Much like a chain, the body is only as strong as its weakest link. Regardless of how much muscularity you possess, the determining factor in how
strong you are is more than mere muscle. Have you ever noticed the guy in the gym who looks totally unimpressive in terms of physical stature yet
puts you to shame with the amount of weight he can lift? How can that be? The answer lies deep beneath the surface. The secret to strength doesn't
have as much to do with muscles as it has to do with tendons.
For the most part tendon strength is strength. The muscles may do the actual pushing and pulling, but the tendons hold it all together. The
situation isn't unlike the way a sailboat moves when wind hits the sail. To get the most out of your vessel, you need a big strong sail, but if the
mast holding the sail is flimsy, the I boat won't go far regardless of how big and strong the sail is. What connects to the sail is what determines
its power. So is the case with the human body. Muscles can work only as well as the connections will allow. The tendons determine overall strength
and ultimately overall development. The hip bone s connected to the thigh bone. The thigh bones connected... There are three types of connective
tissue: cartilage, which serves as a padding between the bones that meet at a joint in the skeleton; ligaments, which connect bones to bones at a
joint; and tendons, which connect muscle to bone. The tendons are most responsible for transmitting the force of all muscle contraction. Composed
of a strand-like connective tissue, they weave a network of support around and between the fibers of a muscle, providing stability and strength to
hold the motor units together. Since tendons are far more dense than muscles, they logically can withstand more pressure.
Lift big to get big - in a way
When you're lifting weights, all the components - muscle, cartilage, ligaments, bone and tendon - come into play. In the range which is thought to
increase strength (maximal weight for 4 to 6 reps), the bones and tendons take on most of the stress. This is why so many powerlifters don't possess
the lean musculature we've become accustomed to associating with a "strong" man. Despite what some experts erroneously believe, heavy training does
not necessarily lead to the development of bigger muscles. Not directly at least. Heavy training will build stronger tendons, and that is the key to
getting bigger and stronger. Along the same lines, big powerlifter types owe much of their size and strength to their genetically superior tendons.
I'm inserting what?
Important along with actual tendon strength is tendon insertion. The farther from a joint a tendon is attached, the greater the advantage. A long
insertion provides a tremendous bio-mechanical advantage by permitting the use of more resistance. In other words, you'll get better leverage. This
trait is complete luck of the draw. You cannot change it through training. If someone were blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with both
short legs and long insertions, there's a good chance he'd be able to out-squat everybody in the gym even before he began a training program. Another
advantage associated with insertions is dynamics. A full squat by a man 5'5" will consist of a downward motion of maybe ten inches, whereas another guy
6'4" will need to drop approximately 24 inches to complete a full rep. People with shorter limbs tend to have longer tendon insertion points. This is
why you don't see too many slender, long-limbed powerlifting champions.
Give me more!
If we gauge strength by tendon threshold and insertion placement which are genetically determined - what can we do to improve tendon strength? Plenty.
Heavy training will put considerable stress on the tendons. The more you stress them, the thicker and, consequently, more powerful they become. This is
why heavy lifting must be a part of every training program if you want to get stronger. Although strength and muscularity aren't directly related, they
share similarities. To overload a muscle, you have to maintain an increase in the poundages you lift. If you avoid heavy lifting altogether, progress
will stall. There is something to be said for high reps for building tendon tissue. Like muscle, tendons respond to a variety of stimuli. Champion
powerlifter Louie Simmons works exclusively in a low rep range since his goal is to increase his maximum one-rep max. Yet, on occasion, he trains with
lighter weights for higher reps. Why? According to Louie, this practice "helps develop the tendons." So even though Louie has about as much interest in
building more muscle as a bull has in growing a third horn, he is interested in improving his lifts and he knows stronger tendons will help him achieve
Just say "no" to the treadmill
Aerobic activity will do little to improve tendon mass and strength. In fact, running will damage them. The repetitive pounding of your shins onto
pavement is not what they were designed for. Treadmills are worse than running outdoors because the stress is unnatural. The body moves, not forward,
but up and down. To exercise tendons properly, you must use resistance training. If you want your workouts to be cardiovascular and burn fat, you're
much better off doing high-rep weight training with short rest periods. In this way you'll accomplish your goal, improve tendon function, and avoid
possible damage to those vital connective tissues.
Supplements for stronger tendons
Glucosamine / Condroitin Sulfate
: These substances have attracted a great deal of interest for improving joint health. Studies have shown the application of
this combination generated growth of new connective tissue in 30 days!
: Since tendons, like all cartilage, are largely made up of collagen, vitamin C may very well be the primary nutri-ent for keeping them strong
(Methylsulphonylmethane) is a bio-available form of sulfur which is believed to be paramount in the formation and integrity of connective tissue.
Creatine may also be a crucial component in tendon strength because it increases water retention. When fluid deposits in the joints, it provides a hydraulic
effect. This increased viscosity could explain the effectiveness of creatine. More compression equals more strength. Of course, we can't overlook the
importance of protein. Tissue is protein, and without it no growth or repair can occur.
Care and feeding
Besides proper exercise and nutrition, the final component toward tendon strength is care. Remember to warm up properly before beginning a training session
to allow ample blood flow to the tendons. Stretching before and after each workout also helps to keep them elastic.
Seeing how tendons work makes clear how important their role is in achieving a better body. Tear a muscle and you're going to hurt for a while. Tear a tendon
and you're out of commission for a long, long time. Muscles can't grow beyond what the corresponding connective tissue will allow. If you're looking to get
bigger muscles and greater strength, training the tendons is the key. Without the right connections you haven't got a chance.