When you strengthen connective tissue you get stronger and less prone to injury. Muscles may be the key to strength, but connective tissue connects their power to your skeleton - and holds all your joints together.
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Building strong ligaments, tendons, and fascia can make you much stronger.
Or simply help build a body that won't get injured doing sports, stretching, or other activities.
I've experienced connective tissue strength first hand through martial arts. In Aikido I practiced many joint locks, and had them applied to me. While (sometimes very) painful, they never caused me any permanent damage and I was able to train intensely for 4 years - thanks to strong joints.
Connective tissue is a broad phrase that includes ligaments, tendons, fascia, and cartilage - the stuff that holds your bones together. They are made of tightly packed Collagen protein fibers.
The important ones for connecting your skeleton are tendons and ligaments. They do most of the work of transferring muscle power to your skeletal structure.
Tendons connect muscle to bone. Also called sinew, their primary job is to transfer muscular force to your skeletal structure, allowing you to move.
Fascia run through muscles, connecting different muscles together. At the end of muscles they converge and become part of the tendons.
Ligaments connect bones to other bones. They make up your joints, and help hold things together.
Finally, cartilage makes up some of your soft body structures. You nose is one of the more noteworthy cartilage structures and, while cartilage is a connect tissue, it doesn't have anywhere near the impact on movement and/or muscular force that tendons and ligaments do.
There's only 1 good, consistently effective way to strengthen muscle tissue. And it's: exercise!
Many kinds of exercise strengthen connective tissue up to a point. Just running around and being active as a kid promotes strong joints & tendon strength.
However, some exercises are better than others for building strong connective tissue.
In a nutshell, the main reason that your ligament, fascia, and tendon strength increase in because they are put under strain in exercise. The more strain you put on them (ex: the more weight you lift), the bigger and stronger your muscles get, and the stronger your connective tissue gets. Weight training is perfect for gradually exposing your muscles and connective tissues to more and more strain.
Weight training causes your body to fortify the joint under stress, strengthening the connective tissue there. These increases in connective tissue strength happen in 4 places:
This strengthening of the connective tissue not only makes your joints stronger, but allows your muscles to more efficiently transmit force to your skeleton. And thus, your movements become more powerful!
The individual changes that help contribute to the tendon's increased size and strength are:
These all come together to make your tendons stronger. And as they are stronger, they work better to support you, keep you together, and allow you to move your skeleton.
Connective tissue strength is also helpful if you're trying to become more flexible. The strengthening of connective tissue can decrease risk of injury from stretching.
And if you're considering starting to strengthen connective tissue, startsoon.In one study endurance exercise was shown to increase number of cell nuclei in tendons and tendon weight in young mice, while not old mice. This is points to the unfortunate, but hardly groundbreaking conclusion: it's easier to strengthen connective tissue when you're young.
Fun Fact: Despite the fact that your connective tissue becomes stronger, its absolute amount of collagen protein remains proportional to your muscle mass.
But for you...
Not injure yourself. And become really strong.
Morihei Ueshiba and Joseph L. Greenstein are two people who historically developed phenomenal strength. Specifically in the tendons and ligaments of their hands, allowing them to have fantastically sturdy grip that lasted - since tendon strength doesn't fade anywhere near as fast as muscle.
Ueshiba, the founder of the martial art Aikido, was able to crush young sections of bamboo in his hands. Even until late in his life was renowned for his phenomenally powerful grip.
Greenstein was a strong man from the early 1900s. Through hard work, wrestling, and doing special exercises he was able to build a strong grip that lasted into his 80s and was able to bend horseshoes and twist steel rods.
You might just want to strengthen connective tissues to not get injured or to get a little edge is sports. But you go extremely far with this, if you desire to.
Lift weights or do strength training to strengthen your own connective tissue. It's hard, but nothing else will do the trick.
As you lift heavier and heavier weights, the joints that are surrounded by muscles that you are straining will slowly become stronger. And more durable, and more powerfully built. It's all up to you.
Oh, and be sure to sign up for the e-zine Starting Strong to get monthly strength training, exercise, and diet tips e-mailed to you - and access to the free e-book Train Smart, Eat Smart: Exercise Nutrition Hacks!
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How To Strengthen Connective Tissue
1. Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. 2000. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: National Strength and Conditioning Association. Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics. Pp. 106.
2. Ibid. Pp. 107.
6. Komi, Paavo V. 1992. Strength and Power in Sport. The Encyclopaedia of sports medicine. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications. Pp. 346.
7. Baechle. Pp. 107.
8. Sandler, David. 2003. Weight Training Fundamentals. Sports Fundamentals Series. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Pp. 3.
9. Komi, Paavo V. 1992. Strength and Power in Sport. The Encyclopaedia of sports medicine. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications. Pp. 346.
10. Baechle. Pp. 107.
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