How To Strengthen Tendons
Regardless of whether you're a runner, CrossFit competitor, bodybuilder or powerlifter it's almost a certainty that you'll run into some tendon and ligament related issues down the line if you do not directly work on strengthening your tendons and ligaments.
I've seen it time and time again in bodybuilders and powerlifters that make the jump from being a natural athlete to getting on some form of enhanced cycle, their muscle mass rapidly increases and their strength goes through the roof, but their tendons aren't strengthening and adapting to this increase in load and volume at the same rate.
Then one day they're mid set and it hits them... a tendon injury that has them sidelined for god knows how long.
Yes, by lifting weights and exercising (regardless of what your current regime is) you will be forcing your tendons to adapt to the load to a degree, however we could all benefit from placing some emphasis on strengthening your tendons.
SJ, What Do Our Tendons Actually Do?
Before we learn to strengthen them it's imperative we know what our tendons actually do...
Tendons and ligaments are the connector between our muscles and our bones, contracting a muscle forces your tendons to move the associated bone. Tendons are essentially the middleman in this situation.
At the same time our tendons act almost like an elastic band when it coms to explosive movements like sprinting and jumping, this is due to the recoil of the tendon after being stretched.
Tendon Stiffness Explained
A stiff tendon is not a bad tendon... the stiffness of your tendons are an indicator of strength.
A strong (stiff) tendon will be able to remain functional while elongated under stress (i.e. lifting weight).
The stiffer the tendon the more stability and force transfer you'll likely have.
Tendon Hysteresis Explained
Tendon hysteresis is how efficiently your tendons return to their original form after being elongated.
A fast recoil is an indicator of low hysteresis, a slower inefficient recoil is high hysteresis.
5 Training Methods To Strengthen Tendons & Ligaments
1 - Foam Roll/Self Massage
Whether you use a foam roller, a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball or opt to lay on a shakti mat the choice is yours as self-massage techniques increase blood flow to tendons that otherwise do not receive a great deal.
Increased blood flow = increased recovery, when it comes to tendons this recovery is adaption to meet the demand we're placing on them via our training.
2 - Perform Partial Reps
An old school strongman by the name of George Jowett created a program for strengthening tendons and ligaments that was based upon performing the top 6 inches of major compound lifts with heavy weights such as the bench, squat and overhead press.
3 - Perform Explosive Movements
You don't get better at something by not doing it... by utilizing the recoil of your tendons as we discussed earlier you can infact improve this recoil.
Keep in mind this takes time, but regularly performing box jumps, drop jumps, pistol squat jumps and the like is a sure-fire method to reduce tendon hysteresis (remember, when it comes to tendon hysteresis lower is better).
4 - Focus On Negatives
This technique should come as no surprise as negative portions of repetitions have been one of the key prescriptions of physiotherapists for many years when it comes to healing tendon related injuries (think achilles tendon and patellar injuries).
If regularly performing the eccentric portion of a calf raise can resolve achilles injuries and focusing on the eccentric portion of your squats is a recommended technique to fix patellar related issues then you can be sure that by placing emphasis on the eccentric portions of your exercises while you're healthy will assist in strengthening your tendons.
5 - Increase Your Overall Volume (Gradually!)
Work on your craft every single day.
Run, walk, jump rope...
Pick your poison to place stress on your tendons daily, as they will then be forced to adapt to these daily stressors.
I'm not telling you to overtrain and beat both your muscles and tendons into the ground.
Just make sure you aren't sitting stationary at an office desk all day...
For example rock climbers have beefy looking hands due to the sheer amount of connective tissue they've developed from years of grasping onto miniscule corners of rocks and such with their fingers.