Just coming out of hibernation and ready to get back on the court? Us too! With temperatures (slowly) climbing, outdoor tennis season is imminent. To ensure your body is well equipped to handle the movements that come with having a racquet in hand and a forehand in motion, we enlisted Certified Personal Trainer Bryan Smith to help us get back in the swing of things safely.
As Smith says, “We all know the player with elbow sleeves, knee sleeves and ice packs on every part of their body at the end of practice.” Yeah, we don’t want to be them! Let’s get this workout started:
Smith: Too often I’ve seen clients who play racquet sports that are suffering from some sort of shoulder or elbow issue. Ensuring that you are eliciting proper rotation from your upper back tends to prevent the bottlenecked movement coming strictly from your arm during your swing.
The exercise: My favourite exercise to promote thoracic rotation is a “Side Lying Rotation.” For this exercise you lay on your side, straddle a couple of pillows or couch cushions with your top leg, then reach out over your opposite shoulder with your arm extended. You should feel a nice stretch in your chest, since this is probably a position you haven’t been in for a while. Move back to the starting position and complete this movement for 8-10 repetitions per side.
Smith: I’ve seen pointless crunches prescribed for too many years when it comes to rotational athletes. For me, your “core” is essentially the centre of your “X”, it’s meant to produce an incredible amount of stability while the rest of your body moves.
The exercise: To help engage your core muscles properly throughout your swing, I’m a huge fan of “Tubing Anti-Rotations.” Grab yourself a piece of tubing and attach it at chest height. Pull the tubing into your chest and turn so the resistance is at your side. Now, with the feet shoulder width apart and arms partially extended, quickly rotate from the hips and thoracic spine away from the direction of the tubing. Keep your hands in front of your chest and ensure your abdominals are braced throughout. Keep a relatively loose grip, as all tension should be held in your core. Complete 10-12 repetitions per side.
Smith: Locked up hips means that the movements you are lacking may be forced to come from your knees or low back, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
The exercise: My go-to drill to improve on your range through your hips is called a “Half Kneel Adductor Mobilization.” This gives you some frontal plane movements and helps to open you up to get the most from your swing, and to keep you mobile as you sprint laterally towards the ball. You will need to get down on one knee and plant your other foot out to the side of your body at roughly a 90-degree angle from hip, to knee to toes. Keeping your knee straight and your body facing forwards, push your hips out to that side, hold for a count of 2, then come back. Repeat this 10 times per side, or until you start to loosen up.
Smith: This is the exercise that will have people looking the most confused. If you break it down, you can see why having strength laterally through the hips would be incredibly beneficial to every tennis player, along with ensuring that the knees stay protected and stable. You can eventually make these more explosive, but for now, just work on creating that movement connection while strengthening the sleepy hip muscles that haven’t done much since the first snowfall.
The exercise: Grab a piece of resistance tubing and stand on the centre while holding the handles in your hands. Spread your feet hip width apart and then take your hands and cross them, putting the opposite handle in the opposite hand, forming an “x” with the tubing. From here, making sure no movement comes from the upper body, and with a small knee bend, take strong steps sideways in one direction, carefully leading from the heel, not the toe. Take 12 steps in one direction, then 12 in the other. You should feel the side of your butt letting you know it remembers how to work again.
Smith: I know, it sounds terrible. This exercise is great for bringing back some mobility to your chilly shoulder joint that has become far too used to the huddling-for-warmth position thanks to cool Canadian air or too much time spent at an office desk.
The exercise: You will need the same piece of resistance tubing as the last exercise. Hold the actual tubing in your hands, out in front of your chest. Pull in each direction until you feel some tension and the bend is out of the band. Now, slowly, and without arching your back, bring your hands up and over your head until you’ve come around to having the tubing against you low back, then bring it back over. If that’s too much tension, next time just spread your hands apart a bit more before you come over your head. Complete this 10-12 times.
According to Smith, “These exercises aren’t so much designed to create tension and strength in the body, but more so to relieve the winter tension that’s been held in certain areas. There will be plenty of time during the season to build strength, but to start the season off with compensation patterns and faulty movements is a sure way to create an injury, and the last thing you want during your pre-season games is for mystery pains to start.”
Bryan Smith (@Catalyst_SPT) is the owner of Catalyst Specialized Personal Training and a writer for Inside Fitness Magazine.