This is part 2 of the blog on Bone Health and Cycling.
READ THE PREVIOUS POST HERE.
The following section is especially important for those who cycle as their main force of exercise to stay on top of their strength training. However, ANYONE concerned about improving or maintaining bone strength will gain much from the following information.
Put Forces on your Bones to Make Them Stronger
Don’t be afraid to lift relatively heavy weights , and add some plyometrics and impact training into your program. Some examples of these things might be jumping rope or any kind of jumping or, even punching a bag for fun to provide some impact for your upper body. Adding these things to your program AFTER developing a foundation will ensure that you are ready for the higher forces that these often place on the body. Strength training results in your body’s ability to actually increase the amount of muscle fibers that are fired when asked to, as well as how fast they are able to fire. Both of these things result in the muscle being capable of producing more force, which in turn, means more forces exerted upon the bones to which they are attached.
In addition to providing greater forces to stimulate bone growth, strength training also reduces risk factors that result in broken bones by increasing muscle mass and improving balance. This is especially important in older populations at any activity level. If you have better balance, more strength and muscle, and stronger bones, all of those things come together to make you more physically resilient and stable. You will be better prepared to handle unexpected that unexpected gust of wind or pothole due to increase core and total body strength and stability. If it happens that you are involved in a crash, your bones are less likely to crack under the impact. Now, you have two ways of staying off the injury list.
How to Strength Train for Strong Bones.
Put random forces on your bones to stimulate growth. Some research has shown that the best results in the short term come out of subjecting bones to high forces in a more random fashion. Shorter term training programs of more random high intensity forces on your muscles and bones have actually been shown to be more effective than programs that progress over time. Now, this is contradictory to a program you might put together for performance gains, but it is still something that should be considered if you are concerned about improving your bone strength. Also, these are short time results. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t periodize your program, as longer periods may be needed to produce the benefits to bone density in that case (2). If you are following a periodized program and want to make sure it addresses your bone health, my suggestion would be to continue to do so. However , make sure to include one or two exercises that target bone health regardless of what the overall program goals are. The goal of these movements is to provide the forces on your bones to stimulate adaptation.
Allow for longer rest periods between sets to allow for greater force production. Circuit training is a type of training program where individuals are performing movements, one right after the other with little rest, and then repeating the circuit multiple times. It has NOT been found to be as effective for bone and muscle growth This reason for this is due to the lower amounts of resistance used, because of the short rest periods, and the forces you can push are lower. Circuit training may still help with bone health in the long term and is still great exercise. However, if stronger bones are your goal, design a program that involves more strength, higher forces and longer rest intervals. This will allow for more maximal forces to be produced during the sets.
If you are someone who likes to attend group circuit classes or are not as comfortable lifting heavy weights, or with high forces, research argues against that. In addition, if you are a cyclist or long distance runner who doesn’t utilize strength training or doesn’t lift heavy weights for whatever reason, you are also at risk. This is especially true for lighter and leaner individuals.
Choose movements to load key areas of the body.
The results of studies support that bone density is site-specific. This means that all of the bicep curls and chest presses in the world will not help you increase bone density in your hips and pelvis as much as doing lower body movements that put stress on the hips and pelvis. Lumbar spine stress is achieved by loading weight on the back, such as doing deadlifts or squats with weight (done with proper form), and by performing sit-up type movements and back extensions. Stress on the femur occurs when legs are put under heavy load or impact forces. So if you want strong bones in your hips, legs and spine, make sure you are including movements that target those areas. Or conversely, if you have a particular area you are concerned about, make sure and give that area some more love with some additional site-specific exercises.
Include Jumping, Sprinting and Plyometrics in your program. Plyometrics are movements that enable a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a timeframe as possible. In addition, the movements make use of the elastic properties of the muscle to generate an even more forceful contraction. They train the neuromuscular system to fire off more fibers, which also creates more force. An example of a plyometric movement would be Jump Squats or Lateral Cone Jumps. The faster the muscle is stretched and lengthened as it controls your deceleration, the more energy is obtained from the elastic properties of your muscle fiber, and the stronger the following contraction will be (3). Any of the plyometric or jumping exercises are good choices for stimulating bone growth because of the high forces of the muscle contractions, as well as impact forces they generate.
Impact sports in which loading is applied unevenly and at a high rate also provide more stimulus for bone growth. So if you participate in sports such as tennis, basketball or other activities that involve jumping, accelerating or quick changes of direction, you have a definitive advantage when it comes to maintaining strong bones. If this is you, strength training as also crucial to ensure your muscles and tendons can handle these high, and changing in directional forces .
