Tennis Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Tennis stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with tennis injuries for good.
The origins of tennis date back at least to the Middle Ages, if not earlier. It appears to be related an ancient Greek game known as sphairistike. Tennis was a popular pastime among European monks and was played in various forms at monasteries throughout the Europe, (though at one point, the church sought to ban the game).
If you’re looking to improve your tennis game or just seeking to prevent tennis injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
The equipment and rules for tennis were formalized and patented much later (February 23, 1874, to be exact), by Major Walter C Wingfield, this version being close in its details to modern tennis. Soon, tennis courts began appearing throughout the United States and within a year, equipment for tennis began to spread beyond the U.S. as well. The first official tennis tournament was held at Wimbledon in 1877. By the 1930’s, tennis was a highly popular and stylish sport.
Tennis is either played between two players (singles) or two teams of two players (doubles). A tennis racket featuring a stringed grid is used to strike a felt-covered rubber ball over a net into the opponent’s court, within boundary lines which are marked on each player’s court. Tennis rules remain largely unchanged since the 1890’s, (though a method of tie-breaking was introduced in the 1970’s).
The sport is played on a rectangular, flat surface, which may be grass, clay, or a hard court of concrete or asphalt. The singles court is 78 feet in length, and 27 feet width. Doubles matches use 36 foot boundary markers for the court width. The tennis net is stretched across the entire width of the court, parallel with the baselines. A tennis match is generally played in one to five sets, each set consisting of games. Each game is made up of points, with players alternating the serve across the net, after each game. A game is won by the first player to have scored at least four points against his or her opponent, (though the winning player’s score must exceed his opponent’s by at least two points).
The set is awarded to the first player to win six games and win by at least two games and match victory generally requires winning 3 out of 5 sets. Along with millions of recreational tennis players, huge audiences follow tennis as a spectator sport, particularly the four annual Grand Slam tournaments.
Tennis is a fast-paced sport making extensive use of both upper and lower body anatomy. The game emphasizes hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and keen agility. Cardiovascular endurance is required for competitive play, and tennis places significant demands on the musculoskeletal system, most particularly, the legs, midsection, upper body, and arms.
Muscles requiring extensive use (and therefore, conditioning) include:
- Leg Muscles, particularly the quadriceps, hamstring and gluteus muscles as well as gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the lower leg
- Chest and upper body muscles, particularly, the pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi and deltoid muscles of the torso
- Shoulder and arm muscles, including the rotator cuff, shoulder adductor, and biceps and triceps muscles of the racket arm, as well as the rotator muscles: teres minor and infraspinatus and subscapularis muscles.
- Muscles of the wrist and hand, used during the tennis swing
- Lower back muscles, particularly the Spinal Erectors
- Abdominal muscles including the Rectus Abdominis, right internal and left external obliques
- Neck muscles, in particular the Neck Flexor and Extensor muscles
Strength training and flexibility exercises targeting all of the above areas are essential for competitive players.
Most Common Tennis Injuries
Tennis players are subject to a range of injuries, falling into the broad categories of acute and overuse. Due to the considerable requirements of the sport in terms of hand-eye coordination, cardiovascular endurance and complex musculoskeletal participation and flexibility, a range of conditioning exercises is recommended.
Among the more common afflictions plaguing tennis players are rotator cuff tendonitis, tennis elbow, strains or sprains of the wrist, back pain, anterior (front) knee pain frequently involving the knee cap, calf and Achilles tendon injuries, ankle sprains, and tennis toe.
- Rotator cuff tendinitis: This overuse injury affects the muscles and tendons originating from the shoulder blade or scapula, attaching to the upper arm bone or humerus. A wide range of movement in the shoulder is provided by these muscles and tendons, which are prone to becoming inflamed from overuse. In recreational tennis players, rotator cuff tendonitis commonly results from excessive overhead serving. The condition may be effectively treated with ice, rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, ibuprofen. Should the condition persist beyond a week or so, a physician should be consulted.
- Tennis elbow, or lateral humeral epicondylitis: This painful injury is due to inflammation or small tears of the forearm muscles and tendons on the lateral side of the elbow. Overloading of the forearm muscles, often due to faulty backhand technique, especially overemphasizing the wrist, can cause the affliction. Tennis elbow is typically treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) as well as NSAIDs. Should the condition become chronic, surgery may be required.
- Back pain: This condition often results from improper technique, particularly an exaggeratedly arched, or swaybacked posture during execution of the serve. Such exaggerated postures cause stress to the small joints and soft tissues of the spine, a situation more critical in older players, who may develop progressive stiffness and arthritis. Rest and standard anti-inflammatories and analgesics are usually recommended.
- Knee pain: Pain to the anterior portion or front of the knee is the most common. This is either caused by chondromalacia (a softening of the cartilage) of the knee cap or patella or tendonitis, usually at the patellar tendon. The injury is more common in professional players or elite recreational players as it tends to result from springing up from the knee during the serve. Treatment of acute anterior knee pain usually requires a RICE regimen, complemented with NSAIDs. Physical therapy for knee strengthening may also be advised.
- Calf and Achilles tendon injuries: Tendons and muscles of the calf or Achilles can result from an overload from pushing off with the foot while the leg is fully extended. Overuse of the tendon can produce Achilles tendonitis, involving painful inflammation. In severe cases, the Achilles tendon can rupture, producing a sudden snap. The injury requires casting and sometimes surgery. Tearing of calf muscles is also common, requiring RICE treatment and avoidance of athletic activity.
- Ankle sprains: Most commonly, the outer ligaments of the ankle become sprained. Standard treatment involves RICE for 24 to 36 hours, after which the ankle should be supported with bracing to avoid re-sprain. Severe bruising or excessive swelling following a sprain should receive prompt medical attention.
- Tennis toe: This injury results from the toes being too tightly jammed against the toebox of the shoe, especially during abrupt starts and stops. The condition is actually a hemorrhage under the toenail, often causing considerable pain. The toenail may need to be drilled through by a physician in order to release pressure.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Thorough conditioning and proper technique are both essential in helping to prevent tennis injuries. Keep the following points in mind:
- Training in agility can help prevent loss of balance and sudden, traumatic stress to muscles, joints and tendons
- A two-handed backhand reduces stress on the muscles attaching to the lateral epicondyle of the humerus, helping to prevent tennis elbow
- Proper racquet selection and grip size are critical in preventing tennis elbow and other injuries related to improper technique. Smaller racquet heads or excessive string tightness place more stress on forearm muscles, which can lead to tennis elbow.
- Stiffer graphite-type racquets with larger heads offer an enhanced “sweet spot,” causing less muscle stress
- Flexibility and strength training should be undertaken to avoid both overuse and traumatic injuries, especially among those who play the game more than twice a week
The Top 3 Tennis Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for tennis; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions beside each stretch.
Rotating Wrist Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
Assisted Reverse Chest Stretch: Stand upright with your back towards a table or bench and place your hands on the edge. Bend your arms and slowly lower your entire body.
Kneeling Heel-down Achilles Stretch: Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward.
Looking at photos and watching videos on your computer is fine, but to really take advantage of all the stretching exercises on offer, grab a free copy of my Stretching DVD & CD-ROM.
The exercises and recommendations on this page are just a small sample of the many stretching exercises presented on my free Stretching DVD. In total, you'll get 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.
The DVD includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you where ever you go.
The Stretching DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out my free Stretching DVD & CD-ROM for yourself.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the Stretch Coach and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.