Weight Bearing Exercises; What Are They? + 40 Exercises To Try


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Although most people can easily spout off the well-known fact that it’s recommended to do weight-bearing exercises for osteoporosis, knowing which exercises count as weight-bearing exercises is actually rather confusing for lots of people. 

Is walking a weight bearing exercise? Is yoga a weight bearing exercise? Is cycling a weight bearing exercise?

What are the benefits of weight-bearing exercises for osteoporosis and in general?

In this article, we will discuss what constitutes a weight bearing exercise, different types of weight bearing exercises, and examples of weight bearing exercises for different fitness levels and interests.

We will cover: 

  • What Is a Weight Bearing Exercise?
  • What Are the Types of Weight Bearing Exercises?
  • What Are the Best Weight Bearing Exercises for Osteoporosis?
  • 40 Examples of Weight Bearing Exercises to Try

Let’s get started! 

People dancing in a Zumba class.

What Is a Weight Bearing Exercise?

A weight bearing exercise is any type of physical activity or movement in which your body is working against gravity to hold yourself up rather than being supported in another way.

For example, if you are standing up, your feet are “bearing” your weight, so you are in a weight bearing position.

Similarly, a push-up is considered a weight-bearing exercise because your hands and feet are in contact with the ground, and nothing else is holding your body up against the force of gravity besides your own muscles, bones, and connective tissue.

What Are the Types of Weight Bearing Exercises?

There are two primary different types of weight bearing exercises: high-impact and low impact weight bearing exercise. 

With high-impact weight bearing exercise, you are landing on your feet or other body parts from an airborne position, so there is a greater impact stress on your bones and joints than just your body weight.

The acceleration due to gravity increases the magnitude of the impact.

Three people doing box jumps.

For example, when comparing the impact stresses or forces with running (a high-impact weight bearing exercise) versus walking (a low-impact weight bearing exercise), the magnitude of the impact stresses on your body is almost twice as much when running.

In fact, studies that have measured the impact stresses of walking and running have found that the body is subjected to forces equivalent to 1-1.5 times your body weight when you walk and 2-2.9 times your body weight when you run.

Any type of activity that involves running, jumping, or landing on your body can be considered a high-impact exercise. 

Examples include running, doing jumping jacks, running up or down stairs, using a rebounder or mini trampoline, stomping, marching directly in place, skipping, jumping rope, doing step aerobics, Zumba, dancing, and playing sports like tennis, volleyball, soccer, and basketball.

Plyometric exercises like box jumps, burpees, jump squats, and clapping push-ups are also examples of high-impact weight bearing exercises.

A group of people doing juming jacks in a field.

Distinct from high-impact weight bearing exercises are low-impact weight bearing exercises.

These types of activities still put your body in a weight bearing position such that you are supporting your body weight against gravity, but at least one foot or one body part remains in contact with the ground or exercise surface at all times. You are never in a “flight“ or airborne position.

A good example of a low-impact weight bearing exercise is walking. Whether walking on a treadmill, hiking, walking outdoors or doing incline walking, at least one foot is always on the ground or walking surface. 

This means that although there are impact stresses on your body when the other foot does come back into contact with the ground, the magnitude of the impact is not significantly greater than the force of your overall body weight.

Other examples of low-impact weight bearing exercises include the elliptical machine and stair climber machine. Your feet are always at least partially connected to the pedals.

The benefit of low-impact weight bearing exercise is that you are still working against gravity, requiring more workload from your heart and muscles than non-weight bearing exercise.

Two people Nordic Walking in a grass field.

With that said, the impact on your body is less than that experienced when running or jumping. Therefore, if you already suffer from joint problems or osteoporosis, low-impact weight bearing exercise can be a good way to help maintain or even improve bone mass without significantly increasing the risk of injury. 

Even in the absence of any current injury or low bone density, the risk of injury doing high-impact exercise is higher than for low-impact exercise because of the higher forces and decreased stability. 

