How Strength Training Affects Tendons and Ligaments

Cathe Friedrich Strength Training

Strength training is a great prescription for health, but the benefits don’t stop there. It’s also an antidote to the aging process.  Regular strength training may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and frailty.

Working your muscles against resistance increases their thickness and ability to generate force. Regular strength training can also reduce body fat, improve overall health, boost energy levels and more. But strength training affects other tissues too. If you lift at a high intensity, it boosts bone mass.

But what does strength training do for the “connecting” tissues, your tendons, and ligaments? It’s important to keep these tissues healthy too to avoid injury. Strength training doesn’t just help muscles and bones, it’s a holistic process that benefits your entire body.

Let’s take a closer look at the effect strength training has on tendons and ligaments.

What Are Tendons?

First, what is a tendon? The word tendon describes a group of tough, fibrous, rope-like bands of tissue in the body that connect muscle to bone.  Healthy tendons look smooth and don’t stick out from their surrounding tissue.

Tendons are made up of fibers that run parallel to each other. These fibers intertwine with each other and provide bendable support to the muscle where they are connected to it. A major part of a tendon is the sheath that covers it from the muscle end up to its attachment point in the bone. The sheath provides additional protection from wear, tear, rubbing and injury.

The main purpose of a tendon is to store energy for muscle contraction. They help transmit force from the muscle to the bone. The tendon must also be flexible enough to allow your joints to bend and strong and thick enough to absorb shock that could damage the muscle.

What Are Ligaments?

A ligament is a soft tissue (connective tissue) that connects bone to bone or cartilage to bone. Its function is to provide stability and prevent mobility at the location where it attaches to the bones. The primary function of ligaments is to prevent excessive movement at a joint.

Unlike tendons that are elastic, ligaments are made of special tissue that resists excessive stretching. This tissue, called dense regular connective tissue or dense connective tissue, contains collagen fibers oriented in parallel bundles, giving the tissue great tensile strength. Ligaments can be thought of as “wires” that hold joints together. So, ligaments provide stability to joints and limit their movement. Strong ligaments are important for preventing injuries to a joint by keeping bones in the proper position.

The Effect of Strength Training on Tendons

How does strength training affect your tendons and ligaments? Any exercise you do — whether it’s lifting weights or doing body-weight squats — places stress on your muscles and joints. This can lead to tiny micro-tears in your muscles. As the muscle heals, it becomes stronger and larger than before, as the muscle builds new contractile elements that thicken the muscle fibers.  A similar process happens with tendons when you stretch them – it places stress on them.

Can the stress of strength training improve tendon health? One study looked at how strength training affected the mechanics of the patellar tendon in older adults. A study published in the Journal of Physiology found that strength training led to a significant reduction in tendon elongation in response to force after participants completed a strength-training program. The benefits were greater when higher levels of force were applied to the tendon. So, strength training reduces stress on the patellar tendon in response to the applied force.

Strength Training and Ligament Health

The effect strength training and exercise has on ligament health isn’t as clear-cut. However, most studies support the idea that exercise strengthens ligaments, although scientists don’t fully understand the mechanisms. Yet it’s another example of how controlled stress on a tissue causes adaptations that make it stronger and more resilient.

Both ligaments and tendons respond to overload by synthesizing more collagen, a tough protein that contributes to the strength of tendons and ligaments. The portion of a tendon and ligament where this takes place is called the fascia, the tissue that covers the surface of muscles and organs in the body, such as tendons and ligaments. The fascia provides structure, elasticity, and strength to those structures.

Tendons and Ligaments Respond More Slowly to Training

Tendons and ligaments respond differently to strength training than muscles do. Because of their low blood supply, these tissues adapt more slowly to exercise training. When you first begin a strength training program, your ligaments and tendons will not be able to generate as much force as your muscles will and will be at risk of becoming injured if you overstress them. That’s why it’s important not to lift too aggressively at first and gradually allow your muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adapt to the rigors of training. If you approach training gradually, your tendons and ligaments will lay down new collagen tissue that will strengthen them and decrease the likelihood of injury.

The Bottom Line

That’s the thing about strength training: it doesn’t JUST build muscles. When you do it properly, it also improves the health of your ligaments and tendons, leading to a more stable joint structure. That means less pain, better mobility, and all-around healthier joints. Working your muscles against resistance has so many benefits for your physique and physical health. Keep training!


Reeves ND, Maganaris CN, Narici MV. Effect of strength training on human patella tendon mechanical properties of older individuals. J Physiol. 2003;548(Pt 3):971-981. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2002.035576.

Tipton CM, Matthes RD, Maynard JA, Carey RA. The influence of physical activity on ligaments and tendons. Med Sci Sports. 1975 Fall;7(3):165-75. PMID: 173970.

“How a daily and moderate exercise improves ligament ….” researchgate.net/publication/247263448_How_a_daily_and_moderate_exercise_improves_ligament_healing.

Tipton CM, Matthes RD, Maynard JA, Carey RA. The influence of physical activity on ligaments and tendons. Med Sci Sports. 1975 Fall;7(3):165-75. PMID: 173970.

Cornwall MW, Leveau BF. The Effect of Physical Activity on Ligamentous Strength: An Overview. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1984;5(5):275-277. doi:10.2519/jospt.1984.5.5.275.

Brumitt J, Cuddeford T. CURRENT CONCEPTS OF MUSCLE AND TENDON ADAPTATION TO STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Nov;10(6):748-59. PMID: 26618057; PMCID: PMC4637912.

Witvrouw E, Mahieu N, Roosen P, McNair P. The role of stretching in tendon injuries. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41(4):224-226. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2006.034165.

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