The femur, or thigh bone, is the strongest bone in your body. But even the strongest bones can have weaknesses. The femur's weakness is its neck, located between the long part of the bone and the ball that attaches your femur to your pelvis. If your femoral neck is weakened by osteoporosis or age, it can fracture. This may lead to a loss of mobility and independence.
Your Skeleton’s Remodeling System
With so much emphasis on medication to treat osteoporosis and prevent bone loss, simple yet effective lifestyle changes are often overlooked. Nutrition and supplements are important for managing bone health, but exercise is probably your most valuable tool for maintaining or improving bone strength. Bone strength is managed by your skeleton's remodeling system. The goal of medications is to balance the work of the remodeling system. Nutritional deficiencies can disrupt it. Exercise stimulates it. One of the remodeling system's jobs is to monitor loads placed on bones. If part of a bone is experiencing greater stress -- like from exercise, new bone tissue is formed to resist that stress. If a bone is not experiencing stress over time, bone tissue is removed from that area. By loading your bones, exercise encourages the remodeling system to build new, stronger bone.
Loading Your Bones
The two types of load that stimulate bone growth are strength training and impact. When a bone is exposed to tugging from attached muscles or to a sudden load from impact, it gets stronger to protect itself against future stress. When you strengthen the muscles attached to the femur, including the quadriceps, glutes, iliopsoas, piriformis, hip adductors and gastrocnemius, among others, they pull harder on the bone and stimulate remodeling. Because the femur is a weight-bearing bone, it also responds well to impact. Impact works by surprising your skeletal system. When bone reaches a peak force quickly, as it does upon landing after a jump, the remodeling system is immediately activated. However, repetitive loading, as you would experience when running or jumping rope, doesn't challenge bone the same way. In fact, that type of repetitive loading can actually break bone down over time. To effectively build bone, the impact must be unique and followed by a pause.
The Best Femural Bone Exercises
One of the best exercises that you can do to strengthen your femoral bones is the jump-stop. To do this, stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Push your hips back into a squat and bring your arms up in front of you. In one smooth movement, swing your arms down by your sides and push up out of the squat, straightening your legs as you leave the floor. Upon landing, bend your ankles and knees and push your hips back into another squat. Pause before jumping again. This exercise is most effective if you intersperse it with the following functional strength training exercises that also strengthen your femur -- forward lunges, side lunges, back lunges, squats and stepping -- so you surprise your remodeling system each time you land. You can also add impact by hopping off of a curb or step. Just remember to pause before jumping again. Once you can do these exercises easily, add a weighted belt or vest for greater resistance.
What to Avoid
Because a fragile femoral neck is prone to fracture, you want to avoid putting excess stress on this area. Avoid lifting your leg too far out to the side in hip abduction, and if you have osteoporosis, don't jump. Instead, you can do toe raises with heel drops. Stand next to a chair or counter for support and rise up onto your toes. Balance for a few seconds then drop your heels down to the floor.
- Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences: Long-term Exercise Using Weighted Vests Prevents Hip Bone Loss in Postmenopausal Women
- Journal of Bone and Mineral Research: Detraining Reverses Positive Effects of Exercise on the Musculoskeletal System in Premenopausal Women
- ScienceDaily: Bone Cells’ Branches Sense Stimulation, When To Make New Bone
Cindy Killip is a health and fitness specialist, health coach, author and speaker who has been teaching and writing about exercise and wellness since 1989. She authored "Living the BONES Lifestyle: A Practical Guide to Conquering the Fear of Osteoporosis." Killip holds multiple certifications through the American Council on Exercise and degrees in communications and sociology from Trinity University.