The Ultimate Guide to Tendon Training (2023 Edition)

By on November 29, 2022

With almost a million views, my previous video (and accompanying post) on tendon training is one of my most successful. However, that video is also four years old now. While it mostly holds up, I’ve learned an awful lot since then, through study, through personal experience, and through conversations with some experts in the field.

There are a LOT of fascinating new insights I’ve discovered since then and, with tendon training being so incredibly important, I felt it was crucial I share them with you. It was time for a redux. This is my new comprehensive guide to tendon training.

Why You NEED to Train Your Tendons

First, let’s recap: why is tendon training so important?

Simply: muscles do not work in a vacuum. It makes more sense to think of muscles in terms of MTUs or “muscle tendon units.” Moreover, we should think of muscles in the context of the whole system, including the fascia that surrounds the muscle and aids in force production.

Muscle building

Any time you place the muscles under load, you are doing the same thing to the tendons. You are only as strong as your weakest link.

The good news? Tendons are actually capable of withstanding greater loads and forces as compared with muscle. And this is critical due to the way the body works, as we will see in a moment. Training the tendons with sheer forces may just be one of the secrets to huge performance gains.

And by storing and returning energy during running, jumping, and other athletic endeavours, healthier tendons allow athletes to move significantly more explosively. Consider an athlete like Stefan Holme – a seemingly wiry individual and yet he could legitimately jump over your head. Like a ninja.

Bringing the old plyo-box out of storage!
Bringing the old plyo box out to play!

I got this example from a video by the ATG Coach, Keegan Smith. He also explains how the amazing feats demonstrated by breakdancers can be attributed to tendon strength. As he puts it: “strength can’t do this.”

I’m going to share the strategies necessary to achieve this kind of performance. But we need to do our groundwork first.

Building Indestructible Tendons

FIRST we must build that base of strength and resilience.

As I’ve discussed many times before: a new lifter will start to see structural changes to their muscle in as little as eight days. Conversely, it typically takes around two months for the same thing to occur in the tendons (study).

This is largely due to the lower blood supply to the tendons, as compared with the muscles. The lack of blood vessels travelling through the tendons is partly what makes them so strong. However, it also makes them much slower to heal and grow.

Training tendons
Training muscle will always train the tendons to some extent

So, if you are new to training and start lifting very heavy weights, there is a high chance you may injure a tendon. This is especially true if you are training using traditional lifts that utilise a short range of motion and largely don’t train the tendons at all.

Instead, my recommendation has always been to promote blood flow to the muscles and tendons. Two great ways to accomplish this are through high volume and frequency training using lighter weights and varied calisthenics movements (isometrics are also great for this).

By moving often and in a wide variety of ways, we keep blood flowing to the tendons and keep them healthy. This is one reason that children are so supple and resistant to tendon injuries and muscle tears. It is also speculated that

Pump Training

In the gym, using large sets of light reps with continuous time under tension – sets of fast push ups, curls, or leg extensions for example – will cause the blood to travel to the muscle and pool there – acting like a form of occlusion (AKA blood flow restriction training). Over time, this can lead to permanently enhanced blood supply thanks to a phenomenon called “angiogenesis” – the birth of new blood vessels.

See also: The Surprising Benefits of Using Partials (Range of Motion)

We know that avascularity (a lack of blood supply) is associated with degenerative tendon disease (study) and that increased blood supply, triggered by the release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a critical part of the healing process (study). And it has also been shown that blood flow restriction training can enhance VEGF production versus regular training along with general angiogenic gene expression (study).

But all this is also very logical: continuous time under tension and occlusion training place significant demand on tendon blood supply. The body responds by increasing that blood supply. Following such training, the body now has greater blood flow to the affected region, enabling more rapid recovery and lower incidence of injury.

Move more throughout the day and start incorporating high rep, low-weight pump training into your routine. Then you’ll be ready for the next level of tendon training – to unlock crazy performance gains.

Becoming a “Freak Athlete”

Once you know that your tendons can withstand some punishment, you can begin to train them directly.

Lifting heavy weights will always place the tendons under force. However, the amount of force will always be limited as the muscles act like a buffer. And because the tendons can handle greater force than the muscle, weight training alone is not enough to tap into their maximum potential.

This is where we have to get creative.

Heavy partials rack pull

In the past, I have discussed using techniques such as heavy partials (moves like rack pulls) to place the tendons under greater load than you normally could. Heavy negatives can work in the same manner – letting you support more weight than you can lift.

Another option is to use weighted stretching. Weighted stretching uses lighter weight but takes you through a much greater range of motion than does regular training. And because the muscle reaches its maximum length, this means that much more force is going to be transferred to the tendon.