Therefore, engaging in low-impact weight bearing exercise can be a good way to reduce the risk of injury. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these types of exercises are not as effective at building bone mass.

Note that there are also low-impact and non-impact non-weight-bearing exercises as well. An example of a low-impact non-weight-bearing exercise is cycling. 

Whether you are riding a bike outdoors or using an exercise bike, your body weight is supported by the bike seat, so it is a non-weight bearing exercise—your feet or body are not “bearing” or supporting your weight.

A person riding a stationary bike.

However, cycling is considered a low-impact exercise rather than a non-impact exercise. Although your feet remain in contact with the bike pedals at all times (meaning that there is no “high“ impact), you are still pressing through your joints, so there is some impact.

Swimming or deep water aqua jogging, on the other hand, are examples of non-impact non-weight-bearing activities.

The buoyancy of the water and the fact that your feet are not touching the bottom of the pool prevent any type of impact stresses on the bones and joints, and you are in a non-weight bearing position.

On the other hand, if you run in the shallow end of the pool so that your feet are landing on the bottom with every step, this can be considered a unique hybrid of a high-impact, partially weight bearing activity.

Because your body weight is at least partially offset by the buoyancy of the water, you are not truly in a weight-bearing position against gravity. 

On the other hand, some of your body will be out of the water, and because you are running in place, you are impacting your bones and joints, but again this impact force is not equivalent to your full body weight.

People smiling in an aerobics class.

What Are the Best Weight Bearing Exercises for Osteoporosis?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, bone mineral density, and bone strength starts decreasing at a rate of roughly 1% per year after age 40. In the United States alone, 10 million adults suffer from osteoporosis, and an additional 43 million adults have low bone mineral density.

It’s natural to assume that it is better to do non-impact or low-impact exercise if you have osteoporosis in order to decrease your risk of stress fractures, but weight-bearing exercise with impact is actually the best way to build bone.

Indeed, a large body of evidence suggests that weight bearing exercise is the best type of exercise for increasing bone mineral density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. 

For example, running is a high-impact activity, so it is one of the most effective forms of exercise for increasing bone density

Bones respond to the stressors placed upon them and adapt accordingly. Therefore, high-impact weight bearing exercises stimulate bone mineralization, fortifying your bones to be stronger and more resilient. 

The recommendation for exercising with osteoporosis is to accumulate at least 50 “impacts” per day (jumps, hops, skips, bounds, etc.), although more is better if you build up gradually and your bones can support more impact.

A person jumping rope, a high impact weight bearing exercise.

40 Examples of Weight Bearing Exercises to Try

Ready to jump in and answer some of your questions, such as, is walking a weight bearing exercise, or is yoga a weight bearing exercise?

Here are some weight bearing exercises to incorporate into your workout routine:

High-Impact Weight Bearing  ExercisesLow-Impact Weight Bearing Exercises
Running or JoggingWalking
JumpingIncline Walking
Jump RopingNordic Walking
Jumping JacksElliptical Machine
PlyometricsStair Climbing
Jump SquatsHiking
GymnasticsCross-Country Skiing
SoccerWeight Lifting
ReboundingStep Aerobics
CrossFitZumba (can be high-impact)
RacquetballCircuit Training
Irish Step DancingMowing the Lawn
FrisbeeShoveling Snow
BadmintonTai Chi
Mountain ClimbersBowling

One other thing to keep in mind is that weight bearing exercise increases bone mass only in the bones that are stressed, so it’s important to do different types of weight bearing exercises that also target the upper body so that you bear weight through the wrists. Examples include push-ups and yoga.

Keeping your workout routine well-balanced with different types of exercise will help strengthen all of your bones and muscles. 

Do any of the above-mentioned exercises sound fun to you? Check out our guides on Nordic Walking, Rebounding, and Incline Walking to get started!

A runner smiling.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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