Heavy Weights, Strong(er) Bones

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about weightlifting. Hell, for that matter, it’s been a while since I’ve done a post PERIOD. New Year’s is almost here, though, so that means I’ll be making my annual “Blog more often” resolution, which should last anywhere from three months to a day and a half. Depending on how long it takes my internal editor to convince me that no one is reading it or wants to. (That guy is SUCH a jerk!)

Today, though, I wanted to talk about why I started weightlifting in the first place. In a word, osteopenia. Three years ago, I had a bone density scan, my first ever. It was supposed to be a baseline. Apparently my body finally believed me about me not wanting to have kids, so it decided to just get that whole menopause thing over with by the time I hit the ripe not-so-old age of 42. Eh, it happens. Not too often. The average age for menopause is 51. But sometimes, yeah, like with me, it happens a lot earlier than that.

One of the big risks a woman faces after menopause is osteoporosis. Normally my doctor starts doing bone density scans at age 50, but between the early menopause and my family history of osteoporosis, he decided it would be a good idea for me to go ahead and get one then. It was intended to be a baseline, so we could keep an eye on things in case I started to lose bone density early.

What we didn’t know was that I already had.

For those of you who have never had a bone density scan, they check three places: your left and right hip bones, and your spine. We all lose bone density as we age. The question is how much are you losing compared to what would be expected in someone your age. A T-score of -1 or greater means you have at least as much bone density as the average person your age. A T-score between -1 and -2.5 indicates osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. A T-score of -2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis.

Even though I have a family history of osteoporosis, I’ve never been a smoker and I’d been walking on an almost daily basis for years, so everyone — my doctor, the tech, and myself — was surprised by the results of my scan. My spine was -1.8. My right hip was -2.0. And my left hip was -2.2.

Yikes.

In addition to vitamins, my doctor recommended that I start doing moderate weight-bearing exercise 3-4 times a week. Walking. Tennis. Lifting weights. Not swimming or riding a bike. Bone changes slowly, so we’d do a re-check in 2 years.

Since my years of walking hadn’t kept me from getting osteopenia and I didn’t have tennis courts nearby, I opted for lifting weights. I’d done weight machines at gyms before, but I wanted to make sure I did the right workout to keep from losing more bone density. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it and hurt myself, because getting laid up with an injury wasn’t going to help me save my bones. Chad and I had switched to The Fitness Center in Kernersville a few months before, so I decided to get with one of the personal trainers there, Brandon, to see what he recommended.

As soon as I told Brandon about my osteopenia, he said, “I know exactly what to do.” And that’s when I started weightlifting.

I figured he’d have me working on the weight machines, doing maybe 25 or 30 lbs on each exercise. Nope. We started with body weight exercises, then moved up to dumbbells, and then on to barbells. When I first started working with Brandon, I struggled to pick up 10 pounds. By the time he left TFC to get his master’s, I was deadlifting 120 and benching 70.

My doctor was so thrilled at how much I was weightlifting, and the sheer weight that I was doing, that he pushed back my re-check bone scan a year, to three years after my initial scan instead of two.

That three years was up last week, and I had my re-scan on Wednesday. I’m not going to lie to you. I was nervous. Yes, I’d been lifting regularly. I’d even started doing kickboxing twice a week with Adam, the trainer who took over planning my lifting workouts after Brandon left for grad school. But I hadn’t been taking the calcium or vitamin D that my doctors had recommended. And one doctor had warned me that because I was so thin, the odds were against me. I was worried that my osteopenia would have progressed to osteoporosis, meaning I’d have to go on medicine. And if I couldn’t tolerate calcium or vitamin D, how much worse would it be taking medicine?

Screw skinny! I wanna be strong!

The results of my first scan in Jan 2013 (top) and my scan last week (bottom)

I expected to get the scan results in the mail, just like I had the first time. But my doctor pulled up the results on the computer in his office and gave me the good news right then — improvement across the board! My spine was up 2%, my right hip up 4%, and my left hip — the one that was almost to osteoporosis three years ago — had improved 6%!

