Last month I consulted with a local tennis coach to help their players prepare for a more effective tennis practice, improve their performance and prevent injuries. The sport of tennis is physically demanding, and those who play should be well prepared for the challenge.
As I mentioned last month, preparation leading up to a given day of sport is the most important predictor of injury prevention and performance, so there are several important things that one should do to prepare for tennis. Some might call it a “warm up,” some may say “movement preparation,” others may say “getting ready.” Whatever you may call it, these are the keys to a happy and health sporting experience.
Elevate your body temperature
Literally, warm your body up by moving. Muscle contraction is by far the largest generator of heat in our body. When we contract muscles, a significant amount of energy needed for the contraction is lost through heat. Like how the engine of a car gets warm while running, our muscles are the engine of our body, which releases heat as a biproduct when used. A good indicator of whether your body is sufficiently warm is sweat or perspiration, as our bodies naturally perspire when our internal temperature begins to rise.
While it depends on humidity and the temperature of the environment, it is fair to say that summer in Seattle conditions should make just about anyone sweat if they move enough. Try this: Perform three loops around the tennis court, running on the sidelines, and doing a lateral shuffle on the baselines.
Movement preparation and mobility
“Move your feet!” From a beginner level to 5.0 level and beyond, there is no getting around moving your feet in tennis. Having lazy feet, stiff ankles or tight hips, combined with a weak core, and you are asking for an injury.
While muscle and joints do need to be warm, they also need to be loaded in full ranges of motion. Additionally, our brain and nerves need to be “primed” and ready for match-level speed of movement. Call it “muscle memory,” but it’s actually all part of the brain and spinal cord knowing reflexively which muscles to activate and when to do it that helps us move quickly and without injury.
Try this: Start from the baseline and perform an in-line lunge. As you get to the bottom, twist over the front leg and then alternate, taking lunging steps until you reach the net. Then, don’t turn around. Stay facing forward and perform a reverse lunge, again twisting over the front leg, until you reach the baseline from where you started.
Quick change of direction
“Move your feet!” Not a typo Yes, I did say it twice because it is important, and nobody forgets anything if you tell them the same thing twice.
Moving effectively to where the ball is going to be and executing your perfect forehand, backhand or volley may involve a quick change of direction, and if your body is not prepared for quickly changing direction, the result can be painful to your body, doubles partner, team or, worse, your ego.
The worst mistake that players make when they try to move their feet quickly is focusing on the feet rather than their center of gravity — their core.
It might be tempting to only work on your footwork to improve your ability to change direction, but if you do not have a stable core, you are building on an unstable foundation. With the assumption up front that your core is solid, you could try this: Stand at the baseline and quickly perform hops over and back of the baseline without letting your heels touch the ground. The same can be done in a side-to-side situation, whereby you stand at the baseline facing the sideline and hop side to side, again performing it quickly without letting your heels touch the ground.
How quickly should you go across the line and back again? Try using a metronome and set a target at 140 beats per minute. Each beat should be when your feet hit the ground, and with a tempo of 139 beats per minute, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson would make a perfect warm-up tune.
— Dr. Dan Michael is a chiropractic physician at NW Sports Rehab, 1929 43rd Ave. E., in Madison Park. Call 206-328-5466 for more information.