How to Train for Stronger Bones – Wolverine Training Part One

By on April 16, 2018

In this post you will learn how to get super strong bones like Wolverine and turn your arms and legs into blades. So that… um… because it’s awesome okay?

Bone strengthening wolverine

Alright, in reality there are plenty of good reasons to strengthen your bones. Not only so that you can use your shins, knuckles and forearms as weapons (though we will be looking at that), but also so that you can avoid osteoporosis and other issues as you age and prevent injuries during training and sports.

And actually, you’ll find that the whole subject is rather fascinating once you dive in…

Let’s bone!

Bone Metabolism

Your entire body is constantly changing and growing – that much is indisputable – but it is up to you whether it grows weaker or stronger.

Your bones, contrary to popular belief, are not set or inert. Rather, they are made from living, adaptable tissue, just like your muscles and your brain.

Your bones are not set or inert

In fact, one way we can think of bones is as calcium ‘banks’. In this sense, they act as a kind of repository for calcium that the body can draw on as needed when blood calcium levels are low via a process called bone reabsorption or resorption. This is overseen by cells that break bone down called osteoclasts and controlled by various hormones such as parathyroid hormone (PTH), in response to low blood-levels of calcium. This is controlled by cells called osteoclasts.

Wolverine training

Of course, if bone can break itself down, then it can also build itself up – otherwise it would just dissolve! This is where the role of osteoblasts come in and lay down new bone matrix at the site of ‘bone turnover’. This process is called reversal. These cells are also responsible for healing fractures and breaks and can increase bone density in response to every day factors and changing demands. This process is called formation.

In other words, during exercise and regular activity, you can cause microdamage in the bones that needs to be repaired. This process works just the same as muscle damage and when the repair is made, the bone comes back slightly stronger.

All of this is going on all of the time. In fact, you will completely replace all of your bone tissue roughly once every 10 years. And a new-born child entirely replaces their skeleton in the first one year!

Bone Strength Training

If we want adamantium-like bones then, we need to cause just the right amount of microdamage through our training in order to maximize bone formation.

The good news for gym-goers is that exercise is the number-one way to do this. And more specifically, training with heavy loads that will produce a bending or compressing force on the bones, or better yet, training with high impact.

Compound lifts bone strength

That means that those of you who already squat regularly and bench press regularly should have tough, iron bones that are harder to break. If you perform depth jumps and clapping push ups, then you’re laughing! If not, then incorporate these things into your training!

Interestingly, sprinters have higher bone density as compared with endurance runners (study), which is due to the increased impact. Of course, the caveat here is that high impact can be bad for your joints if you don’t have the correct biomechanics. So, before you go out and pound the tarmac, have your gait checked and consider investing in some decent shoes.

You could likewise get similar benefits from skipping, or from engaging in explosive/impact sports.

Iron Palm Training

If you want to go a step further, you can also cause microdamage on the surface of your bones by directly impacting on them. In fact, Muay Thai fighters have been doing this for years – kicking and punching against trees in order to gradually harden their bones. Shaolin monks use iron palm training by striking the palms, fingertips and blades of their hands into sand and ice. This is combined with exercises to strengthen the grip and condition the wrists and forearms and the results can be deadly.

finger of steel master ho

All of this creates microdamage that can over time increase density and toughness of the bones. In one episode of Stan Lee’s Superhumans, one Master Ho demonstrates just how far this can be taken with his ‘finger of steel’ (laidees) that he is able to use to puncture watermelons (though not a lot else).

Another trick is to roll bamboo sticks up and down the shins. This is something my Granddad had me do when I was younger (I had a weird childhood) that would not only create microdamage but also deaden the very sensitive nerves along the shins to make them a more potent striking weapon.

Your Bone Strengthening Regime

With all that in mind, what can we take away and use in our own bone strengthening routine?

For starters:

  • Use high impact, plyometric training
  • Use heavy compound lifts

Both these things have a lot of other potential uses too.

On top of that, you could also consider taking this one step further with some shin, forearm, knuckle and palm training. The following is in descending order of insane:

  • Performing press ups on your knuckles is a great way to make them harder and to get your hand used to bearing loads.
  • Likewise, fingertip push ups will increase the load on your fingers
  • Punching sandbags or even heavy bags without gloves – lightly to start with – is another way to achieve this. Many untrained individuals who get into fights will break their knuckles upon delivering a blow, so this is one of the most useful and overlooked tools for a fighter.
  • Likewise, you could incorporate shin and forearm strikes into your regular heavy bag work

  • Rolling bamboo sticks up and down your shins will make them harder and less sensitive
  • Lightly striking the palms, backs of the hands and knuckles against a telephone book is a good place to start with some amateur iron palm training

Of course it goes without saying that you need to be incredibly careful with all of these things.

Iron palm bone strengthening

This is sacrilege

Hormones, Healing and Herbs

Iron palm training utilizes a special herbal concoction called Dit Da Jow. This is used to prevent bleeding and encourage healing. I’m not going to go into that here as there are tons of recipes and potential ingredients, each with variable scientific evidence or lack thereof.

