How to Build a Super-Structure

By Dave DiFabio

How to Build a Super-Structure

What I'm talking about here is building dense bones and strong connective tissue (ligaments and tendons). Why should we care? In a sentence: The only way muscles can get stronger, grow, and propel you through space is if the tissues they connect to and transmit force through are strong and healthy. More on that later. The best way to build a super-structure is to engage in weight-bearing exercises during your teens and early twenties when your circulating anabolic hormones are highest. Even if you're in your thirties, you can still make structural gains. However, the average 40 year-old begins to see a bone mass decrease of about .5 percent per year. By time women reach 50, their lifetime risk of a fracture due to osteoporosis is close to 40 percent. Men, before you start thinking you're off the hook, up to 33 percent of all hip fractures happen to the most alpha of males. The good news in all this is that even though we can't reverse the aging, we CAN slow it down even if you're passed your early twenties.

Weight-bearing exercises:

The most important quality of a super-structure building routine is the selection of exercises. We must do weight-bearing exercises, also called structural exercises. That generally means that the exercises are executed from a standing position. There are exceptions such as a seated shoulder press. The most important quality of a structural exercise is that it loads (engages) the axial skeleton (spine and hips) and at least part of the appendicular skeleton (arms and legs). These exercises can take many forms such as dancing, running, jumping, squats, push press, etc. Whether one form is better than another for building a super-structure depends on the intensity of the exercise, the fitness and health status of the person doing the exercise, and how much of the skeleton is stimulated by the exercise. The exercise needs to be of greater intensity than what the body is used to. For example treadmill running on an incline may not be intense enough to increase bone density for an elite athlete that is accustomed to squatting and pressing hundreds of pounds. However, that same treadmill program could be too intense and increase risk of injury if done by a sedentary osteoporosis patient.

Minimal Essential Strain (MES):

Ultimately our exercise plan needs to meet a minimal intensity called MES. Researchers have equated this to 1/10th the force needed to fracture a bone. Thus the denser the bone and thicker the tendons and ligaments are, the more force needed to attain MES. In other words, the more fit you become, the higher MES becomes, the harder you have to continue to work to attain MES and build a stronger structure. MES can be achieved by manipulating the load (weight), speed, direction, and the volume (sets, reps, and # of days) of exercise.

The Physiology of a Super-Structure:

Finally it would be important to mention that hypertrophy (increased muscle mass) requires only 4 to 8 weeks, while new collagen formation (the protein foundation of tendons and ligaments) takes 8 to 12 weeks, and bone mineralization can take months. This is why muscles can adapt ahead of connective tissue and bone. If that happens, muscles can damage the ligaments that connect them to bones, and even create more force than ligaments can handle. Ligaments help hold joints together. However the good news is that hypertrophy, strength, and bone density programs have many similarities and you can build a super structure by starting with loads as light as something you can lift 10 times (If it was super heavy you could only lift it 1 or 2 times). So there is no need to rush into using extremely heavy loads and you can progress slowly to allow the connective tissue time to catch up to the increasingly stronger muscles.


Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention that proper nutrition is also very important in building a super-structure. However, that's a whole other article much longer than this one.

Check out this link:

It does a nice job out outlining nutrients that are both beneficial and detrimental to bone health.

If you need a hand with your super-structure routine, please don't hesitate to ask.


Dave DiFabio MA, CSCS, USAW

Owner/Strength & Conditioning Coach - Team Speed Fitness LLC