Many of my clients who workout at a gym ask me what I think is the best exercise equipment for osteoporosis. They ask what type of weight lifting they should do for osteoporosis. Further, they wonder if free weight exercises are appropriate and safe for building bone strength, improving balance and strengthening muscle. I will cover each of these questions in this blog post.
A well designed weight training exercise program incorporates weight bearing exercises and strength training for osteoporosis. In other words, weight bearing and strength training is critical to building bone strength. However, certain exercises, when done improperly, can increase your risk of fracture. This advice extends to the gym as well as to home-based exercises.
In the video, I demonstrate eight weight training exercises in a gym. I show how they should be performed to maximize bone building while reducing risk of fracture. You see, technique is very important. The additional load created by these gym machines as well as the way they put you in certain positions, can be problematic. If you use exercise equipment at the gym and you have osteoporosis, I encourage you to follow the instructions I provide in this blog and the video.
In addition, I have section below dedicated to how to be careful with free weight exercises if you have osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density. The process of handling free weights before and after your exercises can cause issues. I wrote this section to explain how to properly handle free weights in the gym and at home.
Besides discussing the best exercise equipment for osteoporosis, later in this post I review the Total Gym and suggest alternatives.
Best Exercise Equipment for Osteoporosis
In my opinion, the best exercise equipment you can use at a gym if you have osteoporosis is listed below. Note that several of these require care and modification when you use the equipment.
- Lat Pulldown
- Rowing Machine
- Leg Press
- Tricep Cable Pulldown
- Elliptical Trainer
- Chest Press
- Free Weights
Weight Training and Osteoporosis Exercise — Upper Body
Here are the upper body weight training and osteoporosis exercises for the gym that I demonstrate in the video:
- Lat Pull Down: I demonstrate both the wide grip and reverse narrow grip lat pull down. These are excellent weight training exercises. A couple of points:
- First, with the lat pull down you need to pay attention to the bench height. Many times the bench height has been set higher for men and you will need to make the appropriate adjustments.
- Second, avoid drawing the bar down behind your neck. This is bad and can cause stress on the neck and the shoulders and can increase the amount of flexion in the back.
- Preacher Curl and Standing Biceps Curl: The Preacher Curl puts the spine into a compromised position and can increase flexion. This curl should be avoided. Instead I recommend the Standing Biceps Curl. The biceps curl is an effective and safer weight training exercise. In the blog post I present several variations of the bicep curl that you can make part of your program.
- Tricep Cable Pull Down: This is an excellent weight training exercise and a great alternative to tricep extensions on the floor or on the ball. Pay attention to your alignment, isolate the triceps and try to avoid overloading the weight.
- Chest Press: The chest press is an alternative to the push up and a weight bearing exercise. However, it can compromise your posture. There are a few modifications you need to be aware of:
- Keep your alignment.
- Do not let your elbows come back past your shoulders.
- Push forward with your arms and chest – not your abdominals.
- Free Weights: Free weights are a weight bearing exercise. However, you must handle the free weights with proper body mechanics.
Weight Training and Osteoporosis Exercise — Lower Body
Here are the lower body weight training and osteoporosis exercises for the gym that I demonstrate in the video. Several include upper body movement as well.
- Leg Press: A nice alternative to the squat and a great weight training exercise. You need to pay special attention to the seat arrangement to make sure you are not leaning forward and make sure you maintain good alignment and posture throughout the exercise.
- Elliptical Trainer: The elliptical trainer provides a great cardiovascular exercise workout and is an excellent weight bearing exercise. Make sure you avoid leaning forward as you hold the upright bars. Keep your posture perfect.
- Rowing Machine: The Rowing Machine is a great cardiovascular weight bearing exercise. I demonstrate how to set up and execute the row.
Best Exercise Equipment for a Home Gym
You do not have to go to the gym to do your weight bearing or strength training exercises. A well equipped home gym will be more than adequate. In fact, you do not need a lot of equipment.
