Your flexibility is an important part of your tennis game. But as important as maintaining and even increasing our flexibility is, most of us neglect doing the stretching and flexibility work that is so important to our game. Instead, we like to focus on fine-tuning our strokes, building up our strength, or working on our mental game. Flexibility usually takes a back seat to almost everything else we do to become better tennis players. Well, in this episode of Tennis Quick Tips, I'll give you some quick and simple stretching exercises you can do to help maintain and even improve your flexibility. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in iTunes by clicking on this link: tennisfixation.com/itunes.
The Benefits of Increasing Your Flexibility
Your flexibility is such an important part of your tennis game. The list of benefits you can get from performing simple stretching exercises and increasing your flexibility is pretty lengthy. These benefits include:
- increasing your range of motion and your reach,
- reducing your risk of injury, especially muscle and tendon tears,
- improving your balance and posture,
- increasing blood flow to your muscles as they're being stretched, and
- relieving the severity of muscle soreness following tennis play.
Static Stretching vs. Dynamic Stretching
The kind of stretching we're talking about here is static stretching. This is different from the dynamic stretching and warm-up exercises you do before playing tennis. I talked about that kind of stretching in Episode 18 of Tennis Quick Tips which was called, “How To Do A Dynamic Warm-Up For Tennis” and I'll have a link to that in the show notes so you can go back and listen if you want to know about how a dynamic warm-up can help your game.
Static stretches are those where you stretch a muscle and then hold the position for several seconds. So if you bend over to touch your toes and hold that position for ten seconds, you’re performing a static stretch. If you bend over and touch your toes immediately and come back, you’re performing a dynamic stretch.
When and How to Do Static Stretching
Here are a few tips on how to best perform static stretches:
- Stretch AFTER playing or physical activity, not before. Static stretching is best performed during your cool down after you play tennis, following drills or a lesson, or even later in the day, like at a time of day when you're not exercising. I do my own static stretching routine in the evening, while I'm watching TV, because the exercises are simple and quick to perform and don't interfere with all of the important TV shows I'm keeping up with.
- To increase flexibility and range of motion, perform stretching exercises when the body is warm. If you perform your stretching at some other than right after physical activity, like say when you're watching TV in the evening as some people do, you can do several jumping jacks to get your blood pumping and your body warmed-up.
- Move smoothly and slowly and breathe deeply.
- Complete a range of stretching exercises for different muscle groups.
- Hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds and repeat each exercises 2 to 3 times in succession. Initial tightness should gradually diminish as you hold the stretch.
- Stretch only as far as comfortable, not to the point of pain, and do not lock your joints or bounce.Do NOT stretch to the point of pain. This does not help. It just hurts. And do not bounce as this basically is the same as stretching to the point of pain. Ease slowly in and out of each stretch and continue breathing as you hold the stretch.
- Perform stretching exercises at least 3 times a week and ideally 5 times per week.
A Simple Stretching Routine for Tennis Players
Okay, so how about some static stretches? Here's a very simple routine to stretch the areas of your body that you use most frequently when playing tennis and that are often the most tight and sore. Be sure to apply the tips above when going through this routine to ensure that you get the most benefit from each exercise. Perform each exercise 5 to 10 times. Go through the routine at least once, but 2 to 3 times if you have the time. The entire routine should take just 5 to 15 minutes to perform depending on how many times you go through it.
1. Calf Stretch: Stand with right foot forward and left foot back, toes forward, in a lunge position (Figure 1, below). Keeping your left heel on the ground, drop slowly into a lunge (Figure 2). You should feel a stretch in your left calf. Hold for a few seconds and then return to starting position. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions. Repeat with feet reversed, stretching your right calf.
2. Standing Hip Flexor Stretch: Stand in the lunge position, with right foot forward and left foot back, toes forward (Figure 1, below). Slowly lower into a lunge, pushing left hip forward with left heel lifting from ground (Figure 2). You should feel a stretch in your left hip flexor area. Hold for a few seconds and then return to starting position. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions. Repeat with feet reversed, stretching your right hip flexor.
3. Sumo Squat with Forward Fold: Stand with feet forward, slightly more than shoulder width apart, knees bent and arms extended. Knees should be centered over heels (Figure 1, below). Fold forward at your waist, reaching hands to floor (Figure 2). You should feel a stretch in your back and in your hamstrings. Hold for several seconds and then return to starting position. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions.
4. Side Lunge: Stand with feet forward, slightly more than shoulder width apart, knees bent and arms extended. Knees should be centered over heels (Figure 1, below). Reach with right hand to left toes, extending right leg and reaching with left hand up behind you (Figure 2). You should feel a stretch in your right leg, your torso and through your chest. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat with opposite hand, reaching to toes of opposite foot. Perform 5 to 10 sets.
5. Knee to Chest: From a standing position, bring one knee to chest, holding with both arms and balancing on your opposite foot (Figure 1, below). Hold for several seconds and then release. Repeat with opposite leg. Perform 5 to 10 sets.
6. Cross Arm Stretch: While standing, place one arm directly across your chest. Use your opposite hand to pull that arm across your chest until you feel a stretch in your upper arm and shoulder (Figure 1, below). Hold for several seconds and release. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions. Repeat with your other arm (Figure 2).
7. Tricep Stretch: Reach one hand behind your head by bending your elbow and attempting to reach down the center of your back. Use your opposite hand to gently pull on your elbow to increase your reach (Figure 1, below). You should feel a stretch in your upper arm and into your shoulder and back. Hold for several seconds and release. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions. Repeat with your other arm (Figure 2).
8. Wrist Flexor Stretch (both ways): With arm extended in front of you and palm facing down, pull your fingers down with your opposite hand (Figure 1, below). You should feel a stretch along your forearm and into your wrist. Hold for several seconds and then release. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions on each arm. Using the same motion, but with palm facing up, pull your fingers down with your opposite hand (Figure 2). You should feel a stretch along the inside of your forearm and wrist. Hold for several seconds and then release. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions on each arm.
9. Sitting Forward Fold: Sit on ground with legs in front of you and toes up (Figure 1, below). Slowly reach towards your feet with both hands, leaning forward and holding to the point of your farthest reach (Figure 2). You may reach your feet or you may only reach your ankles or your shins. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings (back of thighs) and your back. Hold for a few seconds and then return to starting position. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions.
10. Groin Stretch: Sit on ground with soles of feet together in front of you (below). Holding at your ankles, slowly push your knees towards the floor. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Perform 5 to 10 repetitions. For an advanced stretch, slowly push arms down on inside of legs, pressing knees towards the floor.
11. Child's Pose: Sit back on your heels with knees forward and spread slightly (Figure 1, below). Reach forward with your arms as far as is comfortable, dropping your head between your shoulders and sitting back into your heels (Figure 2). Hold for several seconds and then release, sitting up. Perform 5 repetitions, trying for a deeper stretch each time.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE:
- For a printable pdf document of the Stretching for Flexibility routine, including photos and explanations, click on this image:
- Or click on this title: Stretching for Flexibility in Tennis
- For information on dynamic stretching, click here: How To Do A Dynamic Warm-Up For Tennis – Tennis Quick Tips Episode 18
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© Kim Selzman 2014 All Rights Reserved
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