Geezer sprinters rule in bone-density race vs. distance runners

Runner’s World might have to rename itself Sprinter’s World at this rate. Picking up on a late 2012 study in Osteoporosis International, my favorite bedside reading, RW reports: “Older sprinters have better bone density and neuromuscular functioning than older distance runners, according to … German researchers [who] examined 178 competitors at the 2006 edition of the European Masters Championships [in Poznan, Poland]. They measured bone density, lean tissue mass, and a few measures of neuromuscular functioning, or how well one’s nervous system communicates with one’s muscles, in three groups of athletes: sprinters, middle-distance runners and long-distance runners. The sprinters outperformed the other two groups on all the measures.” OK, great! Now can you spin off a magazine for the dash masters? Here’s the original German study. Thanks to world champ Jim Chinn for the RW link.


RW also said:

While it’s probably not news that the sprinters were better at tests like one-legged hopping and maximal grip strength, their higher bone density is notable. The sprinters had significantly higher bone density in their legs, hips, spine and trunk than the distance runners. To be sure, the distance runners’ bone density was the same or higher than average for their age, but not nearly as great as that of the sprinters.”

Here’s the summary of the original report:

We examined short- (n  = 50), middle- (n = 19) and long-distance (n = 109) athletes at the 15th European Masters Championships in Poznań, Poland. Dual X-ray absorptiometry was used to measure areal bone mineral density (aBMD) and lean tissue mass. Maximal countermovement jump, multiple one-leg hopping and maximal grip force tests were performed.


Short-distance athletes showed significantly higher aBMD at the legs, hip, lumbar spine and trunk compared to long-distance athletes (p  ≤ 0.0012). Countermovement jump performance, hop force, grip force, leg lean mass and arm lean mass were greater in short-distance athletes (p ≤ 0.027). A similar pattern was seen in middle-distance athletes who typically showed higher aBMD and better neuromuscular performance than long-distance athletes, but lower in magnitude than short-distance athletes. In all athletes, aBMD was the same or higher than the expected age-adjusted population mean at the lumbar spine, hip and whole body. This effect was greater in the short- and middle-distance athletes.


The stepwise relation between short-, middle- and long-distance athletes on bone suggests that the higher-impact loading protocols in short-distance disciplines are more effective in promoting aBMD. The regional effect on bone, with the differences between the groups being most marked at load-bearing regions (legs, hip, spine and trunk) rather than non-load-bearing regions, is further evidence in support of the idea that bone adaptation to exercise is dependent upon the local loading environment, rather than as part of a systemic effect.

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January 6, 2013

13 Responses

  1. Liz Palmer - January 7, 2013

    My employer would sponsor on-site health fairs that featured various tests such as blood sugar, grip strength, and bone density. The technicians were always astounded at my level of bone density and asked about my types of physical activity. They were of the opinion that weight-lifting was a significant factor in increasing bone density.

  2. tb - January 7, 2013

    In all athletes, aBMD [bone mineral density] was the same or higher than the expected age-adjusted population mean at the lumbar spine, hip and whole body. So, no cause for alarm amongst the distance types.

    Another interesting find was that each group of athletes- they were all finalists at the Euro Champs- averaged about eight hours of training per week.

  3. Joseph Burleson - January 7, 2013

    One inevitable problem with this type of study, through no fault of the authors, is that it is not an experiment: That is, all the athletes were not randomly assigned to do either sprint/jump, middle, or distance, and then followed for a period of time to assess whether the reported physical changes differed as a function of which group they were assigned. Of course, an experiment of this type is fanciful and is very difficult to do with humans in general. The point is that sprinters/jumpers are quite possibly different to begin with, first, in that they choose to do these events which may be because they have the physical propensitiy (i.e., better bone density, fast-twitch muscle tissue, etc.), and second, that those who do not have the positive propensity suffer enough trying to sprint/jump that they drop out of sprinting more often than distance runners drop out of their running,leaving only the fittest. To rectify these inevitable problems about research design and random assignment, animal studies have proven useful as a starting point.

  4. Rita Hanscom - January 7, 2013

    At the WMA meet in Spain in 2005 a group of scientists were looking for volunteers for a bone density test. The testing took about 3 hours. I was both delighted and disappointed at the results of my test. They reported that my 51 year old leg had the density of a 20 year old but my arm was “age-appropriate.” As a pole vaulter I felt so insulted! How could that be?
    But that started me thinking about weight bearing/pounding exercises for arms to increase bone-density. Other than punching a heavy bag what else is there? And I was terribly disappointed to find out that bone density tests in the U.S. were on legs and hips. No one seems to look at arms. Aren’t we at risk for broken wrists and arms from falling as we get older? What do the experts recommend? I don’t know that lifting weights gives the same effect as the pounding that comes from running.

