Category Archives: Tennis Exercises

Common training troubles – Save your shoulders

When it comes to keeping your body healthy and pain-free, there are a few target areas that I feel should get a little more attention than others. The lower back, which I discussed last week, has to be number one on the list. Shoulders are a close second.

The shoulder is a fairly complicated and unstable joint. It doesn’t have a lot of security provided by the bony structures, so it relies on soft tissues like the small rotator cuff muscles to help keep it safe and strong. I would estimate that 80-90% of my training clients over the years have presented with some degree of shoulder problems. Sometimes this is from an acute injury, but most often it’s a problem that has developed slowly and nagged them for a long time.

Throughout my own sport and exercise career I’ve probably had more issues with my shoulders than any other body-part. A lot of this involved injuries caused by soccer, football or heavy weight training, but I’ve also had a lot of chronic pain from tendonitis, impingement and so on. The thing that I’ve learned from dealing with my clients, and my own issues, is that the majority of chronic shoulder problems don’t usually originate at the shoulder joint.

To effectively prevent, manage and improve shoulder problems, it’s important to understand how the shoulder joint works, and how the function of the rest of your body is contributing to any problems you might have. With this understanding you can proceed in the right direction toward building strong, healthy shoulders.

Always remember to perform a progressive warm-up before training or sports, and get medical approval before beginning a new fitness program, especially if you have a history of lower back pain or injury.

Knowledge – As mentioned earlier, it helps to be knowledgeable about your existing condition, and the rest of your body, when you’re trying to improve your shoulders. Having a thorough assessment by someone with a good working knowledge of shoulder mechanics and overall body function can be invaluable. Because of the shape and mechanics of the structures in the shoulder, avoiding certain positions or movements could be important for you, but not for someone else who has shoulder pain for an entirely different reason.

In a lot of cases shoulder pain can result from compromised spacing inside the shoulder joint. This space, which is usually around 10mm in a healthy joint, can be reduced significantly by poor posture, muscle imbalance or faulty movement patterns. This can cause pinching of tissues like the rotator cuff tendons, producing inflammation, tearing and even rupture.

A simple test of flexibility and joint range of motion can usually reveal this condition. If you learn that one or both of your shoulders is in this state, there are a number of simple maintenance exercises to improve it.


Prevention – Once I learned what was causing the issues with my own shoulders I was able to train and play hard without problems. This has helped me to implement successful prevention and rehabilitation programs with many of my clients. Maintaining good posture is a huge factor in avoiding shoulder issues. By keeping your spine, ribcage and shoulder blades in the right position, your arms are fee to move without putting stress on your shoulder joints. Good flexibility throughout the body is also essential for shoulder function. Anytime your muscles restrict your movement, your joints usually suffer. Keep the muscles that surround and attach to your shoulder blades loose and balanced to ensure fluid motion at your joints. This can be done with stretching, massage or rolling out your muscles.

Another major factor in shoulder maintenance is the movement strategy that you use when pushing or pulling. At all times, focus on generating force from the center of your body. This should come from the middle of your chest when pushing, and between your shoulder blades when pulling. Doing this will engage the larger muscles and take strain off your shoulder joints.

Treatment – If you do have shoulder problems, whether acute or chronic, try to get an assessment and treatment by a qualified practitioner that you trust. I know from experience that Active Release Technique, known as A.R.Ttm is a remarkably effective treatment for long-term shoulder problems. If you start to feel pain in your shoulder joints during or after activity, be sure to rest the area immediately and do what you can to reduce inflammation to the injured tissues. I offered suggestions for this last week, including icing the area right after the injury occurs to reduce the level of pain and inflammation, trying homeopathic remedies or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or pain-killers for comfort. Unfortunately too many people ignore shoulder issues when they’re small, which is how they become more serious.



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.