In addition to suspension training movements, consider adding movements where the spine is placed under load, such as squats with a bag, bar or employ the use of a standing machine. Loading up a leg press might be beneficial for the hips, but will not put the necessary compression forces on the spine which are lacking the most in cycling and are the most important for cyclists to include. The “Farmer’s Walk” (an exercise where you are simply carrying heavy weights), heavy kettle bell or dumbbell, or barbell work, kicking, punching, or flipping heavy bags, jumping rope, high intensity running, shuffling or cutting, and jumping, are also all good additions that will stimulate bone growth. These things can supplement your suspension training program as well, if you have access to additional equipment. An example of this would be performing a suspended squat jump, followed by a suspended pushup with high resistance, and a sprint to the end of the block. These would be three extremely beneficial exercises to stimulate bone growth.
Conclusion: If you are concerned about your bone health, it doesn’t mean you need to turn your program upside down. Simply include one or two random exercises that stress your legs, hips and lumbar spine in a random manner with some impact and force. If you are just starting to strength train, or have knowledge that you already have low bone density or osteoporosis, the more explosive exercises should be phased in gradually as you improve your strength and fitness level. Always develop the foundation before adding higher intensity, or more specific work to your program. Just keep in mind that being consistent and including bone building activity in your program during the long term will produce benefits.
1. Essentials of Strength and conditioning NSCA editor Thomas R Baechle
2. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: November 2008 Physiological Adaptations to Strength and Circuit Training in Postmenopausal Women With Bone Loss. Brentano, Michel A; Cadore, Eduardo L; Da Silva, Eduardo M; Ambrosini, Anelise B; Coertjens, M; Petkowicz, Rosemary; Viero, Itamara; Kruel, Luiz ] .
3. Jumping into Plyometrics : Donald A Chu, PhD
Cycling has a variety of health benefits and is definitely a good thing to do for your body. However, the research has shown that it does not help create strong bones. In fact, it may even decrease your bone density, depending on the amount of cycling training you do. So, if your solo form of exercise is cycling, you may end up with weaker bones than someone who is not even active! The good news is that you can counteract this with some cross training and strength training.
Why isn’t cycling good for my bones?
This is a lot of research out there on bone health and a fair amount on cycling and bone health. There are several reasons that have been consistently given in the research for cyclists having lower than normal bone densities.
Cycling is non-weight bearing. The primary reason for cyclists having low bone density is that it is a non-weight bearing activity. High level cycling in particular has been shown to have negative effects on bone strength because of the amount of time cyclists spend training and riding. You are spending a lot of time seated, with no compression forces on your spine and pelvis. Even though it may feel like you are pedaling hard at times, the forces you are putting into the pedals are also not distributed in a way that puts significant strain on your bones, which is needed for bone growth.
Recovery time also non-weight bearing. In addition, necessary recovery time from hard cycling usually involves additional non-weight bearing activity of sitting or lying down. Most cyclists reported avoiding weight bearing activities during recovery periods as a way to help enhance recovery from training.
Cyclists generally have lower body mass. Cyclists also generally are lighter, and low body mass is also a risk factor for osteoporosis and osteopenia. This especially applies to women, who in general have lover body mass, as well as to cyclists, who are consistently striving to obtain a low body weight in order to improve performance.
Cyclist have an increased risk of fracture due to crashes or falls. Whether you compete or just ride for fitness and fun, chances are at some point you will take a fall, or be involved in a crash. This applies to any level cyclist, whether you ride solo, with friends, in groups, or compete in rallies and races.
Research on cycling experience and bone density risks shows...
If you are a road cyclist, especially if you train hard or have been training for multiple years, you are more likely to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. This puts you at a higher risk for fractures; a risk that continues to go up with age and training. More masters were classified as osteoporotic compared to age-matched non-athletes, and the percentage of these increased significantly after a seven-year period.(1) So, for those of you in the category (which may be the majority of people reading this), you are not only more likely to be at risk, but the risk factor also gets higher as you get older and complete more years of cycling training.
In 2012 there was an extensive review of 31 studies on the subject(2). The findings were that adult road cyclists who train regularly have significantly low bone mineral density in key regions. This was found to be true when comparing the cyclists to control populations of both athletes in other sports as well as non-athletes. Areas of the lumbar spine, pelvic and hip regions, and femoral neck were all key areas found to have lower values in road cyclists than the controls.
Included in this review were only a few studies involving amateur cyclists or low level cyclists. Differences in bone mass were not found between the cyclists and controls when comparing with low level cyclists. However, studies that examined elite cyclists, or those training at high levels for numerous years, consistently found low bone mineral density in the elite and experienced cyclists.
