The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Bone Health

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The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Bone Health

May is National Osteoporosis Month and the bottom line of exercise for osteoporosis is to prevent falls and fractures. Simple bodyweight exercises that reinforce the skeleton, strengthen muscles and joints, and improve balance will reduce your risk of falling and breaking a bone.

Since loading the bones is site-specific, target the skeleton from all angles with focus on the sites that are vulnerable to fracture – the hip, spine and wrist. The consequences of osteoporosis can be life-changing and include bone fractures of the hip (25%), spine (40%) and wrist (15%).  Hip fractures cause the most suffering to the individual and require the most extensive treatment/recovery.  Vertebral fractures of the spine heal on their own, but may remain compressed, causing a loss of height, stooped posture, and in extreme cases, difficulties in breathing and digestion. The wrist is the least debilitating fracture, often the result of an outstretched hand to break a fall, but still may require a cast and rehabilitation. 

These functional “4 for Life” exercises work the major muscle groups of the legs, upper body and core in an integrated way. Together they create a mini full-body conditioning workout that can be done in a few minutes, anytime, anywhere using just your own body weight. Learning to handle your own body weight is the first step to improving the way you move in daily life.  

  1. The Squat reinforces the hip joint, works the large muscles of the legs and is the most functional of all exercises. By working the muscles of the buttocks, thighs and lower legs, as well as using the abdominal and back muscles to stabilize the torso, the squat is the closest we can get to a full-body exercise.  It is the same movement that we need to rise from a seated position or to lower ourselves down to the floor, so it is a very functional exercise that helps to keep us independent as we advance in years. 

Watch me demonstrate three variations of the squat: 

2)  The Push-Up is weight bearing through the wrist and helps firm the chest, shoulder and triceps in one move. While all three muscles are involved in the movement, the position of your hands determines which muscle you emphasize: wide for the chest, narrow for the shoulders.  All variations help firm the triceps in the back of the upper arm and are weight-bearing through the arms and wrists.  The core muscles of the abdominals and back are active in stabilizing the torso.  The level of difficulty is determined by how much weight you shift onto your upper body.

Watch here for three variations of the push-up:

3)  The Opposite Arm and Leg Lift is a variation of a back extension which triggers the muscles that run along the length of the spine, the erector spinae, as well as the glutes in the buttocks and the deltoid in the shoulder. It is weight bearing through the arms and hips and strengthens the core muscles in an integrated fashion as it challenges your balance and stabilization.

Watch here while I demonstrate: 

4)  The Ball Transfer strengthens the deep abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis, which wraps around the torso providing a corset-like effect of flattening the belly, narrowing the waist and supporting the low back. You perform this exercise in neutral spine alignment i.e. without rounding forward (spinal flexion), a contraindication if you have osteoporosis of the spine. A strong core improves posture and alignment and reduces the risk of spinal fractures. (If you don’t have a ball, use a small pillow).

Watch me demonstrate here:

Ball Transfer with Joan Pagano from Joan Pagano on Vimeo.

These fundamental movements never go out of style, strengthen the major muscle groups, reinforce your bones and joints and provide a basis for good body mechanics.  They provide an efficient and economical workout that is easy to do without any equipment.  It is a small investment that will serve your body for life.

For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano at

Joan also offers an online fitness and nutrition course, “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues” available on her website here    

(c) Copyright – Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


  • Joan Pagano

    Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at:

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