Strength Lies In The Tendons
Images portrayed in the “muscle” magazines and on the internet frequently expose us to heavily muscled bodybuilders. I think exposure of this type misleads many athletes to believe big muscles equal great strength. If you are only interested in the cosmetic benefits of resistance training then don’t bother reading any further. On the other hand, if you are a strength athlete let me assure you acquiring great strength is not confined to building big (steroid like) muscles.
During my school years I participated in several arm wrestling events that were school sanctioned and some that weren’t. I had been strength training since I was 13 years old and was always attracted to strength sports. I will always remember my first experience in arm wrestling. I was challenged by a guy one day when I was in high school. He was an older bodybuilder who had huge arms. He had heard that I had done some strength training and since he was an experienced arm wrestler wanted to show me a thing or two. At the time I was certainly not an arm wrestler. I was impressed by the size of his arms knowing that my arms were not nearly as big. I didn’t see how I could beat this man but my pride wouldn’t let me back down. Turned out I won easily. I have always believed that the way I trained allowed me to be stronger than he was. I went on in my college years to defeat many (heavily muscled) arm wrestlers. I didn’t tell that story so you would know what a great arm wrestler I was. Fact is I lost several times to stronger quicker guys who had better technique. The point is I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter how big your muscles are if your tendons aren’t strong as well.
The value of strong tendons has been known by strength athletes for many, many years. Back in 1924 strongman Alexander Zass wrote “strength lies in the tendons” when he was explaining the difference in training methods between physical culturist and strongmen. He stated he “aimed first to develop the underlying connective tissues rather than the superficial muscles”. When speaking of his own training he said “I developed tendon strength”.
Why are tendons so important? Well, the tendon connects the ends of the muscle to the bone. In simple terms the tendons must grow along with muscle tissue for us to gain great strength. At the very least the tendon has to be as strong as the muscle.
It has been proven that tendon tissue will strengthen when a heavy progressive weight training regimen is applied with very heavy partial movements. Short range movements such as rack pulls and lockouts will promote tendon strength. These partial (approximately 5 inch range of motion or less) movements should be done with 110% to 150% of your maximum full range of motion for any given exercise. Obviously, this kind of training is very stressful and should be carefully done under the guidance of a trained professional over a time period which allows recovery and growth to take place.
If I could tell adult powerlifters and strength athletes’ one thing about gaining strength it would be don’t worry as much about the size of your muscles. Concentrate on building tendon strength. As already stated, muscle size doesn’t necessarily translate into great strength. Zass wrote “a large biceps is no more a criterion of strength than a swollen abdomen is of digestion”. Don’t worry; strength training (which includes tendon building) will produce ample size in the muscle also.
Keith Payne CPT, YFS
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