The exercise programs in Exercise for Better Bones can be done in the comfort and privacy of your home. The exercise equipment I recommend for the home gym are:
- Burst resistant stability (Physio) ball.
- Dumbbells (free weights) between 5 and 20 pounds.
- Ankle weights.
- Non slip mat.
- Loop bands.
- Foam roller.
- Strap or rope to use in several stretching exercises.
Exercises to Avoid if You Have Osteoporosis
One further piece of reading for you is my post on osteoporosis exercises to avoid where I talk about osteoporosis exercise contraindications and how to modify unsafe exercises.
If you follow these guidelines you will improve your bone health (and overall health) while practicing safe exercise habits. For a more comprehensive osteoporosis exercise program, I encourage you to consult the MelioGuide Exercise for Better Bones program. Good luck with the gym exercises for osteoporosis!
Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis
Exercise is vital to bone health and osteoporosis. But what exercises should you do and which ones should you avoid?
A great resource on exercise and osteoporosis is my free, seven day email course called Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis. After you provide your email address, you will receive seven consecutive online educational videos on your bone health — one lesson each day. You can look at the videos at anytime.
To register for this free email course, simply click on the image of the couple or click here and provide your email address.
I cover important topics related to osteoporosis exercise including:
- Can exercise reverse osteoporosis?
- Stop the stoop — how to avoid kyphosis and rounded shoulders.
- Key components of an osteoporosis exercise program.
- Key principles of bone building.
- Exercises you should avoid if you have osteoporosis.
- Yoga and osteoporosis — should you practice yoga if you have osteoporosis?
- Core strength and osteoporosis — why is core strength important if you have osteoporosis?
Free Weight Exercises for Osteoporosis
Free weight exercises can be a very effective part of any osteoporosis exercise program. In the video, I demonstrate how to safely handle free weights if you have osteoporosis. I explain how to make them an effective part of your exercise for osteoporosis program.
Safety with Free Weights
You should be careful handling your free weights. They can place a lot of strain on your spine if you do not lift safely. I find that many of my clients do not handle the free weights properly and need instruction.
One problem I find in many gyms is that quite often the free weights are stacked too low or are on the ground. Unfortunately, many people do not practice proper body mechanics when they lift or return the free weights. Below are tips on how to safely handle free weights.
Tips on How to Use Free Weights if you Have Osteoporosis
Here are a few important tips to follow if you use free weights:
- Be careful not to flex your spine when you return the free weights to the bench, when you stand or when you return the free weights to the ground.
- Your training does not end until the weights are returned to their resting position. Maintain good form throughout the program. In other words, be mindful of your body mechanics all the time.
- If possible, find a gym with raised benches or racks to accommodate the weights.
- Avoid extending your reach when you pick up or return the free weights.
- Move close to the bench or rack when you are at the end of the free weight training set. This will allow you to return or pick up your weights safely.
- Keep the weight close to your body and use your leg muscles to assist you.
I encourage you to incorporate free weights into your weight training osteoporosis program. However, pay attention to the mechanics of handling the free weights and you will enjoy many years of safe bone building.
Total Gym and Osteoporosis Exercise
A reader of this blog recently asked me the following question related to osteoporosis exercise equipment, exercise for osteoporosis at home, and specifically a popular piece of workout gear called the Total Gym:
“I am considering buying the Total Gym for my home. Do you think that it will give me the range of exercises to assist me in battling osteoporosis? Is it the best exercise equipment for osteoporosis?”
Good questions. I like the Total Gym — but I do not love it.
What I Like About the Total Gym
Things that I like about the Total Gym:
- Easy to set up.
- Requires limited space usage.
- Reasonably priced
- Well constructed (at least the older models I have seen).
- Good range of exercise choices.
What I Do Not Like About the Total Gym
However, there are things I do not love about it. I especially do not like a number of issues in regards to Exercises for Osteoporosis:
- For the exercises which are done lying face up on the bench you do not use your erector spinae (deep back muscles) as much as if you did the same exercise without the support or with the support of a burst resistant exercise ball.
