Taking the time to fit in stretching before and after a tennis session (or any other sporting activity for that matter) can seem tedious and discretionary. If you’re rushing from work to a match, it feels like the last thing you have time fit in. Equally, if you practice before work in the morning, making it to the office on schedule seems like a bigger priority. That said, as the lactic acid sets in and you feel your hamstrings and shoulder stiffen up as the day progresses, skipping that 5-10 min sequence of stretches can seem foolish indeed.
Beyond ensuring an adequate range of motion and injury prevention, dynamic stretching is beneficial to your game. We’ve all seen Dimitrov, Serena and Nole do sliding power splits with ease on the court. In fact, building strength decoupled from flexibility is detrimental to honing impeccable tennis technique.
With this in mind, we approached Alan Peacock, expert personal trainer and Founder of MoveMethod in Sydney, Australia. Among other things such as providing nutritional advice and fostering a sense of community to help people become fitter, stronger and healthier, Movemethod enables individuals to build a foundation of movement that allows freedom, strength, agility and conditioning.
We asked Alan to help us become diligent stretchers by outlining a handful of stretches and exercises that are specifically beneficial for tennis players and save time by targeting several body parts at once.
Here’s his top 5 list (click on the links to see a video of the exercise):
This dynamic flow has elements of strength, coordination and flexibility in addition to raising your heart rate. Your core needs to be engaged throughout the sequence in order to maintain the plank position which becomes more challenging as your active leg moves around your body. Ensure your shoulders are open before you extend your leg. Your glutes come into play as you raise your leg in a smooth, controlled movement. Hip flexors can become notoriously tight on individuals with desk jobs, so the end of the flow with your foot crossing your spine at an angle is ideal for loosening them up.
Alan suggests doing 10 non-stop with each leg to get your blood flowing, open up your hip flexors and warm up your shoulders before hitting.
Don’t let the ease with which Alan is demonstrating this exercise deceive you - it’s very challenging! This movement is beneficial for correcting hip biomechanics, abetting neural and fascial integration and working on end-range loading and tissue activation. The relevance for tennis players? The nature of the game makes your body imbalanced with one side building strength at the expense of the other. In order to offset becoming tighter and stronger on one side - increasing the probability of injuries over time - doing slow exercises that necessitate excellent balance is great for prevention.
Set aside time to do 10 on each leg, holding the last rep for 10 seconds - before hitting the court and prepare to feel more coordinated as a consequence.
This movement isn’t your run-of-the-mill linear squat. It’s easy to do straight up and down squats, air squats and lunges and think you’ve tackled all the relevant quad and glute exercises. Cossack squats are different in that they actually increase ankle mobility. Loading the ankle and decoupling hips enables the up-regulation of proper function.
If you’re up to the challenge, start by loading the majority of your weight on one leg and focus on your balance as you slowly* bend and twist, completing the exercise with a stretch at the end of the sequence.
This exercise is ideal for adding to your cool down routine after exertion with its strength and flexibility benefits. Alan suggests it’s best to start off without the kettlebell to get used to the range of motion required for this exercise and then add on weight when you’re satisfied that you’ve got that hang of it.
If you’ve played tennis regularly for several years and avoided some sort of rotator cuff / tendinitis injury, it’s safe to say you’re in a minority. It is well worth spending time doing exercises aimed at strengthening the notoriously flexible shoulder joint without inhibiting mobility. In this exercise, Alan carefully positions his shoulder in the joint socket before doing slow, controlled arm raises. Setting the scapula first enables strength gains to happen in the shoulder as opposed to the arm.
The tempo for this exercise is 3-1-1-1: slowly lower your arm for three seconds, spend one second each letting go of shoulder and then reactivating the shoulder and finally use one second to raise the shoulder whilst maintaining the activation.
Alan recommends doing 10 reps on each side (not just your dominant arm!) before and after you play. Choose a weight that enables you to do 6-8 reps comfortably.
If you’re using your legs to explode up into your serve and get down for low volleys and groundstrokes, you will feel it in your glutes after tennis practice. It’s great to build strength in this muscle group but you need to simultaneously ensure that your glues don’t get disproportionately strong or tight thereby triggering imbalances within the rest of your body.
The pigeon stretch is a familiar one, but Alan’s version adds a strength and balance requirement because of the dynamic flow approach whilst attempting to balance a significant portion of your weight on a couple of fingers. Don’t even attempt to do this without your core activated or you’ll end up in a heap on the court.
This exercise is a no-brainer after you’ve played, and is worth doing post-warm up when you’ve the blood flowing. Try 10 reps on each leg for starters and judge if you feel sufficiently loose.
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