The Roll of Tendons and Lever Lengths in Strength Training

Strength is something that can be trained to a degree and indeed, that is what the entire sports of bodybuilding and powerlifting are all about.

But did you know that some aspects of your strength can’t be trained? Did you know that there are some elements that are entirely deigned by genetics and that are outside of your control? As it happens, some people just have better potential for pure strength and it’s not even to do with their muscles…

Tendon Insertion

For example, let’s consider for a moment our tendon attachments. That is the precise spot on the bone where the tendon attaches. This actually varies from person to person and depending on where your tendons are situated in relation to the length of your arm, you will have either more or less strength when lifting. Think about it: if you are holding a weight at the end of your arm and the tendon is attached too close to the joint, it will extend the ‘lever’ and thereby reduce their strength.

In a post on T-Nation, one writer looked at the difference that 2 inches could make to your strength. If your bicep tendon is located 1.2 inches from your elbow, then you’ll have to generate 400lbs of force to hold a 40lb weight in your hand in a static position. The same lifter with an insertion located at 1 inch from the elbow would have to summon 480lbs to achieve the same feat!

This is one reason that the biggest guy is not always the strongest…

Muscle to Tendon Ratio

Another interesting factor regarding tendons is the ratio of muscle to tendon. Here, the size of the tendon in relation to the muscle makes a big impact on its potential for size and growth. That’s because the muscle belly will normally end where the tendon begins – so if you have a very long tendon, that will mean a much shorter muscle belly. Conversely, those with less tendon have muscles covering more of their limbs.

Of course muscle bellies also relate to size, which is why in most cases a taller individual will be stronger than a shorter person with everything else being equal.

Level Lengths and Proportions

Just as the point at which the tendon attaches has a big impact, so too does the length of the joint itself. While bigger and longer muscle is stronger, longer limbs also increase the lever arm and thereby increase the amount of power needed to lift weights around. The shorter a wrench is, the easier it is to use!

Conversely, muscles like the pecs can be as large as they like without ever impacting on the lever length. For this reason, the ideal physique for power lifting is one with a large, barrel-like torso and shorter arms.

Training Your Tendons

While you can’t help the length of your joints, your tendon insertions or the space your muscles have to occupy, what you can do is to strengthen your ligaments. This will improve elasticity and tensile strength, which will not only prevent injuries but also increase lifting potential. (FYI: tendon is muscle to bone, ligament is bone to bone).

As a general rule, tendons and ligaments will increase in strength as do the muscles. However, in some circumstances – such as when a lifter resorts to using steroids – this can lead to sudden increases in muscle strength not matched by the tendons. This is why tendon injury is common among users.

The key to placing more emphasis on the tendons is to train with a shorter range of motion using isolation exercises. What this does is to allow the trainer to lift heavier weights, thereby placing more strain on the ligaments and tendons versus the muscle.

You can’t change the length or position of your tendons but you can sure play the hand you were dealt!

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