Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tendon Strength

Unfortunately, I've been spending the past several weeks in recovery from elbow tendonitis.

An increase in my one arm chin-up training left my joints screaming and even a simple two arm chin-up was a pain. I'll give the one arm chin training at least another week's rest, but I'm back to most other exercises.

I figure now is a good time to speak of the basics of tendon injury and strength. This will probably be a very basic review for some, but I hope to educate others who are not as familiar.

What is a tendon?

A tendon, simply put, is what attaches your muscles to your bones. In the picture above, you can clearly see the relationship between the three. As the muscle contracts, it pulls on the tendon, which moves the bone.

Importance of tendon strength

If we understand the relationship between muscle, bone, and tendon - we can see the importance of strengthening the tendons. To make an analogy, imagine your muscles are your car engine, and your tendons are the tires. Now you may have a lot of horses under the hood, but if your tires aren't good enough, then you're not transferring as much power as possible. The whole system needs to be strong.

So let's look about a bit more at the muscles and tendons.

First, here is detail of the muscle

The muscle is composed of groups of muscle fibers. When one trains to increase the size of ones muscles (hypertrophy), the muscle fibers increase in size. While a larger muscle definitely helps generate force, it is not always indicative of true strength.

For example, a bodybuilder's main goal is to increase this muscle hypertrophy all over his body. Are bodybuilders the strongest athletes out there? Certainly not. My love and respect to Schwarzenegger, he's very strong, but his training was for muscle growth, not necessary raw strength - such as a powerlifter or olympic lifter trains for. It's just a different training goal, that's all. And don't even get me started on these bloated bodybuilding freaks of today...

There are plenty of Olympic weightlifters who look nothing like bodybuilders, but who toss monstrous amounts of weight up over their heads.

Looking good for a bodybuilding competition may suit some, but if you want muscle that will work as well as it looks, then you've got to strengthen the tendons to be able to transfer the power. Again, don't take me wrong, bodybuilders are still very strong, but pound for pound, you can't beat the weightlifters.

Difference in Training

Generally speaking, weighttraining workouts that advocate higher numbers of reps and sets for far less than maximal weights will promote hypertrophy and work the tendons to a lesser degree.

To stress the tendons, heavier, near maximal weights for less repetitions should be used.

Some places, like the hand, absolutely require strong tendons for staggering feats of strength. This is because hypertrophy in the hand will occur, but only to a limited degree. It's the tendons that must be stressed and strengthened to create incredible power.

My hand strength training has never consisted of high repetitions with lower weights. This is why Ironmind created the Captains of Crush high spring tension grippers. It's high tension that will build hand strength, not endless repetitions with a weak store gripper.

Tendon injury and recovery

When training with higher poundage, we must remember the stress put on the tendons and allow for adequate recovery. This is especially true of the hands, which can be injured easily and which take a long time to come back from injury. Lower weight, extremely repetitive actions can also cause tendon damage. (think tennis elbow or carpal tunnel)

My training mistake for the OAP involved using a high poundage (only 15lbs assistance) and a bit too many sets (2-3 repetitions for 6 sets). Especially when training something like the OAP, where so much force is focused on the elbow joint, I should have used less sets and allowed for my body to adapt over more time, rather than rush things. Live and learn though...

Tendon injury will be felt at the joints, as opposed to along the limb, as in muscle soreness. Tendon injury also takes much longer to heal than muscle damage (soreness) due to the lower blood flow. It therefore requires more rest and rehabilitation to be back at 100%.

At the time of injury, it is the smartest course of action to inact the R.I.C.E. treatment - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. In other words, you'll want to stop the activity, wrap an ice pack around it, and take some anti-inflammatory medicine (ibuprofen). There's research looking into whether RICE really is the best method for recovery for tendon injuries, but until otherwise noted, slap on the ice and pop an ibuprofen.

