If you have been following us for a while, you will know we are big on strengthening athletes, getting them flexible and mobile.
These are always our initial priorities no matter the age or tennis capabilities of the player.
Most people have a good understanding of what tennis strength training is and almost everyone knows about flexibility.
What about mobility? What is it, what are the benefits of having healthy mobility ranges and how do you improve it?
Let me briefly explain these answers from my own experience and understanding.
Mobility relates to joint movement and also what we call “The kinetic chain”.
Chain of movement, rather than an isolated hold.
Imagine a chain laid out on the ground. Each chain piece represents a joint. Now if we needed the chain to function at full capacity we would need each piece to be loose and free to move adequately right? Otherwise, other pieces will have to do extra work, or the fused piece will get damaged. This is how mobility works.
The joints in our body and the muscles that enable movement need to be loose and free, otherwise, we are;
This blog is focusing on some key areas of the body that tennis players need to manage; hip, lower back, and thoracic spine. We have included some multi-facet specific tennis exercises to educate you on what mobility is, what you are trying to achieve by doing it, and how the body connects through movement, which will explain to you how that impacts your tennis.
In recent years, mobility programming has become more and more utilized for athletic development. Most high-end athletes use mobility techniques prior to training and playing. They do this to prepare and protect their bodies.
Ideally, first, you need to assess what’s going on. This should take place by a qualified trainer or physiotherapist. We use the Martin Method Tennis Fitness Assessment and Postural Analysis.
It is an assessment tool that we use with all our players. Assessing cuts to the chase and determines areas of priority. It also gives you measurable markers.
After a tennis assessment, a mobility program should be put in place. This should be changed every 2-4 weeks until a healthy range is established with a maintenance program used after that.
Ideally, before practice, play, and definitely before doing off-court training (especially strength training).
To help you get a better understanding of mobility and what it can do for you watch this video, some of these "Tennis Stick Mobility" exercises are advanced. We recommend everyone start working at a level that suits their needs. We also have a free Tennis Stretch & Flexibility program which is full of mobility exercises, we have to call the program this because a lot of people are not familiar with the term mobility, after reading this blog you will be though! Give the program a go. We also include mobility programs in our online tennis programs because we know how important they are.
Here is a rundown of each exercise and what its benefits are.
1. Kneeling Thoracic Rotation
I have seen too many players have shoulder complications due to a lack of thoracic mobility (mid to upper back region). This occurs by having limited thoracic rotation needed for winding up to hit, to decelerate after hitting, and twisting during the service action. Without good thoracic rotation, the shoulder joint and arm are forced to do more work, it also makes the lumbar spine do more rotational work than it likes to do, which can lead to lower back complications. Although this mobility exercise places focus on the thoracic region, it also opens up the hips, shoulders, and lower back. It ticks a lot of boxes!
2. Straight Leg thoracic Rotation
This thoracic rotation version also challenges the lower body posterior chain (Hamstrings) and lower back. A great exercise for someone lacking mobility in their back and hamstrings.
3. Hip Flexor slide
Most players get tight through the front of their hips, this is due to the stop/start nature of tennis. Those muscles get used most frequently. To help alleviate tension and create a more anterior hip range, the Hip Flexor Slide is a great exercise. If you do not have a sliding disc you can lift the rear knee up and down whilst pushing the front knee forward and back, this will have a similar effect.
4. Bent Over Rotation
This exercise works on creating better kinetic (chain of movement) between the mid-lower back, hip, and hamstring. Think of dropping to get a low ball at the net or stopping quickly after hitting a low shot on the run. You need good focus with this exercise, stay engaged, and feel what muscles are working, challenge the range. Make sure you keep your back straight, chest up, and the leg you are rotating over must stay straight.
5. Side Lunge
The Side Lunge opens up the adductors muscles that run down the inside of your legs. It also pushes you into a deep hip range in the loaded leg, so as it lengthens out the adductors on one side it is challenging the hip range on the other side. The hip joint and adductor muscles are heavily used during tennis play, due to all lateral movement and changes of direction, it is important to maintain a healthy range.
6. Hip Joint Mobs
The hip joint is the most robust joint in the body, super resilient. In the past, it has been looked at in tennis due to the fact other joints like the shoulder joint are much more problematic. However, with the increase in hip-related injuries over the past decade, there has been a big push in the professional realm to manage the hip joint better. This has come about for a few reasons, mainly due to the increase in movement intensity; string/racket technology, more aggressive style of play, and quicker courts. We are now seeing a lot more players focus on hip health. All the exercises in this video will challenge hip mobility and improve hip range of movement, that is how important we feel it is. This exercise improves Hip Adduction and Abduction in a load (weight-bearing) position.
7. Hip Hinge
Think about landing after hitting a big serve, the muscles involved in slowing you down and absorbing the load are challenged in this exercise. What we call the posterior chain (Lower back, Gluteals, Hamstring) Keeping this chain of movement range connected and healthy is really important for injury prevention and performance (slowing down effectively and acceleration)
It is important to find your "blocked areas" and work with a mobility program that will focus on freeing those areas up, this more often than not has a positive impact on other areas of your body that have been compensating for the restrictions.
Hopefully, now you realize the importance of following a mobility program, pre-exercise, and play. When you open up blocked chains of movement you allow your body to move better and get into better positions, that should be everyone's goal!
If you need further guidance and support in this area, please reach out for help.
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