This further supports that the level of training and years of training are strong factors in you as a cyclist being at risk for low bone density.
Junior Cyclists. Most of the differences in bone health were considering those older than 17 years of age. It is worth saying that the observation is cycling in the early years of life does not negatively affect the bones. However, it doesn’t positively affect the bones either. Participation in other sports has been shown to positively affect bone growth more than cycling does.
Translation: allow juniors to train hard and train often, but make sure they are getting some cross training as well, to create maximum bone growth.
Differences found with different cycling disciplines.
Road cycling at a competitive level might be more detrimental for bone health than mountain biking and recreational forms of cycling. This is due to all the reasons stated previously. Long hours on the bike, non-weight bearing. No impact forces, low forces in general while pedaling, and lots of time off your feet trying to recover from training.
Mountain bikers were found to have higher bone mineral density than road cyclists. One reason given for this was the vibrations endured off road. Depending on the level of mountain biking, the increased short durations of high force to get over obstacles may also help out.
Sprint trained cyclists have stronger bones than distance trained cyclists. This makes sense because of the large forces they generate for short periods of time. The leg muscles are creating high forces, which in turn puts high forces on the bones they are connected to. The high forces for short durations are similar to the demands of weightlifting. However, keep in mind that as a non-weight bearing activity, as hard as you might go as a sprinter, compression forces on the spine are still not present.
Triathletes and Duathletes: the combination of cycling and running counteracts the negative effects on bone mass that cycling alone may result in. Duathlon and triathlon training do not have the same negative effects as cycling training alone.
Ok…I may be at risk for low bone mass, what should I do about it?
Strength training and putting impact forces on your bones is the number one thing you can actively do to promote bone heath and bone density.
We all want strong bones that are resistant to breaking;
especially as we age. This is even more important for a cyclist. Let’s face it, a crash or fall at some point in your cycling life is likely to happen. Stacking the odds in your favor by including activities to maintain and stimulate bone strong is your best line of defense against a fracture if you do happen to hit the ground at a greater impact than you would like.
In the next blog we will cover:
- Why strength training improves bone health
- What the research shows.
- What type of strength training to include in your program if you are concerned about your bone health.
Part 2 of this blog is posted HERE
1. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: March 2011
Longitudinal Changes in Bone Mineral Density in Male Master Cyclists and Nonathletes. Nichols, Jeanne F1; Rauh, Mitchell
2. Cycling and bone health: a systematic review
Hugo Olmedillas, Alejandro González-Agüero Luis A Moreno, José A Casajus and Germán Vicente-Rodríguez BMC Medicine2012
OK, I know some of you guys cringe at the thought of a squat. You may hate doing them because they are hard. You may hate doing them because you don’t have adequate hip mobility, or lack mobility in other areas that effects the movement chain. Both of these things can be fixed with a little work (well, actually that is only half true); they are always going to be hard if you are doing them right. However, there may be a third reason that that you dread squats, which is that you are just not built for them, and this is not something you can change.
Mike Boyle touched on this in his lecture and provided a reference, which inspired me to research it further. Although I was aware people had different pelvis and femur structures, it was always more of a vague afterthought for me. After seeing the evidence in pics and doing a little more research, I now have a clearer understanding of how bone structure of the hip and femur effects squatting ability.
Take a look at the two femurs in this picture. The structure of the heads are very different. This causes them to fit into the hip sockets differently, and at different angles. The hip sockets of different individuals can also have very different structures. Here is a link to an article which was referenced in the lecture, which I think you will enjoy if you find this interesting:
So those who feel the need to squat with a wider stance, or with toes outward versus straight ahead, or are unable to go as deep as others, may have structural reasons behind these things that makes certain stances and variations a better choice for them; just something to consider.
Although I would still make it a priority to work on having good hip mobility and strong legs that can push weight and support you, we will also listen to what your body is telling you and let it guide you in doing squats in the best way for you.
Eric Cressy: 10 years, 10 lessons: How to Perform Better in Training & Business
Mike Boyle: The new Functional Training for Sports Starts with Why?
Eric Cressy and Mike Boyle are two of the biggest names in my industry, and I attended both of their lectures and hands-on sessions today. The combination they have of both scientific knowledge as well as understanding of what it takes to be a great trainer and a great coach is why they are among the few that rose to the top of their profession.
One of the biggest priorities I have when working with clients is fixing dysfunctional movement. If something is not functioning properly, there's no way you can build on top of it effectively, no matter what your goals are or what you're trying to do.
