We often shy away from weight bearing exercise - that is, applying an opposing force that muscles must strain against - because, let’s face it, they’re difficult. Who wants to spend time in plank without some heavy encouragement? It pays to change our relationship with load bearing exercise however, as it can play an important role in maintaining the health of our bones.
How it works
Resistance can be supplied by your own body weight, free weights or elasticized bands. No matter what type of resistance used, increasing the amount of load on your muscles makes them stronger. You build muscle by creating microtears in existing tissue. New tissue is synthesized from protein and amino acids to repair these tears which results in increased muscular size and strength.
Bones grow and strengthen in the same way. Because muscles are attached to underlying bone, weight bearing exercise can actually strengthen your bones. Working muscle pulls on bone resulting in them becoming denser and stronger. Wolff's Law states that bone in a healthy person will adjust to the loads it is placed under. Over time if stresses on a bone continue, the structure and shape of a bone will permanently adapt in proportion to the load placed on it. The change in bone density is obvious in many professional athletes, for example in tennis players who have stronger playing arms or martial artists who develop higher bone density in their striking areas.
The opposite is true too: live a sedentary lifestyle and over time your bones will bear the brunt of not being subjected to loading. Without weight-bearing training, bones lose minerals and weaken.
The risk of osteoporosis is lower for people who are active and especially those who do load bearing activities several times a week. Weight-bearing exercises help bone retain calcium. Higher calcium levels mean greater bone density and increased bone strength. Building muscular strength improves balance and coordination thus preventing falls and bone fractures. Specifically, a regular yoga practice develops concentration and body awareness in the practitioner which also help to prevent falls. Furthermore, yoga can work the entire body not simply the legs as in other weight bearing exercise like running. Standing yoga poses work the large bones of the hips and legs, back bends and forward bends work the spine, and inversions and arm balances strengthen the wrists and shoulders.
How to add load-bearing exercises to your practice
Combine various types of load-bearing exercise. For instance, including yoga poses that focus on multiple body parts will ensure your strengthen the bones of the hips, wrists, and spine, those bones more at risk for breaking. As you get stronger, take it up a notch by increasing the resistance with more advanced poses such as headstand and arm balancing. Variety is important – change it up! All you need is you. Great examples of weight-bearing poses using only your body weight are planks, balancing work, and, if you’re adventurous, handstand
When you’re not on your mat, weight training and running are forms of weight bearing exercise as well. Whether you use free weights or your own body weight as resistance, you’ll reap the benefits of load bearing work. Of course, make sure you give yourself time to rest in between all your hard work.
So take a load off, you deserve it. Just don’t tell your bones.