  5. Mike Sullivan - January 7, 2013

    I am no expert but….
    To get that pounding effect I do a number of things that I find work for me such as push-ups dropping off boxes at varying heights add weight as needed….started with just clap push-ups…or using a tricep machine go fast and let the machine snap back pulling on the tendons…..throwing and catching heavy medicine balls…. I am not sure about my bone density but my arms have never been stronger…..more concerned about the last 50 meters in my next 400 …ha ha


  6. anonymous - January 7, 2013

    When you are lifting weights your muscles flex and pull on bones, this puts stress on the skeleton. When muscles pull on bones and weight compresses the skeleton the bones will form micro-cracks, much like muscles get micro-tears. the bones will repair themselves and will build greater density. A study showed for professional tennis players, the arm that held the racquet had larger and stronger bones than the non dominant arm.

  7. Mark Cleary - January 7, 2013

    Sulley how is your rehab going anre you back to fairly normal training ?

  8. Weia Reinboud - January 8, 2013

    The participants in the study will not be a random sample, nevertheless it is interesting they find difference between distances run. It seems that the higher the impact the better the bones become. How you can put that much impact on your arms, I should not know, playing wheelbarrow maybe? Just try.

    I myself had bone density tested twenty years ago because I was in a risk group (vegan) and indeed it turned out I was on the low side. But then I started to do athletics and some years ago bone density again was tested and it hadn’t been worsened at all.

  9. Sully - January 8, 2013

    Mr. Cleary,
    Thanks for asking…
    Normal Training..whats that hahhaha…Training is going great…my Doc thought the avulsion might cause a little loss of power …so some new training in the weight room….Had to adjust my stride a bit …thus arms also ..taking Doc Tissenbaums’ advice, shorter quicker arms….Would like the turnover of Lonnie Hooker and the stride of James Chinn…..Pretty good last workout ….4 x 200 2 min. rest interval – average 26.50 and that was up hill with a weight jacket on ….
    haha just kidding about the weight jacket
    Sully –

  10. Anthony Treacher - January 8, 2013

    There is another aspect to this. I am an enthusiastic supporter of all scientific investigations into masters athlete ageing. In that vein, I participated in a study at EMG Lignano 2011. There were inconveniences like foregoing breakfast, etc., but I gladly accepted that because they promised my results afterwards. The results never came.

    Incidentally a test at Linz revealed that I had osteoporosis in my right wrist. That worried me at first but tests back home revealed that the rest was OK. Anyway osteoporosis in the right wrist is infinitely more respectable than high BMD there from intensive physical activity. BMAF Committee members must surely have high wrist BMD.

  11. Joseph Burleson - January 8, 2013

    To corroborate Mike Sullivan, comment #5 and anonymous, #6, there was a show on the Science channel or one of those that looked at bone density of a man who was skilled in breaking huge stacks of bricks by slamming his forearm down in a karati-type chop motion. The researchers found that the bone density of his arms was incredibly high, moreso than on any forearm studied. One might surmise that weight “bearing” in any sense of the word, on a joint or limb might improve bone density. Should we all break bricks or try to lift huge weights with all of our joints? Probably not, but at least some exercises with weight load distributed on muscles/limbs not typically used in ones primary athletic activity might be something worth considering. I am reminded of having witnessed the US hammer throwing champ, Lance Deal, run multiple repititions up and down the U. of Oregon stadium steps fairly fast until he dropped. He said he hated it, but did it anyway, good for the quads and calves. That sounds like a good way to get the whole spine some pounding.

  12. Stefan Waltermann - January 9, 2013

    I have an 80 lbs. Everlast punching bag. When I get home from work, I go to the basement gym and beat the daylight out of the thing. That is a proven way to increased bone density, hitting a punching bag is a wonderful cross training activity for all of us. I enjoy the added benefit of stress release and flushing the daily grind out of my system. Try it! Also, I’m sure that my low rep high load multi-joint weight program focusing on squat, deadlift and overhead press combined with box jumps (up and down!) greatly helped my bone density. Oh, and don’t forget a hand gripper, like the Captains of Crush® Grippers from Ironmind. They are the best. Or squeeze a small rubber ball. But don’t forget gripping strength for bone density. The older you get, the more important it all becomes. Remember, we don’t necessarily add years to our live, but we are going to add quality to the years we have.

  13. Michael Daniels - January 11, 2013

    In my opinion as a sprinter:
    One hypothesis to the research from the start is that sprinters spend less time in their workout at top speed. We do a lot more walking and strength training than running. Distance runners spend more time running in the same time frame and less time walking and strength training.

    This to me would mean distance runners don’t get enough recovery time in their event during training to allow for tissue development or recovery.

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