Weighted Stretching

Weighted stretching can increase range of motion and mobility. It can help you to generate strength from a stretched position (such as the bottom of a squat for a far more MASSIVE jump height) and it can make you incredibly resilient against injury.

Weighted stretching for tendon strength
Weighted stretching

And this is where the narrative around training has traditionally been all wrong. For decades now, the advice has been to avoid any movements that place strain on the tendons.

The most famous example? Letting the knees pass the toes when squatting. The logic was that, because letting the knees pass the toes places pressure on the tendon, it increases the risk of injury.

Did you know that curling dumbbells places pressure on the biceps? We probably shouldn’t do it then. Wouldn’t want to tear the biceps.

Maybe we should just sit completely still?

Applying Pressure to Weak Positions

Ben Patrick, AKA KneesOverToesGuy, has made it his mission to completely dismantle this perspective. As he points out: our knees pass our toes when we go down the stairs. When we walk backwards.

We can’t avoid this range of motion in life. And thus, we need to train it and strengthen it.

And maybe you don’t need to be squatting huge weights with your knees over your toes. But doing some training in this range of motion is crucial if you want to avoid your knees giving out when you squat while holding your child.

For those interested in peak performance? Going as far as possible with this is what can turn people into “freak athletes.” Ben himself went from multiple knee surgeries to being able to dunk with ease.

Not to mention leaping off of ladders into a kind of sissy squat…

KneesOverToes and the ATG System

No one has done as much to champion the importance of tendon training as Ben and his team. Through his various programs he helped countless people to restore their knees and develop amazing athleticism. Including my friend and regular contributor, Liam Ellis.

Liam flip
Liam used to have bad knees…

But his concepts don’t just apply to the knees. The same ideas can be applied to the lats, the shoulders, the elbows, the back, the hips… you name it. Ben believes in training every angle at every range.

The secret, he says, is that there “is no secret.” Train everything!

Having no weak or tight links.” Ben explains. “To me, that’s the secret weapon.

With that said, it’s important to acknowledge just what a gift Ben has for inventing and researching unique exercises to do just that in a safe and effective manner.

Short and Long Range Movements

Ben and the “Athletic Truth Group” have also done the most to codify this type of training – utilizing a combination of “short range” and “long range” movements to effectively target the tendons at all positions.

Short range movements
Thanks to Paul Clutterbuck from 1st4Fitness for demonstrating this classic short-range movement: the backwards sled drag.

A short range movement is something like a pulse squat or a backwards sled pull – utilizing higher repetitions and lighter weights to get blood to the tendons. Long range movements include the seated good morning, and Ben’s classic favourite: the ATG split squat.

The sweet spot is regressing an exercise to a level where you don’t have any pain.” says Ben. “If you look at something like the knee, you can often take someone who currently has bad knees and thinks they couldn’t go through a full range of motion. Then let’s say we take a very small range of motion of the knee over the toe and then we gradually put in a lot of reps at that.

That would be considered short range training.

Short range exercises work like the pump training I already spoke about, but they take this further by focussing on very short ranges of motion. Among other things, this allows for increased training frequency (even daily) without injury.

“Short range training is particularly advantageous for getting a lot of circulation. A lot of blood flow.”

ATG uses short range movements that in some cases might even make the muscle feel cramped as it becomes extremely shortened. An example would be squeezing right at the top of a bicep curl, or using movements like pike pulses. Other moves, like the tricep kickback, might not necessarily seem short range to begin with. But they still fall into this category due to the strength curve – gravity only begins adding resistance once your elbow passes the 90 degrees angle and then increases as the muscle gets shorter.

Tendon training for knees

These movements actually minimize the load on the tendons and can be used to move those areas safely while also building strength and neural drive, in preparation for what comes next.

Long Range

But long-range movements are the real secret sauce. These act like weighted stretches – placing the tendons under greater load than could otherwise be accomplished and improving mobility at the same time.

“But [short range movements] is not how you bulletproof your knees. It is building to the fullest range, the fullest pressure that you can take the joint. That is how you build resilience.”

Seated good morning tendon training
The seated good morning is a fantastic long-range movement

When you ready, you can take this even further, with what Ben refers to as “outer-range movements.” These are exercises that take you even further: movements like the Jefferson curl, or the sissy squat.

These are movements that aren’t limited by the mechanics of the joint and instead allow the tendons to reach maximum stretch.

And while these movements might look scary, they should be treated like any other advanced movement: build up to them. Don’t dive straight in. Don’t train through pain. Listen to your body.

Sissy squat

Take your time and these are not only safe but crucially important for long term health and performance.

More Options for Significant Tendon Training

There are other ways to overload the tendons, too.