- Not many options for the hip.
- The pulleys are great but they do not provide your skeleton with as much “loading” (or weight bearing) as you would get by lifting free weights.
The Total Gym YouTube channel has a number of video demonstrating the use of the device. I advise you against doing the following activities if you have osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density:
- High Kneeling Singe Arm Tricep Extension
- Surfer Lat Pull with Shoulder Extension
- Abdominal Crunch
- Isometric Crunch with Bicycle Legs
- High Kneeling Torso Rotation
Several Alternative Options to the Total Gym
- Remember, an osteoporosis exercise program that incorporates weight bearing, improves balance, reduces fracture risk and generally is beneficial to your bones does not require that you invest in expensive equipment or go to the gym.
- The MelioGuide Exercise for Better Bones Program is designed to be self directed (or even better if used with the help of a trained health professional) and does not require much equipment.
- If you do go to the gym, I recommend that you look at my video on 8 Gym Exercises for Osteoporosis.
- If you really want a piece of equipment for home use, money is not an obstacle, and you favor a pulley system then I prefer the Inspire Fitness Inspire Functional Trainer FT-1 over the Total Gym because it provides many more options than the Total Gym product.
- The Inspire Fitness Inspire Functional Trainer FT-1 costs about $2,300 (Canadian) or $2,200 (US). In Canada, you can find it a Fitness Depot. US buyers can find it on Amazon.
- If you have any other questions related to osteoporosis exercise equipment or exercise for osteoporosis at home, feel free to post a comment below.
Osteoporosis Exercise Plan
Visit my Osteoporosis Exercise Plan page for more information on this topic.
Pat Heydon says
Hi Margaret & Richard,
Just wanted to let you know that the web site looks awesome! I liked the gym equipment workout tips…
Question about bicept curl – you suggest putting one foot on a bench – why? I could probably guess but wanted to know your thoughts.
I also liked the final tip on putting the weights away and the idea that the exercise (and posture considerations) don’t end until the weights are put away.
Sorry I missed you at ball class – my hips are in bad shape and we leave Tuesday for NZ…
Jill Seviour says
Great video… so practical and well explained. I hope you took time out to relax in Bermuda or is that word not in your vocabulary?
Thanks to your very significant contribution we have been able to upgrade the site.
As far as the bicep curl, when you are lifting heavier weights, 80% plus of your maximum, placing one foot up takes some of the strain off your low back without reducing the weight training benefit. This concept is similar to placing a foot up when ironing (an activity I try to avoid), doing meal preparation etc. as demonstrated in all the “daily activities” – which you also so graciously modeled for! Have a wonderful trip. Remember to bring our hiking poles!
It is great to know the videos are being seen across the East Coast! Our vacation was in the Bahamas and we had a terrific time – replenished my Vitamin D levels!
Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback. You have a place to stay if you decide to visit Ottawa.
First of all, I just wanted to say that your site is a wonderful wealth of information!
So now my question that I have not found an answer to just yet – If you have osteoporosis, is a dumbbell Romanian deadlift and an overhead press okay to do (assuming correct form of course)? I received my latest BMA results (less than stellar) and the doctor recommended that I do not do those since they put excessive stress on your spine? I want to eliminate those exercises that can do more harm than good. If you had a list (maybe I missed it) of those exercises not to do that would be helpful.
I am very active and want to remain so at the level to which I am accustomed. I do step twice a week, strength training three times per week, yoga 3 times per week and spin once or twice a week.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
Margaret Martin says
Hi Marcie, Your welcome. The list of exercises to avoid are in both my Exercise for Better Bones and in my Yoga for Better Bones obviously relating to respective areas.
If your form is very good and you have good posture (and good hamstring flexibility – for the deadlift) then the exercises can be executed safely. However, I have not seen you and do not have your BMD results nor a history which might give me a picture of your bone quality and so I cannot recommend something your doctor does not support. A consultation via Skype might be a safer way to answer this question.
