Pilates for Tennis Players
Article by Markella Kefallonitou
Summer season has officially arrived in the UK! The lovely sunny days are so inviting for everybody to spend more time outdoors, something that many people already enjoyed than any other year due to the pandemic restrictions. Long walks, running and cycling were very popular while people tried to stay active during many months of isolation and social restrictions. However, a large number of people who love outdoor sports were unfortunately restricted and could not practice their preferred sport due to the pandemic. As restrictions eased all sports players started to indulge in their favourite sport – tennis being one of them. Tennis is a very popular recreational and professional sport. With Wimbledon Tennis season starting very soon on the 28th of July and lasting for two exciting weeks, it is the perfect time to get motivated from all the professionals preparing for the games, and see how we can improve your personal performance.
Is Pilates good for Tennis players?
Tennis players spend a lot of time on the court playing with their opponent, improving stamina, reaction time, speed and agility, as well as technique. Being a unilateral sport (played primarily with one hand, or biasing towards one side), tennis can create handedness and muscle imbalances as the body works in a one-sided pattern. Pilates is a brilliant conditioning method for tennis players to work on the opposite side and create muscle balance in the body. Professional tennis players such as Andy Murray and Serena Williams incorporate Pilates in their training routine to release muscle tension, improve muscle balance, core strength and alleviate soreness and pain.
Core strength for tennis players
Core strength is an essential part of fitness for all sports. Tennis players need to have functional core strength to control the spine whilst moving the limbs. For example during the serve, the tennis player needs power and strength from the legs to jump in the air, as well as mobility and strength in the arms to extend high up and to reach behind the body with the dominant side. Simultaneously the spine will extend and rotate to generate force but without collapsing. All these movements can happen with the strength and control of the abdominals and back extensors that control the spine and pelvis to maintain the position in the air.
Exercises for core control:
- Swan basic and Swan with rotation on the Wunda Chair are exercises that target spinal extension and rotation with abdominal control. The split pedal on the Wunda Chair helps to isolate each side in rotation and look for any imbalances.
- Mini rolls up oblique on the Cadillac can increase abdominal strength in spinal rotation. Rotation is the primary movement of the spine in tennis. As the tennis player is using one arm to hit the ball, spinal rotation is used to increase the force generated from the arm as well as to control how far the spine moves. Using the Push Through Bar on the Cadillac can challenge the client to use the obliques while keeping the pelvis steady.
Hip strength for tennis players
In tennis, there is a lot of weight transfer from one foot to the other, primarily sideways or in a diagonal direction. The tennis player moves very quickly from side to side and usually lunges quite low to reach the ball as soon as possible. The gluteal muscles (gluteus medius and minimus) control this movement and support the hips to stay square and in good placement with the upper body while the legs and gluteals (gluteus maximus) push into the ground to move swiftly from side to side. The gluteals have to be very strong both to stabilise and to push the body sideways. Simultaneously the ankles and feet have to be in good alignment with the knees and hips to support the weight transfer.
Exercises for hip and ankle strength:
- Single leg skating on the Reformer is a brilliant exercise to teach hip stability and strength while maintaining good posture. The Reformer springs can provide appropriate resistance for the tennis player to challenge gluteal strength. Moreover the long frame of the BASI Systems Reformer gives the extra space to lunge deeply challenging range of motion and stability at the same time.
- Jumping with chest lift on the Reformer using the jump board is ideal to strengthen the ankles and feet while using the abdominals actively. Jumping can improve shock absorption and propulsion using the intrinsic muscles of the feet and the calves. Keeping the head up helps the client to look at the hips and get visual feedback on the alignment of the pelvis.
Correcting muscle imbalances for tennis players
Muscle imbalances in sports develop in the body due to overuse of specific muscle groups. In tennis, muscle imbalances can develop because of handedness and overuse of the same movement pattern. A right-handed player will use his right arm more than the left (the left is used to support the dominant side and provide extra force generation when necessary). In addition, the use of the right arm will result in rotation of the spine and the hips towards the left side, and more loading on the left leg. To avoid developing muscle imbalances we need to work on the opposing muscles with basic strength exercises and sport specific exercises. This is called cross training. Basic strength exercises will help to increase strength and good mechanics, while sport-specific exercises will mimic the movement patterns of tennis using the opposite side. Research studies have found that strengthening the opposite side can support and improve performance on the dominant side.
Exercises for tennis cross training:
- Spine twist kneeling on the Reformer will challenge the tennis player on the opposite side. It is a great way for the client to feel and understand the difference between the two sides. The Enhanced Pulley System on BASI Systems helps to adjust the height on the strap according to the client’s height and arm length.
- Single Arm Series on the Reformer can help with shoulder strength and core control. Using one side at a time can reveal any imbalances and weakness in the shoulder and spine. Challenging the opposite side by doing more repetitions would be beneficial to improve strength. The extra length of the BASI Systems can provide more space for the taller clients to sit comfortable on the carriage.
Mobility and stretching for tennis players
Overuse of the muscles can create tightness and discomfort. Tennis players can experience tightness in the back muscles, shoulders and hips. With the Pilates equipment the clients will have a variety of options to stretch and mobilise.
Stretches for tennis players:
- Shoulder stretches on the Ladder Barrel and the Cadillac will be the tennis player’s favourite moment of the session. The equipment can help to target different angles and muscles of the shoulder.
- Hip stretches on the Ladder Barrel are very beneficial to lengthen the fatigued hip muscles. The variety of stretches can target all muscle groups that will help to identify specific tightness and improve overtime.
- Spine stretch of the Cadillac will be another favourite of the tennis client. The BASI Systems adjustable Push Through Bar helps to find the right height for the client to provide the most optimum stretch.
Tennis is a fun, social but demanding sport to play – it challenges power, strength and cardiovascular stamina. Pilates can be the perfect conditioning method to keep your spine and shoulders healthy and strong to play your favourite sport for years to come!
Markella Kefallonitou is a qualified BASI Pilates instructor and works at the Pilates Clinic in Wimbledon where she teaches alongside the BASI Pilates UK team. She is a BASI Pilates Faculty member teaching the BASI Global Comprehensive Program and her workshops “The Foot – our base of support” and “When and how to stretch”. She is a dance specialist holding a BA degree in Dance Education, an MSc in Dance Science and a Certificate of Accomplishment in Cunningham Technique. She teaches dancers at the Royal Ballet School in Richmond and specialises in training Pilates instructors to work with dancers with her BASI Certificate Course “Pilates for the Dancer”.