The sun came out the other day! And while my girlfriend Amy joked it just popped its head out, saw it was too cold and went back into hibernation, I’m more optimistic about spring finally stamping its authority onto our calendar. Which means… it’s nearly tennis season!
As you may guess, I’m a big fan of racket sports, mainly tennis and squash (I don’t have the patience for badminton). What I love about them is the variety they offer. Be it a friendly knock around, or a full blown battle against a fierce opponent, racket sports offer enjoyment for all.
I have to concede that my first few games back after the winter break tend to be less Andy Murray, more Al Murray. This year will be different though; I have a training plan…
99% of new clients struggle for a few days after their first few sessions with muscular stiffness. This is of course entirely expected as when you start training you are using muscles that you don’t use in regular life, or muscles are being used in a different way. Rest assured, experienced personal trainers suffer the same pains. Having spent the winter safely tucked up indoors doing ‘warm weather’ training, the shock of stepping back onto a tennis court in the spring gives my muscles that all too familiar next day stiffness. This year will be different though as I have begun a new training programme, designed to simulate racket sports movements to improve muscular strength and durability. Particular focus will be on hamstrings (back upper legs), calves, quads (front thigh), glutes (bum), abductors (hips and groin) and rotator cuffs (shoulders).
Tennis and by extension all racket sports, requires speed, power, flexibility and durability. Which means lifting lots of heavy weights isn’t necessarily going to help you. Good news! In fact, the exercises we need to focus on can be more focused upon body weight and functionality. Yes you guessed it; we’re going to be doing a more plyometrics focused workout.
Walking lunges, laterally stepping sumo squats, box jumps and lateral band walks, are all moves to incorporate, but it’s ‘clock’ lunges that are going to be the main focus. When playing racket sports, you will notice that you rarely get the opportunity to hit the ball (or shuttlecock) from your comfortable standing position. I know I’m constantly reaching and lunging (often in despair). The ‘clock’ lunge sequence is perfect for preparing and strengthening for this as it hits all parts of our leg muscles across all planes of movement. To perform simply imagine a clock face on the floor around your feet’ and, in order, lunge forward towards 12 o clock and return to centre. Continue this to 1 o clock, 2 o clock, etc… then change legs. The great advantage to doing this is that it will hit your adductor and abductor muscles more than simply doing a regular lunge, and it is a closer simulation to moves you will be forced into during a match.
Personally when training I always do legs first, not just because starting with legs promotes an increase in growth hormone for the upper body, but because I hate doing legs so would probably leave them out if I wore out the upper body beforehand. So with that in mind, legs are finished and upper body remains. I like press ups, chins ups, rows and other big compound moves, but it’s rotator cuff exercises that I’ll be adding to get me in racket sport shape. Constantly swinging a racket around (especially the service motion) puts a lot of strain on the shoulder and it’s the rotator cuff that often suffers the most. The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that combine to stabilise the shoulder. There are a number of very effective exercises to strengthen this area. My favourite is performed by lying on the floor on my side, with a light weight in hand. Keeping the upper arm along your side, bend your elbow down across the stomach towards the floor slowly, the slowly lift weight back up towards the ceiling (aim for 70 degrees roughly, so not directly up to the ceiling), then return to floor. Repeat. Granted this doesn’t have the glory feeling of a chess press or deadlift, but it’s an often neglected exercise and one you’ll thank me for when you’re swinging and winning.
Darran Law is the At Home Fitness Personal Trainer in Birmingham & Solihull