I want to highlight an issue we often see in tennis players. Being aware of this and addressing it is something that has the capacity to prevent many tennis injuries for players.
Whenever we assess a player’s tennis mobility and flexibility we always start from the ground up (big toe flexion, foot alignment, ankle joint range, calf complex flexibility, etc.).
We have found with tennis players, they tend to get locked up or jammed in their ankle joints, their calf complex (plantaris, soleus, and gastrocnemius muscle) and the tibialis anterior (runs alongside your shin bone). Muscles shorten and joint mobility becomes restricted.
It is common to see players with poor ankle mobility in the leg they land on during the service motion.
To understand the importance of ankle mobility lets to take a step back and look at the body joint-by-joint. The body can be seen as an alternating stack of stable and mobile joints.
The ankle joint being the lowest to the ground, the ankle joint is a mobile joint, followed by the knee joint, which is stable, then the hips, which are mobile, then the lower back which is stable.
Limited ankle mobility will directly affect how other joints function. There is a chain reaction that takes place through tennis exercises eg running, stopping, changing direction, etc.
Lots of moving body parts and joints being manipulated and used to support the demands placed on the body. Now if ankle joints cannot move through a functional range of motion then the loads and movement have to come from somewhere else because our bodies will always find a way to “get it done” sometimes that way leads to getting injured.
This is common with most players. What can make it worse is the fact that the lack of range is usually Asymmetrical, which means one side is tighter, weaker and more restricted than the other. This leads to movement imbalances and muscle development discrepancies.
Not a good scenario when you are tearing around a court for hours a day. However….not to worry there is hope!
So, what I want to do is share with you some simple ways to assess a tennis player’s ankle mobility and give you some exercises to perform to improve it (if needed).
Assessing ankle range - Knee to wall. Basically, you need to work out how far you can get your foot back from the wall, whilst your knee touches the wall and your foot stays in full contact with the ground (heel on ground).
Once established, measure the distance from the wall to toes (big toe). Perform on both sides and check the difference between each side. Whilst you are doing the assessment feel what is restricting the movement.
Watch the video above for visual instructions.
Less than 7cm = Poor mobility
Up to 12cm = Acceptable Mobility
More than 12cm = Good ankle mobility
Releasing tension and increasing range of motion
A - Roll calf complex
B - Stretch calf complex (straight leg and bent leg). Don’t forget to stretch using the angles (watch the video this explains it).
C - Mobilise the ankle joint (multi-planar). Knee to the wall and using a resistance band around the ankle joint to increase mobility.
If you have a mobility discrepancy of more than 2 centimeters between left and right ankle joints. Do an extra set of everything on the less mobile side.
Do these exercises 2-3 times weekly.
Another tip is to do the foam roller and mobility exercises before you practice or hit. You will feel a big difference in your movement, especially when performing specific tennis exercises.
Most players go through their whole careers with these issues and limit their physical potential, we do not want that to be you or anyone you work with.
If you have found this helpful please let us know, it always pleases and motivates us when we hear from you!