Unless you’re Serena Williams, you need to train your body in addition to your game if you want to be your best on the court. Are you making these five training mistakes most tennis players make?
Mistake #1: Trying to mimic their sport movements in the gym. Unfortunately this misses a critical element of training for sports performance: If you want your body to thrive on the court, you need to keep it in alignment. Every sport involves repetitive movements that can put a strain on the body. Focusing on training that movement in the gym can lead to even more strain. In the case of tennis, the serve can put a lot of strain on the shoulder. The motion is always back to front, which over time can affect joint alignment, which may lead to all manner of problems. Training for tennis players should also include working the shoulders from front to back to help balance the muscles around the shoulder, keeping it aligned and ready to perform.
Mistake #2: Ignoring the hips and the upper back (thoracic spine). Tennis, like many sports, involves a lot of rotation. If you play tennis but are tight in the hips or upper back, you are leaving your lower back to deal with all of that rotation, and the low back isn’t very good at that. Improving your hip and upper back mobility will allow your body to move more efficiently, which means your low back won’t have to take on as big a load. If you find your back gets tight when you play, odds are that your hips and/or upper back need some attention. Start stretching and strengthening your hips and upper back for optimal on court performance. Here is one of my favourite exercises to help accomplish this.
Mistake #3: Assuming that tight hamstrings means you need to stretch your hamstrings. While this is sometimes the case, more often hamstrings get tight because we ask them to do too much. The human body is really cool in that every muscle has a primary job and at least one backup job. In the case of hamstrings, the primary job is to bend the knee, and the secondary job is to straighten the hips. The glutes (aka your butt) straighten your hips as their primary job. If the glutes are weak, they don’t do a very good job of straightening the hips, which means your brain calls on your hamstrings to take over. This works for a while, but the extra work can overtax the hamstrings, which can make them feel tight. If you constantly stretch your hamstrings but they still always feel tight, try strengthening your glutes instead.
Mistake #4: assuming jogging is the best choice for getting in shape for tennis. If you want to get to more balls on the court, you need to be faster and more explosive. Jogging is a great exercise that offers many benefits, but developing speed and explosiveness are not among them. Jogging can help you to be able to last through a long match, but so can intervals and circuit training. The beauty of the latter two is that they also help develop explosiveness and speed. For a tennis-specific interval, set up two cones 3 meters apart and do intervals with 10 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest. Do this for 8 reps, and then rest for 90 seconds and repeat 1 to 4 more times. Of the 8 intervals, do 3 of them moving to your forehand side and then shuffling back, 3 of them moving to your backhand side and then shuffling back, and 2 of them running forward and then back-pedalling.
Mistake #5: forgetting that core is more than just abs. I don’t think anyone would dispute that the core is relevant in most sports, especially sports like tennis where we use it to transfer power from the ground, through the legs, the core, and the arm, to the racket. A strong core is essential, but it is important to understand that your core has three dimensions, and forces in tennis are primarily rotational. Since rotation is a big part of our game, why would we only train our abs? They are important for maintaining a strong and healthy body, as well as for sport performance, but in a sport like tennis, our obliques (the core muscles on our sides that come across the body) are even more important. These are the muscles we use to transfer energy to our arms, and these are the muscles that stabilize our core during our stroke so we have control. Half-kneeling cable lifts is a great example of a rotary core stability exercise. It might be the single best exercise you can do for your tennis game.
If you found yourself nodding as you read this post and if you’re in the Ottawa area, come see us at Custom Strength to help with your tennis training. You can get in touch with us via this contact form:
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Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, is a personal trainer with what might best be described as a tennis addiction.