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Turbo Training: Stretching it to the limit, but not beyond!

Ron Waite Photo
Ron Waite, USPTR

For many months, I have received numerous e-mail requests for columns that deal with pre-match stretching and off-court training. This is encouraging to me because it suggests that many of my readers are serious about their tennis. Well, I have spent some time reading about these areas and experimenting with different techniques. What follows is my best advice on how to incorporate stretching routines into your tennis regimen. At the time of this writing, I am still evaluating different aerobic and strength training rituals. I will give you my findings in a future column.

To assist you in understanding the specifics of these stretches, I am incorporating photographs. I want to thank Victor Crespo (a member of the Albertus Magnus College Men’s Tennis Team who plays number one singles and doubles) for posing. In addition to playing on my team, Victor is a member of the College’s Men’s Soccer Team.

Let’s begin by discussing why stretching is so important. Most sports demand constriction on the part of muscles. Repeated constriction of these muscles forces the muscles to remain somewhat taut. Stretching your muscles before playing enables your body to move with greater extension and with less risk of injury. Stretching after a match or workout helps to minimize the "stiffness" that you may experience…usually; this stiffness becomes noticeable a few hours after the exercise has ended. Overall, regular stretching can improve your performance and reduce the likelihood that you’ll sustain an injury. Yet, many of us never stretch or, if we do so, we do it in the most haphazard and cursory manner.

Stretching before a match is extremely important. However, the experts also tell us that stretching after a match or practice session is even more important (ask any trainer). If you were only to do one of these, stretching after the match would be more important. However, most of us simply end the session and move on to the next item on our daily agenda. Believe me -- if you are playing a tournament and compete in several matches per day, you need to stretch before and after each match…especially if you are a bit older…as am I.

A word of caution…before beginning any exercise program, you should consult your physician!

Before stretching, it is important to warm the muscles up a bit. If you are ending a match or a practice session, you have already performed this step. However, if you are beginning a match or a practice session, you need to perform 3 to 5 minutes of light aerobic exercise…such as: jogging, running in place, or jumping jacks. The idea is to slowly raise the heart rate and to "get blood flowing to the muscles" (not that it isn’t always flowing to the muscles). Some of the pros on the men’s tour carry a jump rope in their bags. They begin their workout or warm-up with a few minutes of jumping rope. Frankly, I think this is too much of a shock to most of our bodies. The goal is to slowly warm-up…so, do not push yourself…keep the pace slow.

I like to begin stretching with the legs and work my way upward (it really doesn’t matter…as long as you stretch all the major muscle groups). The following 17 stretches address virtually all muscle groups…but there is a little more attention given to the leg muscles.

When stretching, you should never stretch to the point of pain, nor should you bounce or move as you perform the stretch.

Groin Stretch

Figure 1
Figure 1

Click on Picture for a larger version

To perform this stretch, you should be seated. Draw your feet inward (towards your body) as you bend your knees. Hold this stretch for twenty seconds. Relax and straighten out your legs. Rest for about 30 seconds…then, perform the stretch again. This stretch helps loosen the inner thighs and the groin area.

Sitting Leg Crossover Stretch

Figure 2
Figure 2

Click on Picture for a larger version

Again, you should be seated and sitting upright as you perform this stretch. Place one leg over the other and place the bent leg’s foot flat on the floor. Now, move your bent knee in a downward manner (if the right knee…move it downward to the left of your body). Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. Then, repeat the same stretch with the other leg. If you like, you can perform another stretch with each leg.

Sitting Toe Touches

Figure 3
Figure 3

Click on Picture for a larger version

While you are still seated, straighten both legs out in front of your body. Now, try to grab your toes with your fingertips…without bending your knees. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. Don’t be surprised if you cannot actually make it that far with your reach. Whatever you do, do not force this stretch. If you can only reach as far as your ankles…so be it. In time, you will find your flexibility will increase with practice. Eventually, you will be able to reach your toes.

