Monthly Archives: July 2012

Flexibility for Tennis

I’m not sure if I’m right about this or not, but it sure seems to me that tennis is growing in popularity. I’m seeing far more coverage on television than ever before, and I’m meeting lots of young athletes that are competing seriously and are focused on their performance. When I work with these athletes, one area that always comes into play is their flexibility.

Tennis is primarily a one-sided sport, requiring much more activity from the dominant arm. In addition to the arm activity, the foot placement and torso motions can be asymmetrical, and after many days, months and years of play, the body can wind up getting a little imbalanced.

To make sure that you have adequate functional flexibility to play tennis, and to prevent your body from developing imbalances between your right and left sides, it’s a good idea to regularly perform a variety of sport-specific stretches. Think about what will happen if you try to perform a powerful overhand serve, but the muscles of your arm, shoulder, torso, hips or legs aren’t flexible enough to allow you to let loose with a smooth, powerful stroke. At the very least the performance of your shot will be compromised, but it’s also possible to injure yourself any time you attempt a powerful, dynamic movement through ranges of motion that your body isn’t ready for.

Following are three great exercises for flexibility and improved function during your tennis match. These stretches would primarily be performed after games or practice sessions, and on non-playing days. Hold each one for 30-60 seconds, breathing comfortably throughout. Always remember to do a proper warm-up, and make sure that you consult your physician before undertaking a new fitness program or making changes to your current routine.

Pivot rotation

Because there is a significant amount of rotation involved in tennis, it’s important to make sure that your trunk and spine can turn efficiently, without putting stress on your body. Sometimes we want the hips to turn during rotation, while other times the goal is to maintain lower body stability with movement between the pelvis and ribcage. This stretch is very effective for opening up this area and progressing your mobility. Start by standing with your side toward a pole or other vertical support. Place your feet roughly shoulder width apart and hinge forward at the hip joints, keeping your back flat and spine long. Reach to the side with your left arm and grasp the pole, then turn your shoulders and ribcage to the left as you reach across and grab on with the right hand. Hold this rotated position, gradually working to turn your body slightly further each time you exhale. Now repeat on the right side, looking for symmetry from one side to the other. Focus on good head position and spinal alignment, remembering to breathe comfortably throughout this stretch.

Standing cross-over side flexion

The mobility of the muscles along the side of your body (lateral slings) is most important during overhead shots where you must be able to reach overhead. This can become imbalanced because of the lack of reaching with the non-dominant arm. To stretch these slings, stand with your left side to a wall, and cross your right leg behind your left. This leg position will increase the stretch of your iliotibial band over your right hip and the outside of your leg. Now lean toward the wall and reach up and over your head with your right arm being careful not to twist your body. Breathe comfortably, letting your spine, shoulders and hips stretch out before taking a deep breath, exhaling and reaching even further upward. Perform this stretch on both sides of the body to ensure balanced flexibility.

Sloppy pushup

In most sports, and most daily activities, there is a predominance for flexion positions, where the body bends forward. In tennis, the act of picking up the ball, or being in a flexed, ready position are examples of these actions. Less frequently the body is required to bend backward into a position of extension, and it’s important to maintain this mobility. A combined, passive/active exercise for this movement is something I call the sloppy pushup. Start on your stomach on the floor or mat, and gently press your body upward on your hands into an extended position until you feel a light stretch through your spine and abdomen. Keeping your hands side by side and your core engaged, slowly lift one hand 1” off the floor, without letting your body shift or tilt. Lower this hand and repeat with the other. Perform 20 lifts, gradually widening your hand position to increase the challenge on your core muscles. Raise you body slightly higher for an increased stretch.

Flexibility for Golf

Because of the movement mechanics during the golf swing, functional flexibility is very important, and most golfers I know don’t spend enough time focusing on this. Golfing clients often notice instant improvement in their game when we begin to release certain parts of their bodies that are involved in their swing.

As I’ve written before when discussing flexibility and stretching, there are two important times to stretch, and different approaches needed at each. Shortly before playing a round of golf or driving a bucket of balls, the golfer should perform dynamic warm-up activities and dynamic range of motion movements that prepare their body for the ballistic rotation of the repetitive swings. An example of this kind of movement would be side to side torso twists, where you might perform 20-30 repetitive turns with increasing range and speed.

The kind of stretching and flexibility work that you do after you’ve played, or on non-playing days, can be referred to as static stretching. This is the more traditional stretching, where you warm up your body first, then perform specific golf-related stretches that are held for longer durations (usually 30-60-seconds). The focus of this kind of stretching is to permanently lengthen short muscles that can restrict your mobility or cause you to lose your balance during your swing.

Following are three great exercises for flexibility and improved function. Always remember to do a proper warm-up, and make sure that you consult your physician before undertaking a new fitness program or making changes to your current routine.

Shoulder mobilizers

The necessary range of motion at the shoulders is quite significant during the swing, and regular stretching can help improve your performance. Since many golfers don’t have enough flexibility at their shoulder joints, they experience inefficient swing mechanics and unnecessary stress. A golf club is an excellent tool for improving your overall shoulder mobility. Start by holding the club in your right hand, placing your thumb at a certain position on the club. Reach the club up and over your back, letting it hang down behind your backside. Reach up with your left hand to grab the bottom of the club. Hold for 30-60 seconds, gradually working your hands closer to each other. Release the club with the right hand, and notice the location of your left hand on the bottom of the club. Now repeat with the left hand on top, paying attention to the overall distance between your hands, and symmetry from one side to the other. Focus on good head position and spinal alignment, remembering to breathe comfortably throughout this stretch.

Quadruped golf twist

Rotational mobility is critical for golf, and symmetry in the body is very important. Start on your hands and knees with your back flat and spine neutral. Reach your right arm out and upward toward the ceiling as you rotate your torso and shoulders to your right side. Be certain to keep your hips and pelvis neutral to encourage greater spinal rotation. Breathe comfortably, letting your spine, shoulders and hips stretch out thoroughly for 15-20 seconds before taking a deep breath, exhaling and reaching even further upward for another 15-20 seconds. Perform this stretch on both sides of the body to ensure balanced flexibility.

Ball squeeze torso pendulums

This movement will help you to maximize power to the ground by engaging both your adductors and abductors of your legs and hips as you create fluid rotation of the torso and spinal flexibility. Start by placing a small exercise ball on the floor between your legs and drop into a neutral athletic position, with your hips, knees and ankles slightly flexed and your core engaged. The ball should just fit between your legs when you’re in your standard foot placement as you address a golf ball. Place your legs against the edge of the ball and lightly weight the inside edges of your feet. This should activate your inner thigh muscles just enough to lightly squeeze the ball. Hold a light medicine ball in both hands at arms length in front of your pelvis. Without letting your pelvis move at all, begin a small arcing motion from side to side with the medicine ball, being certain to create the rotational movement through your mid section, and not with your arms. Be diligent about maintaining constant pressure through the ball and neutral alignment of the spine as you perform 30 turns. Gradually increase the speed and range of the rotations for increased flexibility.