This does though raise the question of recovery, which as with muscle hypertrophy, is an important part of bone remodelling. We’ve caused the microfractures, now how do we ensure they come back tougher?

Obviously, getting enough calcium is important. That includes dairy, despite some concerns bouncing around the internet that it ‘leaches calcium from the bones’ or that it isn’t properly absorbed. This is not backed by evidence and most research concludes that dairy helps fight osteoporosis (study) and that low dairy can lead to lower bone mineral density (study). Here’s another very good article looking at milk and whether or not it is a positive force.

For the lactose intolerant, mineral water is also a good bet. That ‘hard water’ in your area may not actually be such a bad thing (study). Failing that, vegetables like bok choy and red lettuce, and fruits are also high in key vitamins and minerals. (I got a lot of these studies from an article on Mark’s Daily Apple, which is definitely worth a read.)

Most research concludes that dairy helps fight osteoporosis

Note that excess calcium is actually bad for you though, so stick within recommended guidelines of 1,000-2,000mg.

The other pillars of a good bone-strengthening diet include: magnesium and protein – particularly animal protein (study, study). Probiotics also appear to play some role (study).

Also, very important is vitamin D which aids with the absorption of calcium. While you can supplement with vitamin D, the very best way to get it is by spending more time outdoors – which has a ton of health benefits beyond bone health too.

Oh, and inflammation can also weaken bones. So get that omega 3 down you!

Hormones for Bone Strength

Bone metabolism is controlled by hormones. We’ve already seen that parathyroid hormone plays a role, but so too do testosterone and estrogen (study). In fact, anabolic steroids are used medicinally in cases of osteoporosis for this very reason. IGF-1 and growth hormone also play a role.

I won’t go into this here, but of course there are plenty of ways to increase testosterone and other steroid hormones.

One of the most important strategies though is to get more and better sleep, which will unequivocally increase bone density as well as brain function, muscle mass and more (study) by putting the body in a deep state of repair. More interestingly, there is also a link between melatonin and bone strength (study). That’s another reason to avoid blue light before bed and to… eat cherries.

What’s even more incredible is that it seems the bones themselves may actually produce hormones. The bones actually communicate with the brain via the release of hormones such as osteocalcin, sclerostin, fibroblast growth factor 23 and lipocalin 2. Lipocalin 2 is actually an appetite-suppressor and it seems this hormone may be used to tell the brain when the bones have received enough minerals (reference)!

Osteocalcin meanwhile is produced by the osteoblasts and plays a role in energy metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Sclerostin, which also regulates the production of osteoblasts, has a similar effect and may also encourage the switch to ketogenesis (study).

The bones are far more complex and amazing than we typically give them credit for with an incredibly involved structure.

The body is so complicated… how are we supposed to learn all of this??

Be Like Water My Friend

All these tips are great and can help you to avoid injury, age well and hit harder.

But if you’re falling out of a plane, none of them will help you. And if you’re punched in the face, none of them will help you.

Unless you’ve been rolling bamboo up and down your face.

What does help is going limp. You see, bones are not actually solid lumps of minerals. Not only are they hollow, with a bone marrow center, but the structure of the outer-rim is actually a kind of honeycomb structure. This is crucial, because it allows the bone to compress and to absorb impact like a sponge.

THIS is the greatest power of the bones when it comes to protecting us from injury and under the right circumstances, bone can handle immense amounts of force. Individuals have been known to fall from planes and land without injury. Partly this was due to lucky landings (hitting a steep gradient for instance) but partly it is due to the bone’s extraordinary capacity for shock absorption.

The question is, why aren’t we always this good at absorbing impact?

Strengthen bone

And the answer is that by seizing up and tensing our muscles in anticipation of a blow, we actually place greater force on the bones and increase the likelihood of a fracture. If you find yourself bracing for an impact then, the best thing you can actually do is to pass out or at least try to let your body go limp.

Of course, that also means that increasing your flexibility may also help. This will not only give you a greater range of motion without resistance but also train you out of the usual reflex to tense up and fight elongation of the muscle (i.e. desensitizing the golgi tendon organ and muscle spindles).

Collagen makes up a large portion of the bone matrix and aids elasticity and tensile strength

And getting more collagen in the diet will also help. Collagen makes up a large portion of the bone matrix and aids elasticity and tensile strength (whereas the minerals provide the compressive strength). You can support this by eating more of it or getting more gelatin. Bone broth is a very trendy option for this and a host of other health benefits.

Conclusions

So, there you have it, along with our bone-hardening training routine, you can also toughen up your bones by: getting enough calcium, magnesium, probiotics, gelatine, and protein; by spending more time outdoors; by supporting healthy hormone balance; and by getting more sleep.

Oh, and go limp if you find yourself falling off a cliff. Just like Wolverine.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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