Dave Goes Barbarian – Rocking the Connective Tissues

Hail, Barbarians, and well met! I see Jorge has brought a trophy along for Show & Tell tonight. I hope the Saxon dog met his end gloriously, though I’d ask that in the future, you give your trophies time for the flesh to rot from the bones. A good soak in 40v hydrogen peroxide will de-yuck and brighten the skulls of your enemies right up! If one of you lovely savages will raid the nearest cosmetology supply depot, we can have arts and crafts next week.

Tonight’s self-care subject was set to be the proper care of your flowing, warrior locks, but Bjorn Bjornson went a bit berserkrgang during the recent battle and was last seen attacking the forest with his teeth. Hopefully, he’ll be back in his right mind soon, and we can benefit from his experience, then. Always remember to chain your berserkrs to avoid this in the future. In the meantime, I’d like to talk to you about the white bits of tissue holding your joints together, and your muscles to them. Olaf the Flayed has graciously consented to act as my visual aid for tonight’s presentation. Don’t mind the whimpering: he just does that.

Now, those all-important bits of white, stretchy tissue are mighty useful to the modern barbarian. Structurally, they hold the muscles and joints in place. Unfortunately, they’re relatively easy to damage, and are some of the most commonly injured parts of barbarian anatomy, apart from the classic presentations of Axe To The Skull, and Arrow To The Knee.

Part of the problem is your connective tissue just isn’t *that* stretchy, which is both good and bad. Too stretchy, and your joints have a distinct tendency to dislocate themselves at the least provocation. Not stretchy enough, and they’ll strain and tear under the loads you want to be able to, well, load them with. The reason they look white – turn just a bit, Olaf, thank you – is the relative dearth of vasculation in them. Your circulatory system brings freshly oxygenated blood from your lungs to your muscles when you exert yourself, but not much of it ends up in your tendons and ligaments: there just isn’t much in the way of blood vessels in that kind of tissue. Consequently, waste products build up, and they’re prone to damage, especially if – oh, for example – you’re just starting a new hobby of lopping the heads off unruly peasants or rock climbing. See also: gymnastic training or powerlifting/strength training. Because of this relative lack of vascularity, the connective tissue (which can be trained: stick around) lag your muscles in training response by anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Fortunately, as with any living tissue, your ligaments and tendons can be trained, and relatively easily. There are several general principles of which we can avail ourselves to improve our tendon strength and vascularity. Probably the best is taking up rock climbing, which I intend to do, and toward which I’m explicitly working on grip strength. Long-term climbers have noticeably larger, and commensurately stronger, tendons than even powerlifters (check out 1:58 in the linked video). Even without a costly additional hobby (how many can the modern barbarian afford, after all), we can add a few techniques into our daily training to improve on what we’re already doing. One is just training the grip. Fat Gripz are explicitly designed to further this, and I’ve invested in a set for my own use, and I’m finding them enormously beneficial in even the week and change I’ve been using them. Best of all, they can be slipped onto your pull-up bar, your deadlift bar, dumbbells, or even a set of resistance bands to force your forearms to work harder than they otherwise would. Alternatively, you can – ahhh – acquire an axle bar, and follow in Tom’s footsteps. These solutions are explicitly grip-related, however. What do we do about the vast majority of the rest of our connective tissue?

I’m so glad you asked. One option is partial reps. Old time strong man George Jowett developed a method of partial reps at high weight (potentially supra-maximal weights) for “strengthen the sinews” which we can adopt. If you have access to a squat rack with safety bars, set them a handful of inches below the point of lockout, and then perform your lifts. This is going to work well with the deadlift, the squat, and the bench press (assuming you have a spotter, otherwise, lower the weight to something controllable). Focusing on that last few inches before lockout means that most of the load is going to be off the belly of the muscles (relatively speaking) and your connective tissue is taking more of the load. Remember to keep these reps low, as the strain can be unpleasant on the less trained tissue.

Another option is low weight, high volume reps. I’ve adopted this one myself, using primarily resistance bands. The flexibility of the bands (heh. Heh) means that you’re going to be able to replicate almost any motion with enough resistance to give the tendons and ligaments a good working just about anywhere. The mechanism behind this technique involves increasing the flow of the synovial fluid that lubricates the connective tissue, improving the tissue’s ability to regenerate after training.

Further, eating collagen-rich foods may help with your training. Though, if this is actually a thing, you’re probably just as well off eating slow roasted, collagen-rich cuts of beef as adding peptide powder to your protein shake. Though, if you can afford it, why not do both? Some articles suggest consuming collagen-rich foods in small quantities an hour before training to maximize the benefit.

Finally, remember that your connective tissues take longer to see the benefit of training, and just as importantly, take longer to recuperate than your muscles. So while you can hit your legs every other day and your muscles will be fine (after that lovely initial DOMS experience), the tendons attaching your glutes, hams, quads, and the various and sundry other leg muscles are going to need up to 72 hours to fully regenerate. Give them the time, and don’t overdo.

That’s it for tonight, you beautiful savages, you. Tear a chunk off the roast over the fire. It’s been cooking low and slow, and the lovely collagen should have converted into silky gelatin by now. You are what you eat, after all, you meaty monsters.

(Tom Note: I have changed Dave’s original links to affiliate links. It’s basically the same stuff, only if you buy we get a few coins from the sale. You, however, pay nothing different. It just helps us keep the lights on.)

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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