Wimbledon tennis fever: Improve your tennis game and stay injury free

Wimbledon Tennis

Strawberries and cream, pimms and lemonade, a great atmosphere, sun hats and long sunny evenings. That is what Wimbledon is about, isn’t it? Oh, yes, and some pretty damn good tennis! And most probably some rain (despite the long run of great weather we are still in England!).

Every year (if we are lucky enough to get tickets) we try and go to Wimbledon and every year we come away inspired. We are inspired by the players, their strength, their determination, speed, agility, mindset – we could go on! How can you not be inspired? And so this year we thought we would put together some information and exercises that will hopefully improve your tennis game and also help to prevent common tennis injuries along the way.

Research has confirmed that an effective strength and conditioning programme can greatly improve a player’s explosive power which is a key component of tennis. It can also help to reduce the chance of an injury occurring and contribute to faster recovery times if you do get injured (touch wood that you don’t). Injury prevention or ‘prehabilitation’ should form a key part of any exercise programme. Below are the most common tennis injuries.

Shoulder and arms

Obviously the shoulder, wrist and elbow get a pretty thorough work out in a tennis game. As you can see above the most common tennis injuries are ‘tennis elbow’ (defined as injury to the muscles that extend the wrist or bend it backwards) and shoulder injuries (most usually to the rotator cuff). The upside (if you can call it that) to these injuries is that two thirds are overuse injuries and therefore can often be avoided by better muscle strengthening and also a proper warm up routine.

Shoulder overuse injuries are usually due to poor conditioning and strength of the rotator cuff muscles. The rotator cuff helps to position the shoulder properly in the shoulder socket.If any of the four rotator cuff muscles or the ligaments that attach these muscles to bone are weakened, overused or damaged you will feel shoulder pain and have reduced range of motion. Tennis elbow is caused by shortening of the muscles in the forearm.

Try the below exercises to strengthen the shoulder and arm muscles for more power and injury prevention.

►Internal shoulder rotation exercise

  • Attach a resistance band around a stable object slightly above the waist.
  • Engage the core and slowly rotate the shoulder internally (towards the body) while keeping the arm close to your side, parallel to the floor and wrist straight.
  • Pause for 1 second at the end of the range of movement and slowly return the handle to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-12 or 12-15 reps then perform the movement for the other side.
  • A good way to make sure your arm stays parallel and close to your side is to place a small towel between your arm and body.

►External shoulder rotation exercise

  • Attach a resistance band around a stable object slightly above the waist.
  • Engage the core, and slowly rotate the shoulder externally (away from the body) while keeping the arm close to your side, parallel to the floor and wrist straight.
  • Pause for 1 second at the end of the range of movement, then slowly return the handle to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-12 or 12-15 reps then perform the movement for the other side.
  • As above place a towel between your arm and body to ensure your arm stays parallel and by your side.

Some good exercises for increasing your forearm strength are:

►Squeezing a tennis ball

Using a tennis ball, simply squeeze and hold for up to 90 seconds. Use both hands with three sets each.

►Wrist curls with dumbbells

If you don’t have dumbbells you can use any weighted object. We find 500ml bottles of water work well as an alternative.

Wrist Curls with Dumbbells

  • Rest your forearms on a bench or on your thigh.
  • Bend the wrist to draw the fist up towards the ceiling, and then flex the wrist to point the knuckles towards the floor and then back up to the ceiling.
  • Perform 12 to 16 reps.
  • Change to an overhand grip and flex to point your knuckles up to the ceiling and then down to the floor.
  • Perform 12 to 16 reps.

►Hand speed exercises

Great hand speed creates faster racquet head speed, which results in enhanced ball speed. A great way to increase hand speed is to to incorporate boxing into your training routine. Hitting padded targets, hitting a heavy bag, or even shadow boxing can help develop explosive shoulder, forearm and hand speed. Punch fast for 30 seconds at a time and then have a minute rest. Do it again (it is good for you!).

