Many players and coaches think of off court training in tennis primarily in terms of performance enhancement. But there is another potentially more important benefit. At the USTA we feel there are certain things all players need to do to reduce their risk of injury.
Tennis, obviously, is a game of repetitive stroking. The very nature of the game tends to lead to strength and flexibility imbalances. Our research shows that as many as 8 out of 10 players have strength deficits and flexibility imbalances in important areas of the body.
An imbalance or strength deficit doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to get injured, but it probably does increase the possibility. Some players are naturally lucky, probably having to do with their individual genetic make up. They never seem to stretch, never really do much strength training, and yet never get an injury their entire playing career.
But why gamble and rely on luck? For the majority of players these are some very simple things to do which will reduce the chance of getting an injury.
These articles address some of the most common injuries we see from the pro level all the way down to junior tennis. In these articles we present some examples of the exercises and stretches we recommend to reduce your risk of getting these injuries yourself. This month we'll start with the open stance forehand, looking particularly at the forces that can lead to injuries in the hip.
You can find more information about injury prevention, including more exercises on our website. (Click Here.) In addition, Dr. Paul Roetert, USTA Director of Player Development, outlines a complete cross training system designed for performance enhancement as well as injury prevention in his own series of articles on Tennisplayer. (Click Here).
Open Stance Forehand Hip Injuries
In the open stance forehand, the muscles and structures spanning the right hip (for right-handed players) absorb large forces in the loading phase. This is followed by explosive concentric contraction of the same muscles, producing the power from the first links of the kinetic chain. The forces generated by the legs and trunk are then transferred to the upper body and ultimately to the racket.
In modern tennis this loading and then unloading of the dominant side hip is an inherent characteristic of the open stance forehand, and is widely taught by high performance coaches. But the body needs to be conditioned and strengthened to handle the substantial forces involved in producing this stroke, in order to reduce the risk of lower body injury.
Implications for Injury
Research has shown that repetitive play can create loss of range of motion in the hip joint and strength imbalances throughout the lower body. For this reason, constant loading and unloading of the hip can increase the risk of injury to the hip joint itself as well as the hip's stabilizing structures: the joint capsule, the labrum, and the muscles and ligaments that support this joint. Strength imbalances and poor flexibility in this region can increase this risk.
Players need excellent strength and flexibility in the hip to execute this shot properly, and at the same time, reduce their risk of injury. The following exercises and stretches can prepare the player to handle these loads.
Monster walks build strength in the muscles on the outside of the hip--muscles that provide stability and help with lateral movement. With a piece of elastic tubing around the ankles, start at the left doubles sideline facing the net.
Get into a good athletic position--knees bent slightly, body upright and facing forward, and feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Maintaining this position, slowly step laterally 6 inches with the right foot.
While controlling the band, lift the left foot and step in toward the right foot 6 inches. Continue this pattern while "walking" to the other doubles sideline. Repeat this exercise twice in each direction across the court.
Maintaining flexibility as you externally rotate the hip is essential for being able to load and unload the hip through a full range of motion. The Figure-4 done regularly will help you achieve that.
To perform this stretch cross the right ankle over the left knee. Grab behind the left knee with both hands and pull it towards your chest. You will feel a stretch deep in the right hip. Now reverse the legs and stretch the left ankle over the right knew.
Most tennis players are surprised how much tightness they feel in the top of the leg when they do this exercise for the first time. Perform the stretch 2 or 3 times on both sides. Hold the stretch on each should for 20-30 seconds. Within a few days you will probably start to develop a greater range of motion in the stretch with much less tightness.
As with any stretch, only go to the point where you feel slight to moderate tension in the muscles. Stretching should not be painful. If you do feel pain while stretching, you should stop the stretch.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Start this stretch in a lunge position, with the right foot forward and the left knee on the ground. Maintaining good posture, with the upper body upright, gradually move the body's center of mass forward and slightly downward. The hips should drop slightly towards the ground.
You will feel a stretch in the front of the left hip. Now reverse position with the left foot forward and the right knee on the ground. Perform the stretch 2 or 3 times on each side, holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds.
Again, you can find additional lower body exercises on the USTA website as well as much more about injury prevention and strengthening other critical areas of the body. (Click Here.)
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