By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas -
Many factors contribute to osteopenia and osteoporosis in cyclists. Both conditions are associated with low bone mineral density and a reduction in the bone mass that is sufficient to interfere with its support function.
Osteogenic loading refers to the stress placed on the skeletal system in order to produce bone growth. This article may surprise you.
One of the culprits in cycling-related osteopenia or osteoporosis is the nature of the exercise itself. Cycling is a low-impact sport that puts little mechanical load on the bones. That may be helpful for someone who has joint problems, but it's the weight-bearing aspect of exercise that signals bone to create more mass. Without such stress, bones don't get stronger and consequently become more prone to injury.
A recent study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that competitive male road cyclists had significantly lower bone mineral density in their spines than a control group of men who were moderately physically active while doing other recreational activities. The cyclists were also more likely to have osteopenia or osteoporosis than those in the control group.
I recently discovered that commonly promoted exercise strategies for counteracting bone loss have had fairly limited success, particularly regimens that subject the skeleton to only mild activity, such as walking. I had always thought that, if I complemented my daily cycling with walking and modest strength conditioning, I wouldn”™t be susceptible to decreasing bone density. I was wrong.
There”™s no doubt that mechanical loading of bone has substantial potential to induce bone formation, but the traditionally recommended exercise regimens for cyclists have met with mixed results at best. What I recently learned is that those options are fairly ineffective for increasing bone formation.
The U.S. Surgeon General states that increases in bone mineral density that are sufficient to prevent or reverse osteoporosis are stimulated by maximum loading on the musculoskeletal system. Such loads are normally associated with impact loading, the kind that occurs with gymnastics. Women gymnasts have been found to have much stronger bones than women long-distance runners.
Conventional resistance training does not typically yield loading at a high enough level to produce more than a nominal increase in bone mass. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that running, walking and resistance training are only minimally effective in staving off the osteopenia that I”™m prone to because I love to ride bikes and teach indoor cycling.
Heinonen et al (1996) found that unexpectedly high bone-mineral densities (BMD) occurred in women gymnasts. A typical gymnastic dismount or vault produces enormous skeletal impact (about 18 body weights). Subsequent studies of impact loading showed similar results.
So the research shows — and I haven”™t heard this anywhere in the cycling world — that multiples of body weight loaded onto the axial skeleton are what”™s necessary to produce significant gains in BMD. Not running, definitely not walking, not conventional strength training, but dismounts off the high bar that slam 18 times my body weight through my skeletal system. That”™s what I need to be doing one to two times per week.
Fortunately, as Managing Director for the Indoorcycling Group of North America, I was recently invited to test a new technology at Performance Health Systems in Chicago. It”™s called bioDensityâ„¢ (www.biodensity.com).
The product is exciting and seems to serve a market need for all indoor cyclists. bioDensityâ„¢ makes possible a safe, self-induced, osteogenic loading stimulation up to many multiples of body weight — the kind of loads normally associated with impact activities, such as gymnastics. DEXA scans have shown an average 4.5% bone mass gain for individuals in the program for 3 years. Regular, proper use of the bioDensityâ„¢ System enables the user to achieve the required maximum loading safely, which therefore helps to combat osteoporosis.
ICG® has no professional affiliation whatsoever with Performance Health Systems. They are producing a product that we feel will help keep our customers healthy.
My sole purpose here was to make you aware of what I was completely unaware of (and even misinformed about by popular literature) and to suggest that you investigate a possible solution that will keep your bones healthy while you keep riding.