During the follow days and weeks of recovery, you'll want to avoid the activity that caused the tendonitis. You can use heat pads and massage to get the blood flowing through the tendons and speed healing. Some very light range of movement exercises for the joint with bands will also help to move some blood through the area. But the number one thing that you can do to make sure things heal up properly is REST. If you try and jump into your activities again full bore, you just reinjure yourself and have to start back from square one. And under no circumstance should you be trying to "work through the pain". This only serves to keep your tendon injury around much longer, and most likely elevate its severity until you'll need more than heat and rest to come back.

In other news...

Onto better news, my one arm handstand is coming along nicely. I'm training it in my room now, with little fear of tossing over to one side and putting my foot through a window.

Right now my training is focusing on the planche and these one arm skills - one arm lever, one arm handstand, and one arm chin (soon). I have been working my overhead pressing strength and will begin training for a one arm handstand pushup. This will be against the wall, of course, but if I can train it alongside my freestanding one arm handstand, then maybe I'll be able to combine the two for a freestanding, one arm handstand pushup!! (one can dream)

The elbow injury did get me back on a better stretching routine, which is absolutely essential if I ever hope to start training flairs or a V-seat.

Speaking of lower body, I've continued to make great progress in my squats. When I can bump my working set up 10 more pounds, I'm going to put down the iron and start up a plyometric training program. I ran track in high school so my legs have always been quick and I've had a good vertical, but I feel a concentrated jumping program should have me grabbing some basketball rim!! Yes, me, a 5'8" guy could some day be dunking! Once again, one can dream...

I'll finish up the L-seat tutorial and try to post it sometime this week. That will precede the handstand press tutorial, and then I'll smash the two together for an L-seat to handstand press demonstration, per your request.

Good luck to everyone with their training, stay safe and injury-free!


Blogger amber said...

Your blog is great! It's hard to find blogs with good content and people talking about strength training these days! I have a secret strength training exposed if you want to come check it out

9:22 AM  
Blogger Lakshmi said...

good info, thanks.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry about the previous post, Was just saying that this article is great i injured my tendons in my arm lifting weights and need to recover
This article above has also helped

It can be really difficult but hopefully thanks to your article it will be possible

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my name is Aaron and I've been breakdancing for a while and have a little tendon problem in my elbow. I've been working on flares and I can only practice about 10 or so minutes at intervals of a couple days without my elbow flaring up. About how long should I rest up before jumping back into it. I was coming along nicely and was almost through my 2nd flare until my elbow flared up again. It's driving me nuts not doing anything.

Do you have any tips for practicing flares and possibly some excercise that can be done when im not practicing. Thanks for your post, your story is inspiring.


6:20 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Great blog, I've had injured tricep tendons for 6 months now and i cant seem to properly get back to my previous weights programme since then, I've been having physiotherapy for the majority of that however still no luck, can you recommend day to day techniques and 'must dos' that i can perhaps do to strengthen the tendons?
Thanks alot

6:36 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

I have tried exercise, chiropractors, acupuncture, a million NSAIDs, and muscle relaxants. Nothing helps except for massage and very hot baths, sometimes with Tiger Balm ( applied to the lumbar region and afterwards bed rest. It helps to ease up my muscles and for getting through the pain/minor injuries that sometimes happen.

9:24 PM  
Blogger WR02 said...

I had my flexor carpi radialis injured by my physical therapist in April and I still have pain when I move it in certain positions or putting tension on my left wrist. Besides icing my left arm what else could I do and what shouldn't I do that will aggravate it.

6:54 PM  
Blogger abdul moeed khan said...

I have too much problem with my elbow ligament & tendons for triceps tendons.I started to take organic mountain honey,with,royal bee jelly,ginseng & bee pollen. And with that i had started to take bee pollen as 1ts rich in 18 amino acids.I had also started to eat organic eggs now my elobw & tendons muscles are getting stronger & tougher

1:32 AM  
Blogger The Doctor said...

Thanks, I have INTENSE elbow pain in both arms from snatching and I was afraid it was the joint. Now it seems pretty obvious that it's the tendons. Glad to know I can keep training my tendons to get stronger! I'll rest until the pain subsides and then get back to getting gigantic tendons so I can throw around huge weights.

7:52 PM  

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