Watching the University of Washington Women’s Tennis play my alma mater (Purdue University) at the Nordstrom Tennis Center in February was entertaining (even though my Boilers lost) to watch how each player had their own way of executing their version of a forehand, backhand, serve, and volley. You see this kind of thing in every sport, and if you ever get me started, you’ll find it hard to get me to stop talking about the various biomechanics involved; things like ‘why this player has an injury here’, or ‘why that player gets more power there’. To me it was obvious that some of the players were fighting injuries, and equally as obvious that some of them were very healthy and playing exceptionally well. The question that we all must answer for ourselves is, ‘how do we maintain our activity level in a safe, effective and athletic way?’
This notion applies to both sport and non-sport humans, even if you’ve never played a sport in your life. Movement is movement, whether you’re emptying the laundry, or winning a Grand Slam, we all must decide how to move well. It’s not easy to prevent injuries, and in fact, many sports health like myself are discarding the phrase ‘injury prevention’ because it has proven to be too difficult. What we now hope to provide is athletic resilience to injury. Here are some tips that can help you along your own journey to resiliency in your life, your sport and your movement practice.
Use your core, better than before.
You may have heard it before, but did you know that your core can bounce? It’s true, the abdominal cavity can be pressurized and act like a beach ball that can relieve pressure from your hips, back and knees. It can also be a source of stability when you make quick movements like when a tennis player sprints from one baseline to another.
Tip: think about creating tension in your core that’s strong enough you can’t poke your finger into it, but light enough you can breathe through it. Try for example, an exercise called the “Pallof Press”. Type this search into any internet browser and you’ll see a plethora of content to help you experiment.
Tighten the trunk, loosen the limbs.
Whether you play tennis, run on a treadmill, or go up and down stairs in your home, try to feel what muscles are working and see if you can move the working muscle tension towards your trunk and away from your hands and feet. In some cases, tension is a good thing to have in your hands and feet, but generally movement should come from the trunk and move outward, not the other way around.
Tip: think about a cracking whip. The movement starts where there is stability first at your hand and then moves outward. The core and trunk should always be your base of stability, at all times.
Fun fact: did you know that a whip makes a cracking noise because the end of the whip is moving faster than the speed of sound, this speed of movement makes a mini sonic boom.
See it, then be it.
Before you attempt any movement, you want to see it in your mind’s eye first, this is called visualization. Every athlete performs this mental exercise before every skilled activity. Therefore, some of the greatest athletes to ever play a sport study the craft of other great athletes who came before them. The brain contains a special type of cell called “mirror neurons” which are clusters of nerves in the brain that can see another human in an act, and then go and perform the same act in a similar way with relative ease after virtually no instruction.
Tip: look at your movements first. You may not like to see yourself on camera, but if you can get over the fear factor and see the facts for what they are, you’ll likely see 2-3 things you can improve immediately. Virtually everyone now has a camera in their pocket, so now there’s one less excuse to get a little better at something you love.
Not sure how to apply this knowledge to your individual situation? Need to discuss more?
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