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Heavy strength training increases bone mass in osteoporosis sufferers

Post-menopausal women who suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia [the precursor to osteoporosis] can stop bone density decline and even reverse the trend by doing weight training. They have to do heavy training using weights with which they can only manage 3-5 reps. Researchers at Norwegian University of Science and Technology write about the matter soon in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

You could fill an entire library with scientific literature on ways to stop osteoporosis. But the tenor of the literature is disappointing. Nutrition, supplements and training can delay the rate at which osteoporosis develops in women who no longer synthesise estradiol, but they can't reverse the phenomenon itself. Bone mass that has disappeared cannot be restored. For more on natural methods of bone strengthening click here.

Heavy strength training increases bone mass in osteoporosis sufferers
Pharmacological substances can help to increase bone mass. But the problem with pharmacologically grown bone mass is that the new mass isn't as strong as natural bone tissue, and you can only use substances like this for a limited amount of time.

Against this background, the Norwegian study is extremely interesting. If the Norwegians had achieved the same results with a bigger study they would have been able to publish in The Lancet, and would have received widespread media coverage.

The Norwegians got eight women who had been post menopausal for at least two years and were suffering from osteoporosis to train for 12 weeks on a hack-squat machine. Three times a week the women did a short but intensive workout. They warmed up with two sets of 8-12 reps with half of the weight they used for their to failure sets. For the working sets they did: 4 sets of 3-5 reps with 85-90 percent of the weight at which they could just manage 1 rep.

A control group of eight women didn't train.

At the end of the 12 weeks the maximal strength [1RM] of the women in the experimental group had almost doubled, the figure below shows.

The rate of force development [RFD] - the speed - had also increased.

Heavy strength training increases bone mass in osteoporosis sufferers

The bone mass [MBC] in the lower vertebrae [Lumbar spine] of the experimental group increased, as the figure above and the table below show. The researchers also observed the same trend in the neck of the thighbone [femoral neck].

Heavy strength training increases bone mass in osteoporosis sufferers

The subjects in the control group and in the experimental group took a supplement containing calcium. The dose taken is not reported in the study.

So it appears that strength training is even more effective in combatting osteoporosis than we already thought. But the researchers are not convinced that the heavy weight training they studied is suitable for all patients.

"It should be noted that our findings may not translate to patients with more severe osteoporosis than the participants in the present study", they write. "Since these patients are more prone to experience fractures, caution must be taken when giving recommendations concerning exercise."

J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jan 2. [Epub ahead of print].

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