Tennis Drills HQ (Editor’s Notes): We would like to thank Gerald H. Davis for the below post! He will be posting a follow up in the next few days on specific exercises that players can undertake to better their fitness and overall gameplay.
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People who participate in tennis three hours per week at a moderately vigorous intensity cut in half their risk of death from any cause, according to the late Dr. Ralph Paffenbarger, who was an internationally recognized exercise authority and studied more than 10,000 people for 20 years.
Quote by Jack Groppel, Ph.D., USPTA Master Professional
Developing the fitness abilities that allow players to play the sport well translates into the fitness needed to lead a healthy, happy life. But surely being able to play for three hours at a moderately vigorous intensity is sometimes easier said than done.
Between work, family obligations, and all of the things that seem to simply pop up at times, getting on the court with a willing partner can sometimes be a difficult ask. So many try to stay fit by visiting their local gym, jogging, or bike riding, in an effort to stay fit for their next doubles match on the weekend.
Why traditional exercises fall short
¨ While hitting the weights in the gym can provide some resistance exercise, there is no guarantee that the work on the weight machines, treadmill, and elliptical will translate into better performance on the court.
¨ And while jogging and bike riding can help with lower body fitness, it can’t replicate tennis movement patterns in which the upper body must be used in conjunction with the footwork patterns that help to cover the court.
Coordinated footwork patterns
What all players need are exercises that are based on the coordinated movement patterns that are used to play the game. Simple body-weight exercises and light resistance exercises that support these coordinated movement patterns will go a long way toward developing the fitness players need when they perform on the court.
¨ Footwork exercises should replicate the forefoot to mid-foot striking that predominates in efficient tennis footwork patterns. Jogging in place, when performed properly, begins to develop forefoot striking that plantar-flexes at take-off and controls the landing with dorsiflexion that absorbs the energy at foot contact.
¨ Done this way, each step becomes a plyometric maneuver that features a stretch-shortening cycle of the muscles of the legs and feet that is not unlike the authentic movement patterns that occur during barefoot running.
Replicating Stroke Mechanics
Using body-weight and light hand-held weights or resistance bands, off-court exercises should replicate stroke mechanics in away that ensures that all body parts participate in enlisting the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems of the body.
¨ When executed properly, each stroke in tennis begins with the feet, ankles, and lower legs and acquires its power by channeling momentum up through the kinetic chain, through the pelvis, abdomen, and chest, to the shoulders, arms, hands, and into the head of the racquet.
Transitioning through the Principal Positions
To properly exercise and coordinate muscle forces, the body-weight and hand-held weights and resistance should be moved through the patterns of the stroke in a way that replicates how the player transitions between three principal positions:
¨ the ready stance;
¨ the pivot position; and
¨ hitting stance;
This will give the player the opportunity to address the elements of form and posture that provide the dynamic balance and positional stability that are the basis for generating the momentum needed to properly accelerate the racquet to hit the intended shot.
The relationship between Coordinated Tennis Patterns and Activities of Daily Life
Fortunately, the authentic human movement patterns that have developed through our coordinated efforts to use various muscles working across multiple joints in functionally efficient ways (to reach overhead, or to turn to the side of the body and pick up an object to move it to the other side) serve as overlooked archetypes for many of our athletic endeavors.
¨ In tennis it involves integrating movement from the muscle activation patterns that are stimulated by performing stroke mechanics properly.
¨ Flexing the knees and hips, twisting the torso, and coiling the shoulders in anticipation of the incoming ball, and then continuing the sequence of transitions out of the ready stance, through the pivot position and hitting stance channels the momentum needed to strike the ball well.
¨ This seemingly complex channeling of momentum that flows from a fully flexed, coiled body posture (of the pivot position) followed by the series of rotations and extensions that bring the racquet into contact with the incoming ball are not unlike the diagonal movement patterns we commonly use, for example, to turn and reach down behind us to pick something up, and then turn and extend up to the other side to place something on a shelf.
¨ We generally don’t think of needing strength to accomplish these maneuvers, but injuries, and the periods of immobility required to recover from them, remind us that some level of relative strength is required for some of our simplest activities of daily life.
The Goal: Developing Strength, Balance, Stability & Flexibility
Instead of mindlessly lifting heavy weights in movement patterns that are unrelated to the coordinated movement patterns of tennis, or engaging in aerobic activities that ignore the requirements of tennis, players need simple ways of developing the muscle forces needed to produce authentic movement patterns.
¨ These muscle forces also provide us with the balance and stability to stand, walk, sit, and more;
¨ And perhaps we take for granted that we need some measure of flexibility, in our joints and muscles, to move from sitting to standing, to climb stairs, or rise from our beds.
¨ But some among the ranks of the elderly rue the loss of strength, balance, stability and flexibility that plagues them with the inability to do some of the things they have done for themselves all of their lives.
¨ The importance of these physical capacities is magnified when we choose to play sports or engage in the martial arts, gymnastics, dance, or any interpretive art involving human movement. Developing skill in any of these endeavors implies mindfulness of proper form, posture, and movement, so attending to the details of the coordinated movement patterns, in this case of tennis, seems prudent, sensible, and perhaps a practical path towards proficiency.
Adapted from “Tennis for Fitness/Fitness for Tennis”
A forthcoming work by G. Hughes Davis