Back and Core

Lower back pain is very common among tennis players. It can have various causes such as postural abnormalities, muscle dysfunction (imbalances, shortening or weakening of muscle), overuse, instability, and articular dysfunction in the lower back. In tennis the combined rotation, flexion and extension of the back during the serve may cause problems. One of the best ways to prevent back pain is to make sure you have a strong core. Try the below exercises to improve your strength.

Planks and Side Planks

Planks and side planks are used to strengthen the core muscles and to help avoid spinal injuries. Side planks have the additional benefit of also strengthening your glute muscles, which in turn can help prevent knee injuries (you can find more glute strengthening exercises in our ‘It’s all about the butt’ blog here) . Try and hold your plank for initially at least 15 seconds and then incrementally increase this. It is hard but we know you can do it!

how To plank

Side plank with leg raise

►Medicine (or swiss) ball roll out

This exercise works the abdominals and improves the core strength to maintain good balance.

Swiss ball rollout

  • Kneel behind an exercise ball and place your forearms and fists on the ball. You can place your palms together on top of the ball, close to your body. Your elbows should be bent 90 degrees. Engage your abdominals while keeping your upper body straight. Keep your head in line with spine.
  • Slowly roll the ball forward, straightening your arms and extending your body as far as you can without allowing your lower back to “collapse”. Roll the ball forward until the hands, elbows, shoulders, hips, and knees are nearly in a straight line and the arms are across the ball. Use your abdominal muscles to pull the ball back to your knees.

Lower body

As you can see above both the knee and achilles also feature as common tennis injuries. The best way to help prevent these injuries is to strengthen your leg muscles. This will help with your prehabilitation and also improve your tennis game. There is a strong correlation between leg strength, explosive power and a greatly improved serve. The stronger your legs are the better your vertical jump is which means more power and speed in your serve.

►Squat jumps

Being able to jump and reach for those high shots, requires powerful quads, and what better exercise to increase the strength of these than the squat jump.

Starting with your feet positioned just outside of your hips, sink your hips back and down into a squat, then drive up strong through your heels, using your arms for momentum, before landing softly back on the ground. Repeat this move for 15 reps, and 3 sets.

►Single leg squat

Another great exercise to work on your leg strength is the single leg squat. This difficult exercise will increase the resilience in your legs, help build mobility and improve your balance and stability.

Single leg squat

  • Stand straight with your feet hip width apart, arms fully extended and your hands by your sides.
  • Raise your left foot from the floor, extending your leg out in front of you.
  • As you do so raise both arms out in front of you in a smooth arc for balance. This is the start position.
  • In a controlled movement, lower your body toward the floor by bending your right knee while pushing your hips back as if sitting down in a chair.
  • Continue this downward movement until your right thigh is parallel to the floor.
  • Hold for a count of one.
  • Return to the start position by pushing down through your right heel and straightening your leg. Lower your arms to the start position as you do so.
  • Repeat.

Beginner: If you are just starting out with this exercise you can make it slightly easier by placing your hand on a chair or bench to help support you.

►Single leg deadlifts

The single leg deadlift works the hamstrings and the glutes, and challenges core stability and strength. This exercise also improves balance and posture and increases muscle strength.Single Leg Deadlift

  • Start from a standing position.
  • Stand on one leg and  lift the other leg behind you and in the air.
  • Keeping your shoulders back and your back straight, hinge forward and reach your hands toward the ground.
  • Make sure you keep your hips facing forward. One way to do this to to keep the foot of the lifted leg pointed towards the grounded foot.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • Return back up and repeat 10 – 15 times on each leg.

Variations: To make this harder you can hold weights or a medicine ball.

So there we have it. Enjoy Wimbledon. Be inspired and improve your tennis game.

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references: 

http://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/4/1/e000350 The importance of strengthening in prehad
https://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/STOP/STOP/Prevent_Injuries/Tennis_Injury_Prevention.aspx
https://www.itftennis.com/scienceandmedicine/injury-clinic/tennis-injuries/lower-back.aspx