Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tendon Strength? Maybe Just Slow Down a Little!

It should have been here yesterday, right? We're a subculture within a larger culture that can't stand things that don't happen right now, if not earlier. Waiting for a stubborn body to meet the goal that we set for it is the strength training equivalent of Dial-up AOL. It's got to happen and it better happen sooner rather than later, right?

As I walked through Dicks Sporting goods, I notice an effort to bring tools formerly reserved for our out-of-mainstream, semi-underground movement percolating to the surface. It's not just our tools either but also some of our ideas and beliefs around training. One such idea I've seen and heard passed around lately revolves around tendons and ligaments, particularly around strengthening them.

That's a good thing, I guess. These are just as much a part of the strength picture as the meat that we use to propel our bones. They're attached to tendons, so that makes sense to give them some consideration when we train.

The question then becomes what kind of consideration? How do we strengthen our connective tissue? That's where I break from the old school. I've never given an ounce of thought concerning the strength of my tendons or my ligaments. I've never done any special exercises for them. Yet, I've had no problems with them when training.

So, the idea of doing tendon-strengthening exercises never appealed to me and after cracking open some books on the topic, the reason became very clear to me. Tendons (and ligaments) are made up mostly of collagen that's arranged in a fiber-like and parallel manner. What lept out at me is that, unlike muscle, they're poorly vascularized and innervated. Without these, they recover much more slowly since they depend on absorbing nutrients from things surrounding them.

It appears to me that answer to keeping these bone connectors and organic springs in decent shape was to buck the urge to force the muscles to do things faster than the blessed meat strings can keep up with. I've never had a problem with waiting months to see a goal come to fruition and I think that's why I have never had an issue with anything resembling tendinitis. From what I've heard, that's a nasty, NASTY problem that only has one solution: time to heal. No exercise. Does that really sound good to anyone?

So, from where I'm standing, patience is what these rarely thought of chunks of protein really need to get strong. Not only do they need it, but they demand it... and they will get it! Either we will take the time to let them get strong or we will take the time to let them heal. Think about it this way: our tendons are the little brother/sister of our muscles. Many of us were obliged, or otherwise forced, to take our smaller siblings along for play time even if they slowed us down. It's the same sort of scenario here.


Colin S. said...

Hey there, I've been skimming through your blog for a little while now, and I have some questions about pull-ups and chin-ups.

I'm 24, and I'm of average strength. I have been doing bodyweight exercises off and on for a while now, and I want to get into it more seriously.

I've noticed results with my chins and pull ups, but I don't extend all the way like all the experts say to. In fact, I get serious elbow discomfort after a while in my left arm especially (it's my weak arm) if I do. I go down to what I'm guessing is maybe a 150 degree angle (rather than the 180).

So am I doing it wrong? I feel like I have good form otherwise; I keep my chest up, my shoulders back, and I try not to swing.

K said...

Calling for JUSTIN P!
I need some advice on how to hang rings from my ceilling. I noticed you did it with those steel things (screws?). Help me my friend!

Justin_PS said...

Shit, I'm not good at getting back to questions lately and I apologize for that!

Colin, It really depends. If you're inflexible and you can't fully extend, that's a problem you need to work on. If you're getting over some elbow issue, then that's another story.

I don't know what kind of pulls and/or chins you're doing but some of the really hard variations are impractical to fully extend on. For example, I was doing some pull-ups the other day while gripping some REALLY thick rope. It's not easy to extend all the way on these and it's not really the point of the exercise anyway.

Ultimately, do what works for you. There's no pull-up competition and what you get out of the pull-up is what really counts.

K, I know a little about how houses are built in Lima. My wife's from there and I've spent some time. I have wood in the ceiling that I can put hooks into easily. Most of the houses I've seen in Peru are made mostly of concrete. That's not nearly as easy to work with. Were I you, I'd find ways to work right off the pull-up bar.

Dray said...

Long time no post as well.

As for tendon strength, picking up a rock and doing some short range exercises early on when picking up barbell work helped.

K said...

I've got wooden beams in my ceilling and I was planning to put the hooks into them. However, I'm afraid of breaking the wood or the hooks... I thought you put something apart from just the hooks

Justin_PS said...

K, if they're hold in ght celing up, then they should hold you up as well.

Drill a hole in the CENTER of each beam. Make sure that the drill bit is smaller than the diameter of the lag portion of the hook. Also, make sure that the hook is nice and thick.