It’s common knowledge that you need to lift weights in order to gain strength, but what if you don’t have access to weights? What if there’s a global pandemic going on and all the gyms are closed ? Are your strength gains doomed ? I wouldn’t be writing this post if that was the case.
I’m in the same boat as a lot of gym goers who don’t have access to weights. It can be frustrating thinking that the progress you’ve made will go away. This doesn’t have to be the case. Something that’s often overlooked in gaining overall strength is the strength of your tendons. When you lift heavy weights, one thing that happens is your tendons and joints get stronger. This is your brain sending a message to your body that this change is necessary so you can handle that stress again.
It makes sense when you think about it. The stronger your tendons are, the more load your body can handle. As a student of strength I’ve done some research and discovered that a lot of the old school strong guys really focused on their tendon strength. A lot of these guys are known for incredible feats of strength despite not being so big. During this break from the gym, I’ll be focusing a lot on strengthening my tendons to help me to at least maintain my strength.
Exercises That Will Build Tendon Strength
High Rep Bodyweight Exercises: Doing high rep bodyweight exercises is a great way to strengthen your tendons. I’ve used high rep training in the past to help strengthen my knee tendons after suffering an injury. Famous fitness coach Max Shank used high rep squats to recover from a bone bruise caused by a hyper-extended knee.
Isometrics: Since the day my gym closed, I had the idea of adding isometrics to my training routine. A lot of the old school strongmen I mentioned earlier were big on isometric training. It’s forgotten now because it doesn’t look as cool as moving heavy weight. There are two types of isometrics that I’ll be using; overcoming Isometrics and Extreme Isometrics.
I’ve played around with overcoming isometrics before but I never did it consistently. The idea is to use all the force in your body to move an immovable object. You might ask what’s the point of trying to move something that can’t be moved. The benefit to this type of training is your activating and using a large amount of muscle fiber. You’re applying as much force, if not more than you would for a 1 rep max. I’ve mentioned in the past that the key to maximum strength is applying more force .
In relation to tendon strength, exerting maximum force on an immovable object will place stress on your tendons as well as your muscles. This stress will force your tendons to adapt so it can handle that stress next time. It’s the same concept with how your body adapts to traditional strength training. Fortunately, overcoming isometrics doesn’t compress your joints the way traditional barbell and dumbbell training does.
The other type of isometric training that I’ve been utilizing is extreme isometric lunges. I’ve used these from the to time but now I’m willing to commit to them to reap their full benefits. The idea is to hold a lunge position for up to five minutes on each leg. In addition to stronger knees, you can expect to see an increase in leg muscle size, better nervous system function, and better athletic performance. The most I’ve been able to do is two minutes on each leg. After a week of consistent isometric lunges, I can already feel a difference in the stability of my knees.
The key to making this work is your mindset towards the exercise. Rather than treating it as an endurance exercise that you need to hold for a certain amount of time, treat it as survival. You need to mentality that you’ll die if you drop in the lunge. This mentality puts extra stress on you. With this stress, your body and nervous system will adapt to make a stronger you.
Plyometrics: the stress put on your tendons through plyometrics forces your body to strengthen them as a result. Just like with weight lifting, you don’t want to overdo plyometrics. I speak from experience when I say doing too much volume on your plyos will lead to joint pain.
One of them best plyometric exercises to improve tendon strength is the depth jump. This is also the most strenuous so do these only when you’re ready. You’ll know you’re ready for depth jumps when you can squat at least double your body weight and learned proper jumping and landing techniques. The reason it’s so powerful is that it causes an impact of up to 3x your body weight on your body. That’s a lot of stress and in order for you to handle that stress again, your body needs to adapt.
If you want to build strength without weights, focus on strengthening your tendons. By strengthening your tendons and joints, your body will be more equipped to handle heavy weights and other external forces.The interesting thing about the training methods I mentioned in this post is that they’re also know for strengthening the nervous system. There are no excuses. Let’s get to work! Below are some resources I’ve used to help me
Benefit of High Rep bodyweight exercises: https://www.t-nation.com/training/8-minutes-to-awesome
What motivated me to try extreme isometrics: https://www.just-fly-sports.com/one-mans-dive-into-extreme-isometrics/
Medical research talking about the muscle activation of isometric exercises: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11717228