One of the most vital concerns for an athlete, no matter what level of fitness, is to stay injury free.
You are only as strong as your weakest link, and when it comes to strength and conditioning work, your weakest link is often your joints.
What is a joint anyway?
Well, a somewhat simplified definition is that a joint is made up of tendons and ligaments.
The ligaments are made up of slightly elastic, fibrous tissue, connecting one bone in the body to another bone to help stabilize a joint.
Tendons are another (although similar) type of fibrous tissue that connects your muscles to your bones, in essence making it possible to move your body by transferring the force initiated in the muscles.
It’s an undisputed fact that your muscles adapt to training stimuli at a faster rate than your tendons and ligaments.
Up to a certain point, your joints will become strengthened by regular strength training, if you perform these with good form and a full range of motion, but to ensure that our joints can keep up with the increased strength – gradually leading to the use of heavier weights – we need to pay special attention to this area.
My personal experience is that it’s very beneficial to pay some special attention to the joints from the very beginning of a training program, even though most people don’t handle that much weight when they’re just starting.
As pointed out by Health Nerdy, this is generally a period when the body is unaccustomed to weightlifting, which makes it logical to pay extra attention to the parts of your body that are less adaptive to this particular kind of stress.
It is estimated that your tendons and ligament can increase in strength and size up to about 20 % – not that much compared to your muscles.
In weight training, the novice stage is also when the most significant strength adaptations are taking place, and since muscles adapt at a faster rate than tendons and ligaments, it seems only logical address these relatively “weak links” precisely at the time when the development of strength is the fastest in your training history.
However, it is also essential – if you want to increase your chances of staying strong and injury free – to take a long-term, prehabilitation approach to the health of your joints, even after you’ve moved on from the novice stage.
As your training progresses and you get stronger, you gradually are moving closer to your genetic potential. By doing so, the rate at which your body adapts to specific stress slows down.
As this happens, you spend more of your training time lifting loads that are relatively heavy, in the context of the amount of weight that your body can potentially handle – which also means that you impose more stress upon your body within a specified period.
The more you can prepare every part of your body to handle this stress; the better are your chances of staying injury free.
Staying injury free should be the priority for every athlete, professional or non- professional since this is the single most crucial factor to be able to progress and to become stronger and fitter gradually. Furthermore, if you do injure a tendon or a ligament, these are often harder to heal entirely than your muscles.
My own experience has led me to conclude that one of the best ways to build healthy joints is to perform some static training regularly. When completing the static exercise, the idea is to move as little as possible while working against some resistance.
However, I don’t think it’s possible to be completely immobile – since the mere maintenance of a static position, in reality, means using tiny movements – but I do believe that this is what we should be striving for.
By consciously minimizing movement while working against massive resistance, the tendons and ligaments are directly stressed in the position in which they are the strongest.
We have tendons and ligaments all over our bodies, but I’ll focus on three of the most critical joints when it comes to strength and conditioning work; the knees, the elbows and the shoulders. Let’s start with the knees:
The best way of strengthening the knee joint is to use a variation of the squat – which is more of a static support position.
It is straightforward; get in under the bar as you regularly would at the beginning of the squat, and lift it by straightening your legs.