Hope this helps you in your decision making.
All the best,
Gina Van Vleck says
Hi Margaret, I have watched this video several times. I love it. Would love to see more on the machines you can use. Recently got an inexpensive lat pull down/row machine for home. So convenient. I really enjoy machines work. Thank you so much! Gina
Margaret Martin says
Hi Gina, Thank you for your kind word and suggestions. I will endeavour to add more equipment based suggestions in 2019. Glad you were able to get an inexpensive machine for home use. It is really nice to have that convenience.
Thank you Margaret. That would be great.
Dean Allen says
I have an old Bowflex machine. Any suggestions for using it safely with my osteoporosis?
Margaret Martin says
I am not sure how much the Bowflex has changed over the years. The current model has the resistance bars in the back of the machine.
My best advise is to encourage you to adjust the resistance while standing beside the rods and avoid adjusting the rods from a sitting and twisting position.
Be mindful to keep good body alignment throughout your exercises.
Adjust the bars to allow you to start with set of 12 – 15 reps if you have not been a regular user and within 4- 6 weeks increase the resistance to fatigue between 8 – 10 reps.
Focus on your back muscles with the Bowflex. For your hips be sure to supplement with squats, brisk walking or jumping, depending on your current level of fitness.
All the best,
Dean Allen says
Thanks for quick response. I am a 70 year old man who was just diagnosed with severe osteoporosis. Docs found no reason for it. No family history and no deficiencies in all the blood work they did. One doc wanted me to start Prolia, but I talked to another doc about trying your exercises, along with proper nutrition and he said to definitely give it a shot. I just got your book last Friday and have started with Posture exercises, and “Active Level” exercises. I think with proper form the bowflex will be a tool that eventually can be part of the workout. I do an elliptical for cardio without the handles so it forces me to work on balance.
Sue Williams says
Greetings. I am interested in your opinion on using the TRX for exercise when you have osteoporosis. I had surgery to correct scoliosis in 1972 at the age of 16. I have two Herrington rods in my back that I’ve never let limit me. Now that I am getting older I have arthritis in my neck and lower back, bursitis in my right hip as well as osteoporosis. I am 5’4” and 102 pounds. I am very active. I enjoy the TRX and would be interested in your thoughts.
Richard Martin says
Hi Sue. Margaret commented on the TRX several years ago on this blog post. https://melioguide.com/physical-therapy-continuing-education/osteoporosis-and-stress-fractures/
Margaret advocates a more rounded exercise program such as her Exercise for Better Bones program. https://melioguide.com/products/exercise-for-better-bones-program/
Madalene MaGee says
Wow! I have been searching for information on the Total Gym for two years since I use it to exercise along with a rebounder. I recently was informed about not doing the ab crunch attachment and the surfer exercise and the oblique twist exercise by a friend who is a trainer at a gym. Thank you for putting this information up amc I will be purchasing your books. I am always worried about what may hurt my spine bc I have osteo in my spine. From what you mentioned it seems a lot of the exercises are ok with some exceptions. I also was wondering if I need to cut down my reps and do more weight. On the total gym it would be more weight by increasing the level. I usually to my reps to fatigue which is about 15-25 reps. Your suggestions would be so appreciated.
Richard Martin says
Hi Madalene. Thanks for your comments. You should follow the guidelines in Exercise for Better Bones on sets and reps.
Betty Aynaga says
Thank you for your information as I am getting back into the gym. Are back extension machines safe?
kushi meera says
it is a good webblog and it is useful for me thank you physiotherapy clinic near me
Kitti Tadema-Wielandt says
Fabulous website! Amazing amount of information.
Where I am, walking is difficult (narrow gravel roads, bears, etc).
What are your thoughts on buying a treadmill?
I do have a rowing machine.
69 yrs old, diagnosed with osteopenia.
Richard Martin says
Hi Kitti. Here is a video Margaret recently did on treadmills. https://youtu.be/7CFHoz2lv6Y