Function of Tendons in Climbing
What our bodies are made of determines how it functions. While tendons are made of white stuff, muscles are made of red stuff. Strength training can improve the health and function of both tendons and muscles – but by different mechanisms.
Our hands are unique in that the distance between the finger and muscle that moves it is very long. Tendons are the components that connect the bone to the muscle, making their function key to climbing performance.
A very compliant tendon will act like an elastic band, elongating before it can produce force. A stiff tendon will behave like a steel cable, instantly transferring the load.
As climbers, we benefit from tendons that are more “steel cables” and less “elastic bands” (though some elasticity is key to prevent injury).
Tendon Training: Phase 1
In Phase 1, we use prolonged time under tension and moderate loads. Long isometrics have been shown to increase tendon stiffness, and cross sectional area, which makes the tendon more resilient.
Tendon Training: Phase 2
In Phase, 2 we want to increase the load tolerance of the muscle/tendon unit. We do this by subjecting the fingers to higher loads, for shorter periods of time. The outcome is that the fingers are able to produce more force, and the tendon responds by increasing its tensile strength.
Tendon Training: Phase 3
In Phase 3, we need to increase the speed with which the fingers can flex. Hard climbing happens fast, and training needs to simulate the speed, in order to latch the hold. Much of these changes are probably more muscle & CNS-driven, as we need to increase the speed with which the finger flexors stiffen. We can do this with lighter loads, quicker reaction times, and shorter holds.
Finger strength is to a climber what tires are to a driver. They are our connection to the surface. Turbocharged V8 engines are pretty useless if you have bald tires, and your bulging biceps won’t help you climb 5.12 if your fingers can’t keep you connected to the rock.
Hungry for more? The 5.12 training plan has all the tools you need to take your climbing game to the next level.