Dr. Kristal Nelson PT, SCS
Sports Clinical Specialist
I had a surprise opportunity to watch a couple of local young ATP players on the Challenger/Futures tour as I was playing with a regular group of guys at Middle Creek HS on Christmas Eve. It was quite distracting and my doubles partner had likely wished I hadn’t come out that morning. The distraction started with the physical warm-up which was so impressive, I am a sports physio after all. It inspired me to want more for you in 2020.
The first of these two players arrived 30 min early and did a thorough warm up that included tennis specific mobility and muscle activation drills. Hmmm. Interesting. It made me smile. I wondered to myself …what sports PT he had seen and why .. they taught him well. Then he and his practice partner began to hit, it became quite clear they were not “normal” players that day at Middle Creek High School. It was then I learned they were young guys looking to break the Top 100 home for the holidays and getting in a practice session. So it all makes sense, all professional athletes know they need to prepare their bodies for the assault they are imposing. Hey wait…. Are they really that different from all of us playing USTA.
We run lateral, forward, backward to reach balls – just a little slower maybe. Perhaps we could say we hit the same amount of serves, forehands, backhands, and volleys in a match – just maybe a little less juice on the ball. What they absolutely do better is have professional level technique. Take a look at the Functional Performance Pyramid below that describes the hierarchy of skills and abilities required for ALL athletes from recreational to world class. Movement is the foundation for all athletes and we share the same goals for ideal joint mobility and flexibility with the pros – exactly the same. Everything else is relative to demands. As you rise in the USTA rankings, you need to raise everything in your pyramid or injury is likely to ensue.
So in this new year, make an effort to prepare your body like an athlete.
You. Are. An. Athlete.
In 2020 strive to improve:
Mobility: Focus on ankles, hips, mid-back, shoulder, and wrist. These are your MOBILITY JOINTS. If you don’t move well there, your stability joints like the knee, low back, elbow, neck will pay the price. This is why tennis players complain more often about painful stability joints vs. mobility joints.
Flexibility: Muscle “tightness” is an interesting concept. Over my years of practice, I have come to believe actual muscle tightness is quite uncommon. When a muscle feels shortened, it is usually because it has increased muscle tone – because there is a joint not moving well or there is a muscular compensation occurring causing that “tight” muscle to have to work too long, too hard, or work a job it is not designed to do. So if you have trouble stretching out a “tight” muscle, you are likely targeting the symptom rather than the problem.
Strength and Coordination: These two go hand in hand. The first six weeks of any strength program is primarily motor learning which is why you can make such fast gains at first. It’s like turning on a light switch. After the first six weeks, you begin working on real strengthening. The internet is full of great videos to help get stronger. I recommend focusing on glut (butt), quads, calves, back, and shoulder muscles. You need to work in multiple planes of motion especially rotational. The core is the powerhouse – not the Rectus Abdominals (six pack group). Look for videos to help with the Transverse Abdominals.
Balance: Simply working on single leg standing while bouncing a ball on the wall in bare feet is a great place to start. You should be able to single leg stand easily without losing balance for 30 seconds. You need more than this on the tennis court but it’s a good place to start.
So what a great treat and surprise it was to watch these two players play and now I get to pay it forward. If you read this blog then you earned the opportunity to come in for a free exam by a physical therapist to find out how you can improve your movement. The first 20 people to respond will get a free one hour exam at our Apex or Holly Springs clinic which is only good in January 2020. So come in and find out specifically what you can do to prepare for Spring USTA. You must be a USTA member to qualify. Call 919-296-8180 or fill out the contact us form on our website with USTA free exam in the subject line.
So now… you get a HAPPY NEW YEAR SURPRISE!