dumbbells are on the floor, not your wrists.
- Row one arm at a time, maintaining your plank position and keeping your hips level to the ground as you bring the dumbbell up to your ribs.
Alternate arms, doing three sets of 8 reps.
2. Iron Cross shoulder lifts with curtsy squat
- Place one foot in a resistance band, holding each end in either hand.
- Take the opposite leg back into a curtsy position as you bend your front knee, dropping into a curtsy squat.
- As you rise up, simultaneously lift the bands to shoulder height with arms straight out to the side in the shape of a T, working deep into the medial deltoid muscle.
Do eight to 10 reps on each side.
3. Bicep curl squat
- With eight- to 10-pound weights or a medium to heavy resistance band (hooked under your feet), stand with feet hip-distance apart.
- As you bend your knees, squat to knee level by pushing your bottom to the back of the room.
- Keeping your core engaged, come to stand, and simultaneously bend your arms into bicep curl.
Do three sets of eight to 10 squats each.
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