Most tennis players and armchair fans alike will be looking forward to the Aegon Tournament at Queens and the Wimbledon Championships, when the grass season kicks off in a month’s time.
When it comes to ‘celebrity’ sportsmen and women, tennis was probably the first sport where players talked publicly about the benefits their game received from cross-training and strengthening with Pilates. Tennis stars including Andy Murray, Serena and Venus Williams, Elena Baltacha and Lindsay Davenport all regularly enhance their tennis and fitness training with Pilates.
It’s with good reason, because as with golf – the focus of our last ‘Sport & Pilates Series’ blog – tennis is a very one-sided sport, with a lot of rotation to one side and little to the other. This means that players need to work hard to achieve balance, strength and suppleness across the body and at the same time, focus on building the core strength from which most of the dynamic rotations will come.
Few tennis players will have a perfect serve or swing, so repetitive or inefficient patterns of movement will put a lot of strain on the muscles and joints that power these movements – especially in the shoulder and elbow of the playing side and in the knees and hips. All of these areas could become weak and prone to injuries, which Pilates can help with.
In this blog, we’re looking mainly at the upper half of the body. Firstly, let’s talk about at the rotator cuff and how to stabilise it at home. With a Pilates band, wrap one end around the stair bannister and, standing tall to face the stairs, engage the core and hold the band in your outside hand. Keep your elbow to the waist, and pull the band away from the bannister to rotate the forearm outwards, keeping the shoulders square to the front. Do this 10 times.
Next, turning your back to the bannister, you can strengthen the tricep over the head, much in the same way as the arm moves in a serve. Keeping the band attached to the bannister, hold the other end of the band in one hand behind your head, elbow to ear and forwards. Keeping your elbow at your ear, extend the forearm above the head and repeat 10 times.
Improving spinal rotation is the third critical area for tennis players to work on. At home, try these exercises:
· Spine twist: sit cross-legged with a straight spine. Lengthen and elongate the spine before rotating on the out breath. Repeat five times, alternating sides;
· Stabiliser: kneeling on all fours, making sure your knees are under your hips and hands under your shoulders, engage your abs and on the breath out, extend the opposite arm and leg away from each other without twisting and tilting the pelvis or shoulders. Repeat five times on each side;
· ‘Thread the Needle’: Staying on all fours, on the breath out, thread one arm under the other arm to create rotation through the spine. Keep your pelvis as stable as possible to ensure maximum twist in the torso, rather than from the hips, then with the same arm rotate the other way lifting the arm up to a high diagonal slightly behind the shoulder, and look towards the extended arm. Repeat five times each side or if one side feels more stiff, do more on that side only.
And in the studio, we’d recommend:
· Balancing on the Wunda Chair: we use the standing foot pumps, and balancing on only one leg makes this much more challenging on overall body stability;
· Performing the ‘mermaid’ on the Cadillac and Reformer encourages spinal rotation in both flexion and extension. The mermaid is a combination of a side bend with a twist in forward flexion and then a twist back in extension;
· On the Cadillac, we ‘double spring’ the legs at the thigh and lower leg points for more support, in order to mobilise and release the hip flexors.
We hope this blog has helped all you tennis players out there – and do ask us any questions next time you come to class!