Fitness trainers answer the questions you’ve been asking Google.
Thinking about what it means to be physically strong often leaves you considering the muscles used to squat, press and deadlift. But there are other body parts in need of strength to contribute to a comfortable, healthy and long life.
Your bones are just one example. They’re responsible for keeping the entire structure of your body stable, protecting vital organs and anchoring the muscles. “Bone density refers to the porosity of the bones,” explains fitness trainer Emma Obayuvana from the Strong Women Collective. “Bones are naturally porous, but the more porous they get, the more likely they are to fracture and break.”
Despite what adverts tell you, it will take more than a high-calcium yoghurt for bones to stay strong, dense and function at their best.
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Strength training is a crucial part of it. “Weight training increases bone density, and it also prevents the natural loss of bone density that happens as we age,” explains Emma. “That can reduce the risk of fractures and even osteoporosis, which is really common in women as we get older.”
Worryingly, “we reach peak bone density by 30,” adds personal trainer Alice Miller and a fellow member of the Strong Women Collective. “But you can preserve strong bones if you continue weight-bearing exercise.”
So how does it all work? According to Emma, it’s all about “exerting a force on your body and skeletal system.”
“When you’re training the muscles pull against the bone, which stimulates bone growth,” explains Alice. “This forces our muscles to replenish and come back stronger, just like how muscles do.”
Plyometric and strength training require the most force on the muscles and bones, so adding in resistance training is crucial. The NHS currently advises that everyone does strengthening activities at least twice a week for this reason.
However, it’s important to remember that, like building muscle, bone density growth is site-specific, meaning that we need to target all muscle groups to get a full-body benefit. That means performing a mixture of compound and isolation moves throughout your training.
“If you’re training for the purpose of staying healthy in older age, I think that the squat is the single best move to practise. That’s because it works the biggest joint and the most amount of muscles in the body. It’s just a great compound exercise,” Alice suggests.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).