Note: This is quite a detailed post with a lot of in-depth science-based information – if you want to read about the intricacies of fitness then this post is for you! 🙂
If you have great warm up ideas yourself, please let us know in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
~ Caleb Marshall
Jogging around the perimeter of the courts is part of the customary way that many players begin their warm up. But since most people run and jog by landing with the heel first, this fails to fully activate the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot in a manner that replicates the forefoot to mid-foot striking that predominates in efficient tennis footwork patterns.
In-Place Jogging Variations
In order to prepare the body to begin executing the footwork patterns used to play the game, players will benefit from a lower body warm up that manages to improve the coordination of the muscles that control the movements of the joints of the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. 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. This is the body’s way of efficiently using the mechanical energy that the spring-like structure of the foot is capable of carrying out.
*Posture Alert: A ready stance-like posture with the back as straight as possible, keeping the head erect and shoulders back, and making sure that the knee flexes directly over the foot is essential to executing in-place jogging with variations and the lateral lunge as it is described here.
Strengthening and Stabilizing the Muscles that Move the Foot
As an initial warm up activity, jogging in place with variations is an excellent way to begin to improve the muscular strength and endurance of the large muscle groups of the calves and thighs in addition to improving the stabilizing influence of the small intrinsic muscles of the feet. (Executing In-Place Jogging Variations barefooted on a soft mat will accentuate the stabilizing function of the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles that support the feet.)
- It also tends to replicate the actual movement patterns that experienced players use to position themselves when hitting the ball.
- If one varies the width of the stance, the cadence of steps, with the height, speed, and direction of steps, then it is possible to approximate the multi-dimensional footwork movement patterns that are used to move about the court.
- In addition, the intensity of effort can also vary from sub-maximal rates that effectively burn fats at a higher rate than it does carbohydrates, to higher intensity sprint-like rates that burn carbohydrates for fuel and preferentially stress the cardiovascular and respiratory systems as endurance is built in the muscles of the lower body as well.
- Begin the in-place jogging at a moderate pace for a few minutes, then make the following types of changes before going back to basic jogging as the foundation from which the variations begin:
- Pick up the pace for 30 seconds;
- Then back to jogging pace;
- Then 30 seconds in a wide stance, then back to jogging pace;
- Then high knees for 30 seconds, then back to jogging pace;
- Then one foot hops, alternating from one foot to the other, then back to jogging pace;
- Move forward, then backwards, then side-to-side, etc.
Be creative in how you mix the sequence of variations, always keeping the basic jogging speed and cadence as the foundation for this part of the lower body warm up. Start slowly and don’t overdo it. It can be as strenuous as you like, but build up gradually to avoid overuse injuries.
Developing Balance, Flexibility, and Stability
Achieving the muscular strength, flexibility, and endurance that is capable of the kind of integrated function that positions the lower limbs for stability and balance needs an activity that is capable of conditioning the muscles that flex and extend the knees, helping to stabilize them, and that enhances the full range of mobility of the hips, while it also maneuvers the ankles through the ranges of motion of which the ankle is capable: the lateral lunge.
The Lateral Lunge
After jogging in place for a length of time that is sufficient to raise heart rate, increase muscle and soft tissue temperatures, and increase overall body temperature enough to generate mild perspiration, the lower body is then ready to engage in an important progressive resistance exercise (PRE) that uses body weight for resistance – the lateral lunge.
The lateral lunge is performed by adopting a wide ready stance and alternately rotating the legs and feet so that the stance leg’s knee and foot are aligned with one another sideways while the back leg’s foot remains facing forward (which requires twisting the torso from one side to the other), and gradually extending the width of the stance with each repetition to the limit of the legs’ full range of motion from side to side.
Why it Works so Well
This multi-modal exercise accomplishes several important objectives towards developing integrated functioning between the lower links of the body’s kinetic chain:
- As a flexibility exercise, it effectively and efficiently extends the range of motion of all of the muscles that move the knees, hips, and ankles through their available ranges of motion;
- As a resistance exercise that uses body weight to improve the strength and endurance of the muscles of the feet, calves, and thighs, it strengthens the muscles that accelerate and decelerate the legs while also isometrically strengthening the pelvic girdle muscles;
- As a closed kinetic chain exercise that features weight bearing throughout the activity, it enhances joint stability, helps improve one’s sense of neuromuscular control, and can help to minimize injury to the ligaments and cartilage of the knee;
- When repetitions are gradually and progressively increased over multiple sessions (Progressive Resistance Exercise or PRE) it improves muscle metabolism so that muscles use oxygen and fuels more efficiently, improving their overall endurance capacity; and
- Since the person performing the lateral lunge has to repeatedly shift the body’s weight from one side to the other as the legs and feet are rotated into the correct position to maximally lengthen the thigh muscles while simultaneously maintaining proper alignment of the knee over the stance foot, the lateral lunge helps improve one’s sense of dynamic balance and positional stability, skills that are crucial to being able to properly execute stroke mechanics with the upper body.
*This is actually a resistance exercise using body weight and a slower pace is generally more intense than medium pace. Fast pace is to be avoided at all cost to prevent damaging muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other joint structures.
When the lateral lunge is performed after jogging in place it also serves to continue stressing the respiratory and cardiovascular systems while simultaneously improving flexibility and muscular strength and endurance.
These same warm up activities are capable of achieving even higher levels of respiratory and cardiovascular fitness as the amount of time jogging in place with variations and the number of repetitions of lateral lunges increases, so they can become an integral part of a longer term lower body exercise regimen for all players.
Adapted from “Tennis for Fitness/Fitness for Tennis”
A forthcoming work by G. Hughes Davis
Let us know your favourite warm-up ideas in the comments section below.