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Developing Soft Tissue Strength

Soft tissue strength is one of the most important factors that underpin sports training and injury prevention

Soft tissues are structures in your body that help support and provide stability to joints, which make fluid movement possible. Examples are ligaments, tendons, muscles, menisci, cartilage and other fibrous and fatty tissues that surround joints. These things are known as connective tissue.  Many forces affect joints in basic and complex movements, so the stronger these tissues are, the more force can be absorbed and transferred to the muscles, rather than destroying these precious fibers. The stronger a joint is, the greater integrity it has.

Joint integrity is a major contributor to injury PREVENTION

Shoulder, elbow and wrist require soft tissue strength

Push Ups are a great way to develop soft tissue strength in these key joints

When starting out in a strength training program or increasing physical activity in any sense, these internal structures need to be developed first, so that they can manage the higher loads when you are training more. Children playing on equipment at the park or at home is a naturally occurring way of strengthening these areas. This is because they are landing, jumping, running, stopping, stepping up, stepping down, pushing off, etc. The reason they suffer few soft tissue injuries, is that their bones and muscles are pliable as they have not fully developed, and their muscle mass and muscle strength does not exceed that of their internal structures.

One reason people may suffer knee, ankle and hip problems after starting high intensity metabolic programs like cross-fit, f45 or other circuits that involve a lot of jumping and hopping, is due to the ground reaction forces. A ground reaction force occurs in response to our bodies pushing into the ground. The harder we push (i.e. landing from a jump or hopping) the more ground reaction force enters our body. Strong connective tissue allows the muscle to absorb the force and dissipate it as heat; weaker joints absorb the force, which can lead to injuries. In the picture below, the red arrow indicates the size of the force going into the ground and the green arrow indicates the equal size of the ground reaction force entering our bodies.

Step off a boxLanding from a steplanding from a step creates a GRF

 Focus on developing foundational strength first, which will develop stronger connective tissue.

For the first three months of a beginner starting out, no matter what age or sport they play, the program should be dedicated to developing core foundational strength. The basic, movement-based (rather than muscle-based or strength-based) exercises slowly increase the collagen that builds the ligaments and allows that tendons to adapt to the increases in force that cross the joint during the opening and closing of a joint.

Slow eccentric and controlled concentric movements are the best starting points for any resistance exercise.

Eccentric refers to the lengthening of a muscle under tension, and concentric refers to the shortening of a muscle while under tension. For example, with a push up, the triceps are eccentrically controlling the downward part, while the elbow flexes. The triceps then concentrically control the upward part of the exercise. All the while, the elbow, shoulder, wrist and torso while be stable, creating a smooth motion. These smooth, slow motions help build soft-tissue strength.

Over time, the ability to control movement at a joint improves. This adaptation then decreases risk of injury, allows more force to be directed to the muscle rather than the joint. This equals less wear and tear of the menisci, cartilage and ligaments.

How Does It Work?

Beginners:

Any of the basic exercises can be used. It simply requires a light load and slow, controlled pace, while working through a set of 10-15 repetitions. Absolute beginners need only 2 sets, while people who have been training for greater than 3 months could use 2-3.

  • Squats
  • Bench Press
  • Push Ups
  • Pull ups
  • Split squats
  • Calf Raises
  • Seated Row
  • Shoulder Press
  • Glute Bridges
  • Band Rotation exercises for the rotator cuff

Intermediate or Advanced:

If you have already been training for a while but feel you have not completed much of this type of training, then these exercises (1-3 sets of 8-10 reps) could be added into your warm-up;

  • SL Squats
  • SL Glute Bridges
  • Push Ups on a Swiss Ball
  • YTWL
  • One-Leg Squat off bench
  • BW Eccentric Chin Ups
  • Clams
  • One Leg Pull Ups