Strength and power athletes frequently train with high loads and dynamic movements in the quest for higher levels of performance. Acute and chronic stress on the musculoskeletal system result in a variety of adaptations. While exercise scientists have spent decades studying the biology and molecular pathways of muscle adaptation to training, comparatively little is known about the metabolism and adaptations of connective tissues. Consequently, while there are myriad training and nutritional interventions that address strength and endurance development of motor proteins (contractile fiber), there’s scant evidence-based guidance on training and nutrition to improve tendon and ligament function and health.
Traditionally, tendon and muscle extracellular matrix (ECM) have been viewed as being relatively static and inert, changing little after adolescence. The classic view is that these mechanical bands did not respond to training and nutrition, although emerging research is proving these previous views to be antiquated and, in some cases, completely false. Over the last decade, researchers have discovered that tendons and intercellular connective tissues are in fact “smart tissues” that can sense and adapt to mechanical loading in a number of ways. Furthermore, using engineered ligaments, animal models, in vivo techniques, elite athlete case studies, and ongoing clinical trials, it’s been shown that distinct nutritional interventions significantly influence connective tissue remodeling and strengthening.
These scientific findings (on the plasticity of tendons and ECM) are potentially revolutionary for hard-training rock climbers! By employing these recently discovered training and nutritional interventions, climbers can develop stronger, stiffer ligaments, tendons, and muscle matrix that will increase performance (higher rate of force development and increase muscle efficiency) and reduce injury risk (via increasing collagen synthesis in tendons and ECM). Moreover, currently “tweaked” or injured climbers—who seem ubiquitous—may be able to accelerate recovery and hasten return to climbing thanks to these research breakthroughs.