As Brandon would say, “Hell yeah!” :)

I still have osteopenia, but things are moving in the right direction. My spine is at -1.7 (up from -1.8). My right and left hip are BOTH at -1.8 now, up from -2.0 and -2.2 respectively. And all that from weightlifting. No meds. No vitamins. Just lifting weights.

I’ve got another re-check in three years. Until then, I’m going to keep lifting heavy, and hoping to see as much improvement on that scan as I did on this one.

I just wish someone had encouraged me to lift weights — SERIOUS weights — years ago. Growing up, the focus was on being skinny. Guys lifted weights to get muscular. Girls dieted, or jogged, or did light weights to tone up. But if all those years ago someone had gotten me to focus on being strong instead of being skinny, I might not have osteopenia now. So all you girls out there, I urge you go to a gym, get with a good trainer, and learn how to lift free weights. Seriously, they aren’t just for guys. In fact, 99% of the guys in my gym are nothing but supportive of me as a lifter. More importantly, lifting weights is one of the best things you can do for your bones. And I’ve got the scans to prove it.

Screw skinny. Be strong!

FitNotes Workout – Friday 11th December 2015

** Stationary Bike **
1.52 m in 07:00

** Leg Extension Machine **
70.0 lbs x 12 reps
70.0 lbs x 12 reps
70.0 lbs x 12 reps
70.0 lbs x 12 reps

** Leg Press **
110.0 lbs x 15 reps
110.0 lbs x 15 reps
120.0 lbs x 15 reps
120.0 lbs x 15 reps

** Hack Squat **
110.0 lbs x 10 reps
110.0 lbs x 10 reps
110.0 lbs x 10 reps

** Seated Leg Press **
140.0 lbs x 10 reps
160.0 lbs x 10 reps
170.0 lbs x 10 reps

** Barbell Lunge **
110.0 lbs x 8 reps
120.0 lbs x 8 reps
130.0 lbs x 8 reps

** Lying Leg Curl Machine **
30.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral. RL done normally. Left leg done e-centric.]
15.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]
15.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]

** Seated Leg Curl Machine **
40.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]
40.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]
40.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]

** Standing Leg Curl **
12.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]
12.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]
12.0 lbs x 10 reps [Unilateral]

** Romanian Deadlift **
135.0 lbs x 8 reps
135.0 lbs x 8 reps
135.0 lbs x 8 reps

** Standing Calf Raise Machine ** (SS1)
80.0 lbs x 10 reps
80.0 lbs x 10 reps
80.0 lbs x 10 reps

** Seated Calf Raise Machine ** (SS1)
80.0 lbs x 10 reps
80.0 lbs x 10 reps
80.0 lbs x 10 reps

FitNotes Workout – Monday 14th December 2015

** Running (Indoor Track) **
0.5 mi

** Cable Overhead Triceps Extension **
50.0 lbs x 10 reps [Warmup; low weight]
50.0 lbs x 10 reps [Warmup; low weight]
50.0 lbs x 10 reps [Warmup; low weight]
70.0 lbs x 10 reps
70.0 lbs x 10 reps
70.0 lbs x 10 reps

** Close Grip Barbell Bench Press **
70.0 lbs x 10 reps
70.0 lbs x 10 reps
70.0 lbs x 10 reps

** Single Arm Dumbbell Kickback **
15.0 lbs x 10 reps
20.0 lbs x 10 reps
15.0 lbs x 10 reps

** EZ-Bar Skullcrusher **
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps

** EZ-Bar Curl **
20.0 lbs x 15 reps [Warmup; low weight]
20.0 lbs x 15 reps [Warmup; low weight]
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps

** Alternating Dumbbell Curl (Seated) **
15.0 lbs x 10 reps
15.0 lbs x 10 reps
15.0 lbs x 10 reps

** Dumbbell Hammer Curl **
15.0 lbs x 10 reps
20.0 lbs x 10 reps
20.0 lbs x 10 reps

** EZ-Bar Preacher Curl **
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps

** EZ-Bar Reverse Curl **
30.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps
40.0 lbs x 10 reps

 

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