PLAYING NOW AND THEN AND FOREVER
Are you an avid tennis player? Do you plan to play the game for the rest of your life? Although tennis is not a contact sport it can be quite physically demanding. Since it does not involve physical contact with other players some might imagine playing tennis to be a much safer option, an athletic pastime with a much lower risk of injury than some other sports. However, if you realize just how many players of all ages suffer from acute and chronic injuries incurred while playing tennis you might not be so sure. If we take a closer look at basic tennis moves and how the game is played it is easy to deduce some of the inherent risks that could result in less time spent playing on the court than one might hope for.
THE TENNIS DRAW
Tennis is a dynamic, quick and spontaneous sport. Often sudden and chaotic body maneuvers come into play despite efforts to perform with precise authority and masterful control. Keeping the ball in play is primary in tennis and getting it past your opponent is the goal. Players are constantly in motion running after balls, positioning their stance for the immediate shot, setting up for the next, hitting the ball back and forth repeatedly until a super shot ensures the point or an error is made to lose it.Â Often players are not sure where to be on the court for the next shot, until the ball is well on its way over the net.Â The impromptu nature of the game means many extemporaneous moves, impulsive shifts and abrupt lunges that may take their toll on the unsuspecting body.
Good tennis is physically high-powered, bold and aggressive, involving both spirited finesse and forceful vigor, a temper not usually found in a sport like golf which is relatively calm and static involving a stationery ball with the feet still, firmly planted on the ground. In baseball, while the goal is also to hit a moving ball, the ball is pitched directly to the hitter who again receives it still with both feet grounded. The player at bat must simply navigate the strike zone before dashing off in a prescribed path to first base.
By contrast, in tennis, the player is in constant motion dodging to and fro after balls that can be anywhere. As long as the ball lands somewhere within the boundaries of the court it is fair game.Â The shot may be overhead, low to the ground, on the playerâ€™s right, on the playerâ€™s left, in front or behind him.Â High, low or wide, anywhere the ball appears on the court that is where the player must be to make the shot and then be ready to do it again a few seconds later perhaps across court next time around.
How Tennis is Played
Tennis involves one dominant arm that reaches all about the body swinging a racquet held in the hand to hit the ball.Â To develop strength, skill consistency and kinesthetic proficiency, practice involves repetition of precise arm strokes, foot work, dynamic body stances and positioning with moves that can stress the muscles, joints and bones of the body. Players perform forehand shots hitting out to the side of the body with what could be deemed the front side of the racquet. Backhand shots are hit on the other side of the body with what could be deemed the back side of the racquet. Serves and overhead shots are done swinging the racquet up overhead above the body.
Forehand shots are usually hit with just the dominant arm out to that side of the body and backhands are hit on the other side of the body traditionally with the same dominant arm and now sometimes with both hands on the racquet. A two handed backhand involves the skill of the dominant arm supported by the strength and added power of the other. In preparations for a backhand shot, the torso rotates much like that during a golf swing or baseball batting motion, however, in tennis the legs and feet are constantly in motion running, shuffling, shifting and repositioning while the upper body is rotating in preparation for the swing.
The propulsive power for the swing begins with the legs and sweeps, uncoiling through the torso, hips, ribcage and shoulders driving the force behind the ball hitting from a grounded and strong, moving center of gravity. A powerful core, coordinated sequencing and precise timing are essential for a smooth swing and controlled placement of any shot in tennis.Â
For many players the game of tennis is not just about the strokes and how you play the game it is about winning. Professional players today know that winning not only involves consistentÂ technical execution and competitive strategies but a strong and flexible, holistically conditioned physical vessel with which to carry out oneâ€™s mental objectives.Â This may seem rather obvious and quite logical, but the truth is many weekend warriors drawn to the game of tennis may not be as physically conditioned and up to the game they are attempting to win.Â
The Risks of the Game
A consequence to oneâ€™s eager enthusiasm but less than ideal execution of the necessary preparatory moves, positioning and timing needed to make the perfect shot may be compensatory efforts and unexpected torque that may cause harm or injury to the body. Common wounds in tennis other than those to the ego are injuries that affect the knee, shoulder, back and elbow. Back injuries can be the result of extremes in rotation and applied force without the necessary core support. Tennis elbow often results because too much effort and stress is sustained by the arm without the full technical support of the legs and torso behind it.
When a player is unable to prepare efficiently for a shot failing to achieve proper positioning to strike the ball effectively, the result can be an over compensation using just the arm to hit the ball putting more stress on the elbow and shoulder joints. In addition, if getting to the ball in time is a challenge and the player ends up hitting the ball too late behind the body, again the result can be additional stress placed on the joints of the back, shoulder and or arm.
To compound matters the entire game of tennis is essentially one sided primarily using the dominant arm throughout the process. One side works over time in every game in every set in every match.Â Day in and day out an avid tennis player especially one who plays singles on a regular basis leaves himself open to muscular and structural imbalances that could lead to debilitating discomfort and could even result in serious chronic back pain. If the actions practiced and performed on the court are not off set with reformative exercises to correct the risks of imbalances due to over and under use a player may end up spending more time in the bleachers as a spectator than a participant center court.
Greater Rewards May Increase Risk
Today many players are adopting two handed strokes which might at first seem to be a better option to ward off such imbalances, however, while two handed options may be more powerful and less stressful on the body when executed with the proper stance and sequencing, again what happens when despite good efforts a shot is made with the less than ideal form, positioning and timing?
Two handed shots mean more maneuvering to set up properly requiring greater mobility and agility to get in closer to the ball to swing more efficiently with better control.Â This means more ground to negotiate on the court before each shot. More energy is involved and greater skill is needed to play the two handed game. Making two handed shots on both sides of the body at every turn needs the support of a fully coordinated and conditioned craft.
Along with the power benefit and kinesthetic reward of two handed tennis comes greater risk when powerful repetitive executions performed on a regular basis are not nearly perfect. Two handed games give greater meaning to the need for defensive and preventive conditioning as does the newer larger and lighter technologically advanced tennis racquets which may appear at first to work to your advantage offering a larger sweet spot to hit the ball, but in actuality, what again happens in the long run when a racquet offers greater success with a more flawed technique? This is why preventive conditioning is so important.
Pilates Reforms, Realigns and Reduces Risk
Pilates is the perfect compliment to athletic non contact sports that harbor risks due to their unilateral emphasis. Because these sports involve sustained repetitive torso rotations and axial actions that create muscular imbalances due to overuses and underuses of power and applied forces pilates is the perfect method of conditioning to address and redress the risks created by these inherent disparities.
Pilates practiced on a regular basis creates a strong core and facilitates optimal spinal mobility enabling increased back flexibility, leg agility and arm strength, efficiency in torso rotation and enhanced joint mobility including torso flexion, extension and lateral bending that will serve up the best preventive medicine and ideal defense for any social and or competitive athlete taking his game to the tennis court.