Tending to your tendons
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO STRENGTHEN YOUR TENDONS BEFORE LIFTING HEAVY WEIGHTS
You’ve decided to take resistance work seriously, and so you finally joined a gym. Perhaps you once did resistance workouts, but you took some time off. Maybe years. But once you begin lifting weights, you’ll see actual strength gains within a few weeks. However, before you start those musclebuilding workouts, build up your tendons.
Tendons are the white tissues at each end of every skeletal muscle in your body. They connect the muscles to the bones. They are made of collagen, which is like a dense bundle of fibres. Unlike the juicy red meat of muscle, tendons have very little to no blood flow. That’s why muscles can get strong quickly, but it takes a lot more time for tendons to get strong.
Because muscle tissue gains strength rapidly, muscles can get so strong that they can overpower weak tendons, ripping them away from the bone, or even rupturing them. A small, partial tear may heal on its own. But a complete tear will require surgery to repair. That’s the main reason to spend time building your tendons before getting carried away lifting heavy weight.
When you first begin your resistance programme, lift light. Never hoist as much weight as you may be able to manage. A programme of light poundage with many repetitions will start the process of strengthening your tendons.
According to the website Live Strong, “It takes approximately 10 weeks of regular resistance exercise to strengthen your tendons, and it takes longer for them to thicken.” Two and a half months is not much time to spend on building a good foundation for your resistance strength gains, a foundation which will help protect you against injury.
Stretching is also part of the process. Stiff and contracted tendons will tear much more easily than pliant and elastic tissues. A simple test of tendon elasticity in the lower body is the toe touch stretch. This can be done sitting down on a flat surface or standing up and bending over at the hips. Keep your back straight. Don’t curve it around to get more of a stretch.
Never force this stretch. You may feel discomfort, but there should never be pain. You will be able to make quicker progress if you do a series of brief stretches rather than one long attempt. Hold the first one for a count of
20, stand back upright, then bend over and try again for another count of 20. This time, you will probably be able to get an inch or two closer to your toes. Practice every night before going to bed, when the muscles are a bit warmed up from the activities of the day. Don’t stretch in the morning, when the muscles and tendons are contracted from lying in bed all night.
It’s also important to stretch the shoulders, because the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, able to move the arms in all directions rather than just up and down or back and forth. Unfortunately, some folks have such tight shoulder muscles and tendons, they can’t even reach their hands back far enough to grab a bar in a squat rack and hold it on their shoulders to do a squat.
There are two good shoulder stretches which can resolve that problem, both of them very simple. For the first, hold your lower arm across your body so your arm is in an ‘L’ shape. Cup the elbow with the other hand and pull it across your body. Hold that stretch for 15 seconds as shoulder and chest tendons stretch out, then switch arms and repeat. Do the stretch on each arm for three sets of 15 seconds.
For the next stretch, place your hands on the door frame of your bathroom at about the height of your ears and slowly lean forward. When you get to the point where you feel the tension of the stretch, hold that position for 15 seconds, then repeat for a total of three sets.
It takes approximately 10 weeks of regular resistance exercise to strengthen your tendons.
A simple test of tendon elasticity in the lower body is the toe touch stretch.