Smoking Your Joints at the Gym
Bad idea, as joint health is of paramount importance when doing heavy lifting. Here’s how to keep your connective tissue strong and supple.
By Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro; Photography: Jason Breeze; Model: Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro
[Q] Hey Johnnie, clearly strong muscles are required when lifting very heavy weights, but what about tendons and ligaments?
[A] Tendons and ligaments are huge when it comes to lifting heavy. They’re just as important, if not more so, than your muscle health. Without strong tendons and ligaments you’ll get injured quite often from lifting heavy. They determine how well and how intense you’ll be able to lift. Muscle is important because as a bodybuilder you want to look strong and be strong but connective tissue is just as important when we’re talking about strength. The stronger they are the better the lifter you’ll be. Most importantly, stronger connective tissue means less risk of injury. Remember, a muscle heals much faster than a tendon does. So think about your time out of the gym you stand to lose if you injure connective tissue as a result of neglecting their importance.
[Q] Are there certain things that you can do after a heavy lifting cycle to keep your connective tissue healthy?
[A] After each heavy lifting cycle, I like to work in a few weeks worth of programming that assists in recovery and overall joint health. For 4–6 weeks, I’ll focus on rep speed using extremely slow negative reps for each exercise, where I take a full five seconds on the negative for each rep. But the set-up is different: I’ll pick 10–15 exercises for each bodypart and do one set of 10 for each, with almost no rest between exercises. I do this within the framework of my normal split. The most important thing is that you do a slower, concentrated movement with a much lighter weight. It should take five seconds for each negative. I also alternate an equally slow positive rep ⎯ to go with the slow negative ⎯ from exercise to exercise. This type of set up concentrates on the connective tissue a lot more than explosive movements because you hit more total fibers, while pumping more blood in and recovering from the previous cycle.
[Q] Johnnie, I’m 44 years old and am starting to notice a lot more aches and pains from my training. As a man who regularly lifts a truckload of weight, how are your joints holding up?
[A] Welcome to the club! It’s like anything else – wear comes with age. Just be smart about the weight that you lift. Don’t try to overdo it and keep your form very strict. Don’t ever jerk or try to use momentum because that will absolutely open the door to an acute or chronic injury. If you stay in control of the weight that you lift, that’ll contribute to your longevity in the gym. You can’t completely avoid all the aches and pains, but you can certainly minimize them.
[Q] Do you recommend any supplements for helping my tendons and ligaments withstand the beating I give them everyday?
[A] Definitely. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are big ones that focus directly on your joint health ⎯ they keep your joints lubricated and supple. Glutamine is another good one, as is Leukic from MuscleTech, but I think you can gain an edge in your joint health with any supplement built to aid in recovery.
[Q] Johnnie, I know most bodybuilders can’t train heavy near contest time because of their diets, but you believe in training as heavy as possible all the way up to the competition. How do your joints react to that?
[A] They scream at me! I always have a goal in mind and I’ll do whatever I have to do to achieve it. I don’t recommend that for everyone ⎯ this is what I do for a living. Unfortunately, the byproduct of some of this is sore, achy joints. It’s a small price to pay in my opinion. I just try to be smart about how I lift, picking and choosing my battles and trying to listen to my body as best as I can to avoid injury.
[Q] What are some everyday tips I can use to strengthen my tendons and ligaments?
[A] Well, there are a lot of ways for you to keep connective tissue working at full capacity, but the easiest ways are to stretch and stay hydrated. Stretching is very important, whether we bodybuilders like it or not. I’ll stretch a little when I wake up, before a workout (after warming up), a good stretch afterward and then just before bed. You want to keep your joints supple and fluid and never allow them to get brittle and worn. Stretching regularly helps to make sure that your joints are ready for any range of motion that your training requires. As for water intake, I recommend 1–2 gallons per day to help keep your joints well lubricated.