The Achilles tendon is the largest and most robust of all those in the human body. This tendon connects the triceps of the sura, or gastrocnemius and soleus, to the calcaneal tuberosity. This tendon acquires its maximum strength when the development of the individual is about to end, therefore towards the 18-20 years of age. Before this age, this facility is very susceptible to injury.
We often speak of hypertrophy of the muscular component but there is also a hypertrophy on the part of all the other structures of the musculoskeletal system, both bones, ligaments and tendons. This growth is necessary as it is unthinkable that a greater force produced by a muscle is not supported by a bone and tendon and ligament component.
Tendons like muscles respond to the stress they are subjected to. Following this stimulus there is an adaptation response that prepares the structure for the stress it has been subjected to.
This means that to strengthen a tendon it is necessary to expose it to a certain degree of stress in order for an adaptation to occur. If this were the only element necessary then the simple training of the muscles would subject the tendon to sufficient stress that would determine a sufficient strengthening. However, things don't always go this way. Based on particular genetic aspects, sports or particularly stressful movements on the joints, the resistance of the tendons may not be sufficient and you start to feel pain every time you train.
Achilles tendon exercises
To prepare the tendon for the various stresses it is subjected to, it is necessary to train it in all directions. The ankle is often a transfer of forces with the ground and it is not always possible to position the foot in the optimal way. A reinforcement of this tendon should therefore include:
- Forward movements
- Movements back
- Movements to the right
- Movements to the left
Backward movements do not place excessive stress on the Achilles tendon. In fact, in this movement the tendon does not receive tension but on the contrary is shortened. It is also true, however, that the bone component should also be prepared to absorb shocks. Stimulating the bone with these movements does not have a direct transfer on the resistance of the tendon but rather gets used to making this movement as well as reinforcing the ability to absorb shocks.
A simple circuit could be the following. Stand with your feet together and aligned forward. the foot must be neither extra rotated nor intra rotated, it must be straight forward. choose a foot to keep fixed on the ground, this will be the Achilles tendon that is being trained. From this position, lean forward as if performing a lunge. The depth of the lunge is determined by one's flexibility: when the heel of the fixed foot is no longer able to remain adherent, it is the maximum ROM.
In this movement it is important to feel the tension in the Achilles tendon. Maintain maximum stretch for 1 second and then return to the feet-together position. Repeat 10 times. Then we move on to the side lunges. In this case it is necessary to focus on keeping the entire foot close to the ground, the tibia should flex laterally. Again, hold the position for 1 second and repeat 10 times; perform the same exercise for the other side. Finally it ends with a back lunge.
In this case we need to focus on feeling a maximum compression in the ankle area, repeat 10 times.
During the entire circuit it is essential to keep the foot completely adherent to the ground. It is useful to focus on the tendon as if it were a muscle: to feel it stretch and contract as you move.
Another more advanced exercise is toe hops. This exercise should not be done in case the Achilles tendon pain is in an acute phase, for this exercise there should be no pain whatsoever. The exercise is simple: perform small single-leg jumps on your toes.
To perform the exercise you need to focus on absorbing the force of the jump and then exploding upward, like a rubber band. One last tip for strengthening tendons is to do eccentric repetitions. We refer to both weights that cannot be moved with concentric force and to eccentric phases that are accentuated in normal workouts. The former are not recommended in cases of pain while the latter allow both greater muscle work and a strengthening of the tendon.