Tennis Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Tennis stretches to improve your performance and do away with tennis injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published September 26, 2010 | Updated November 13, 2018
Tennis is a demanding sport that requires high levels of cardiovascular endurance, agility, strength and flexibility. Incorporating tennis stretches in your tennis training program will improve your performance as a tennis player and help to minimize the risk of tennis injury.
Muscles used in Tennis
The primary muscle groups that come into action while playing a game of tennis are the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder, the trapezius, the pectorals, the upper arm and forearm, the quadriceps, the hip, and the calf muscles.
The forehand stroke relies specifically on the pectorals, biceps and the deltoids as the hips and core muscles help to generate an internal shoulder rotation.
The backhand stroke uses less of the hip and core muscles, while the serve depends more on the shoulder muscle than the forehand stroke. The rotator cuff is used more actively here.
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 Benefits of Tennis Stretches
There are a number of benefits of scheduling tennis stretches in your tennis training program. Trainers and players alike readily agree that tennis stretches can maximizes performance while minimizing the risk of injury. Here are some of the benefits of tennis stretching exercises:
- Regular tennis stretches are key to maintaining flexibility, which in turn fosters a good posture and reduces lower back pain and discomfort.
- Stretching exercises in tennis training can increase a player’s athleticism by controlling muscle imbalances, which cause pulled muscles and also contribute to clumsiness, which in itself can lead to injury.
- Even the simplest tennis stretches, as part of your overall tennis training program helps to promotes blood circulation, which improves mental alertness and coordination.
- Regular tennis stretches can help prevent injuries like:
º Rotator cuff tendinitis, a condition that causes acute irritation in the shoulder tendons and muscles.
º Knee tendinitis, a condition that causes irritation in the knee tendons and muscles.
º Musculotendinous overuse injuries, generally of the shoulder and elbow.
- Finally, even the most basic tennis stretches can just make you feel better. Glossing over it in your regular tennis training, however, could cost you dearly.
Despite the numerous benefits, it is important to bear in mind that stretching can have detrimental effects when done incorrectly. Improperly done stretches can over time cause permanent damage to ligaments and joint. When performing the stretching exercises below, be sure to warm up first and if any of the exercises cause pain or severe discomfort, discontinue immediately. Review my article on the rules for safe stretching for more information.
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.
Watch the Tennis Stretches below
Click on the play button below to watch the 10 minute tennis stretching exercises video.
While the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you include a wider variety of stretches and stretching routines.
Get over 150 of the best daily stretch routines to do away with injuries; increase your flexibility; improve your sporting performance; and become loose, limber and pain free.
About the Author: Brad Walker 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 (author page) 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 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.