Muscles recover fast because they have about 10 times better blood supply and metabolic exchange compared to connective tissues (tendons and joint ligaments).
Additionally, muscles can increase in size without affecting the proper functions of the skeletal system. Tendons don’t increase in size as much – they just get thicker.
If the tendons were to get bigger, the normal activity of the joints will be affected in a negative way. How do you play the piano with 20 inch wrists?
So, if tendons can’t get bigger and don’t have good blood supply, how do we strengthen them?
There are many contradictory ideas regarding tendon training. Some say the best way to hit the tendons is to do really high rep training in order to increase the blood supply in the area tremendously.
However, since when is strength measured by the number of repetitions you do? High rep training may be beneficial during rehabilitation, warm-ups or pre-hab, but strength equals heavy weights.
The best way to strengthen your tendons is to get stronger. If you deadlift 400 lbs and move your deadlift to 450 lbs, you are now stronger all over – including your tendons.
The popular strength coach Bill Starr wrote in many of his articles that lifters need to lift heavy weights in order to develop their tendon strength. It makes sense and we refuse to believe that lifting the pink dumbbells will build anything even remotely strong.
There are no magical rep ranges that will turn your tendons and ligaments into steel rods. You just have to get stronger overall and there are many different ways to accomplish that task. One of the good sides of lifting is that it allows you to have a very long career.
Unless something terrible happens, you can lift until you look like the father of Gandalf. In other words there’s plenty of time to experiment and you will change your routine multiple times whether you want it or not.
When making a routine always keep in mind that tendons recover slowly than muscles. That’s why you should include planned deload phases in your routine.
That way you are giving time to your tendons and ligaments to catch up and get ready for more adventures. Never underestimate the power of deloads and always take them even if you feel like there’s no need to do so.
Note: There are also exercises which place more stress on the tendons and ligaments. A good example would the the knuckle push-up which is meant to strengthen your wrists. You can use similar exercises to build connective tissue strength. Be careful!
Conclusion: Getting stronger = stronger tendons; use full range high rep training as recovery tool;