Getting to hear so many different people talk about the way they approach things helps me put a lot of tools in my toolbox. Coaching and training is a combination of an art and a science. Having the knowledge, and having been exposed to so many different ways of looking at a problem and breaking down what may be behind it is, is what I love about going to events like this. They give me more options in my toolbox to make use of, if the first (or second) approach doesn’t end up being as effective as we were hoping, or I might learn a differently way of explaining something that makes more sense to the person I am trying to explain it to.
If I can get somebody moving better, feeling better, and faster by doing the right things, by saying the right things, and by using the right systems, I can add more value to the experience of the session today, and provide something that they will take with them that
may add to their quality of life long after they have walked out the door. And that is probably the most rewarding part of what I do.
I will share a few things I learned in Eric and Mike’s
sessions over the next few posts.
Flexibility and stretching
“Stretching isn’t about today’s workout; it’s about preventing an injury six months down the road.“
This was taken from one of the slides but I thought was a great quote. One of the controversies about stretching is that research has shown that stretching results in an increase in elasticity of the muscles for a period of time afterwards, and that has been shown to reduce power outputs in the range of 5-7%. This is the very reason I usually use a dynamic warm-up before training session and save the static stretching until afterwards.
However, Mike Boyle was adamant about this being a non-significant factor when the goal is long term movement abilities. He stated that the anti-stretch research is not compelling, and the health benefits far outweigh any short-term power reduction. I was glad to hear him voice this stance. He also included this comment in his lecture:
“Tightness of the anterior hip structures results in increased compressive loading to the facets during the push-off phase of the gait, since the femur cannot be brought back into hyperextension. Therefore, the lower extremity is placed behind the body by extending the pelvis under the lumbar spine”
Translation: If your hip flexor (the muscle you use to raise your leg up) is tight, your leg can’t extend back as far and your pelvis has to compensate for that, which in turn puts more stress on the lumbar back area it’s connected to.
I include both static stretches and movements that stretch the muscles by working them through full ranges of motion. When working with some of my clients I could (and sometimes do) make an entire workout out of these stretches and movements.
The people with limited mobility have commented on how hard they felt they were working during these sessions. I love to hear that, because I know they are getting a multitude of benefits out of the session, increased mobility being the priority.
So, if you are someone who spends a lot of time at a desk or in a car for your job, take note. There is a good chance you are starting to lose mobility in your upper T spine, hip flexors, and hamstrings.
I can show you some things to counter that, most of them needing minimal or no equipment and can be done anywhere.
Hearing the best of the best give information on what I am already doing is reassuring, but also keeps me on my path and reinforces the need to include both stretching and mobility work in the small group and private sessions I do with clients. Now I will confess I do, and have had a handful of clients that just do not need it. In these cases, I don’t do much mobility work beyond recovery to work out some soreness, and we generally substitute stability work instead.
This session was great. It brought more life and more knowledge to concepts I have already been using, and that I believe are extremely important. I've always been a big fan of bare foot running as a tool to increase foot and ankle strength. One piece of information that stuck with me was this:
“There are 206 bones in the body. There are 26 bones in each foot. 52 bones total. ¼ of all the bones in your body are in your feet”
Your feet are a big deal. The bottoms of your feet provide the stability to the ground and the signals that are sent to the rest of your body. If things are not right with your feet, that can create a whole host of other issues through your entire body.
In this hands-on session, we looked at the foot structure of a few volunteers with foot issues. He demonstrated how to check mobility of the calcaneus, metatarsals, and big toe, which we looked for with asymmetries between feet. We then went on to some barefoot mobility and strength exercises, all designed to increase mobility and increased strength of the tensile tissue and bone through all the vectors of force that your foot has to deal with in the real world. We got to watch him demonstrate, then participated in numerous exercises. The foot mobility and strengthening exercises were all done barefoot and included the following:
Inverting and everting the foot in a standing position
Standing on one foot and doing a floor touch
Hopping from side to side.
Hopping forwards and backwards.
Hopping and adding a twist.
Lunging movements in each of the movement planes (sagittal, frontal and transverse)
Hopping in place
A variety of shuffling drills
Although nothing was super brand new, I did catch myself thinking at more than one moment during the session, “what a great idea; how come I never thought to do that?” Working the foot through so many different force planes and force vectors is so much more effective for strength and mobility than simply jogging barefoot, which basically works the foot in just one plane of movement (sagittal). They are all things that can be done as part of a warmup or in between other things.
It left me with some great ideas on how to incorporate them into some of my small group classes in individual sessions to help strengthen, rehab, and prevent foot issues. I also realized that I was neglecting including these things in my own training. And I plan to make use of them for myself as well.