For example, plyometric or shock training, can be a powerful tool.  For example, if you land from a box jump of 42”, you will be absorbing a shock equal to roughly 3-4X your bodyweight. This is far more than most people can squat. It is not the muscle that handles this force, therefore, it is the tendon.

Plyo box

What’s key here, is the amortisation phase of the movement. Amortisation is the pause at the bottom of a movement, where direction is reversed. In a countermovement jump, where you squat down and then leap up, the amortisation phase is the moment at the bottom where you pause before launching into the air.

The muscles and tendons must work together to absorb the shock and then return that energy.

Even just loading a heavy weight on your back and “bouncing” at the bottom of a squat can create increased momentary force to challenge the tendons.

I highly recommend watching Keegan Smith’s video on this topic, for a more in-depth explanation. I’ll link that down below along with all of Ben’s awesome stuff.

The Power of Isometric Training

Another option is isometric training. This means training without moving: holding a weight in position or pushing/pulling against an immovable object. In these cases, because the muscle is not lengthening or shortening, more force is transferred to the tendons.

See also: Bruce Lee’s Unique Isometric Training Routine Explained (Overcoming Isometrics)

This makes extreme isometrics a powerful tool for training tendons and increasing blood flow in perhaps an even more targeted manner than the aforementioned “pump training.” An extreme isometric exercise is simply a yielding isometric held for a very long period of time. A good example might be holding a horse stance for two minutes. Indeed, a large focus of Shaolin training was originally to strengthen the “sinew.”

Isometric Squat

Quasi isometrics – extremely slow reps of challenging movements – could also be effective to this end.

Meanwhile, you can use overcoming isometrics – where you push or pull against a completely immovable force for around six seconds to build significantly greater tendon strength. Ballistic isometrics could also be useful – where you perform isometrics with explosive intent.

And if you want to see a visceral example of how this can lead to tendon remodelling and growth, just look at the hands of any rock climber that has been training for a few years. They will typically have huge hands and thick fingers, as a result of hanging from the fingers, stretching them, exploding from them, and using them on a near daily basis.

See also: How to Develop Incredible Finger Strength for Superhuman Spider-Man Climbing

The result is that they can perform feats such as hanging from one finger from a finger board while wearing a weighted backpack. The same kind of stunt would rip most people’s fingers clean from the socket.

Apologies for the random graphic description…

Nutrition and Recovery

If you really want to make the most from your tendon training, then you finally need to supplement all this training with a healthy diet and the right lifestyle.

Things like smoking can do a lot to damage tendons and prevent them from healing post injury (study).

Conversely, eating a diet rich in collagen has been shown to be effective for encouraging tendon healing and repair. Exercise physiologist Keith Baar, for example, has been using collagen to help athletes to make dramatic recoveries following tendon injuries. Baar gave athletes hydrolised collagen and then had them engage in mild exercise.

Collagen

“We were able to completely reverse this athlete who had a hole in one of their tendons.” He has also been involved in some studies that suggest hydrolysed collagen could improve performance, possibly affecting jump height, running speed, and more (reference).

I’m not going to go into this in more detail, as it’s not really my area of interest. But suffice to say that if you are putting in the work at the gym to heal and strengthen your tendons, then it makes sense to support that with the right diet and recovery protocol outside the gym.

Closing Comments

So, there you go guys! That pretty much represents an in-depth strategy for healing and strengthening tendons, as well as a case for doing so.

Pec fly

A HUGE thank you to Ben Patrick, KneesOverToesGuy, for his input on this one. I’m a massive fan and greatly respect his work, so it was an honour to be able to collaborate with him here. If you are currently struggling with knee pain, then I highly recommend his programs. Likewise, his work is invaluable for any athletes that want to be as springy and resilient as possible.

Check out Ben’s programs here: ATG | Personal Training Reinvented (atgonlinecoaching.com)

A big thank you, as well, to Paul Clutterbuck for letting me use his gym AND for demonstrating some of the movements. Find more about 1st4Fitness, here: 1st4Fitness – Bicester’s Premier Fitness & Nutrition Centre

And thank you to Anytime Fitness, Bicester, for also letting me film and take photos at their gym.

Thanks to you guys for reading! Let me know how you train your tendons in the comments down below.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

3 Comments

  1. Ryan says:

    This was a great read! Do you have any advice for someone with reoccurring tricep tendonitis?

  2. Grant Bradshaw says:

    In Depth is an understatement…

  3. SergioD says:

    I have always thought collagen was a scam. I remember read a lot about it and, in summary, the final explication was that once in your stomach that collagen is gonna become aminoacids and used as many other aminoacids (to make proteins on demand) but not to work specifically on tendons or skin, etc. Meaning that the supplementation with collagen didnt result in more collagen in your body but in a expensive way of have more aminoacids available.

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