Runner’s Hamstring/Thigh Stretch

Figure 4
Figure 4

Click on Picture for a larger version

You often see runners performing this stretch. It is great for the hamstrings and thigh muscles. While seated, bend one knee and pull the foot back "under your body." The other leg should remain straight. Now, lean back slowly as far back as you can without experiencing pain. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Now, repeat the stretch with the other leg.

Lying, Knee Grab Back Stretch

Figure 5
Figure 5

Click on Picture for a larger version

Being cursed with a bad back, I try to do this stretch throughout my day. Lie on your back, bend one of your knees and bring the knee back to your chest. Now, grab this knee and "hug it." This action will bring the knee even closer to the chest. Don’t strain or cause yourself any pain. Hold this "hug" for 20 seconds. Then, slowly straighten the leg back to its original position. Repeat this stretch with the other knee. This stretch should be felt in your lower back and buttocks.

Lying Roll-Over Back Stretch

Figure 6
Figure 6

Click on Picture for a larger version

Here again, you are lying on your back with both of your knees bent. Keeping the knees together, roll them to your right. Be certain to keep you arms out as you do this roll. Go as far in this roll as you can without causing yourself any pain. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Then, slowly bring your knees back up to their original starting position. Now, perform this stretch in the opposite direction.

Lying Back Arch Stretch

Figure 7
Figure 7

Click on Picture for a larger version

Turn over on your stomach. Using your arms, lift your upper body up while keeping your stomach on the ground. You are actually arching your back. In this stretch, you should resemble a baby as she/he might lift herself/himself before they are able to walk. Again, don’t cause yourself any pain. Hold this back arch for 20 seconds. Then, relax and lie flat on the ground for 30 seconds. Finally, repeat this stretch for another 20 seconds.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

Figure 8
Figure 8

Click on Picture for a larger version

Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart. Now, put your hands on your hips and begin to slowly bend your left knee. This action will cause your body to move to the left. Try to keep your upper body straight as you do this stretch. As you bend this knee, you will begin to feel the inner thigh of the right leg stretching. Go as far as you can without experiencing pain. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds then, straighten up. Perform the same stretch with the other knee.

Standing Thigh Stretch

Figure 9
Figure 9

Click on Picture for a larger version

Find a nearby pole, which could be used to help you support balance. Grab this pole with your right hand. Now, grab your right foot with your left hand…behind your body. Using the left hand, gently pull your right foot upward and towards the back of your body. Don’t pull so hard as to cause yourself any pain. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Then, perform the same stretch with the other hand/foot. You should feel this stretch in your quadriceps (front thigh).

Achilles Stretch

Figure 10
Figure 10

Click on Picture for a larger version

You need to find a pole (one of the net pole, perhaps) to perform this stretch. Place the toes of your right foot on this pole (about 4 to 6 inches from the ground) while the heel of this foot stays on the ground. Now, slowly move your body weight forward (toward the pole). You should feel this stretch in the back of your ankle (the Achilles tendon) and in your leg calves. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. Then, perform this stretch with the other foot.

Standing Wall Push-Off

Figure 11
Figure 11

Click on Picture for a larger version

Stand about 4 to 5 feet from a wall or fence. Place both of your hands on this wall. Now, keeping the right foot flat on the ground (try not to raise the heel), lean forward toward the wall. You should be bending your left knee while doing this stretch…the right leg remains straight. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds. You should feel the stretch in the back of your legs. Now, repeat this stretch with the other leg.

Sprinter’s Stretch

Figure 12
Figure 12

Click on Picture for a larger version

Place your right foot about four to five feet in front of your left foot. Now, slowly move your body weight forward while bending your right knee. Try not to bend the left leg as you move forward.

Go as forward (low) as you can without experiencing any pain. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds.

Repeat this stretch with the other leg. You should feel this stretch in the back of your legs.

Squat Stretch

Figure 13
Figure 13

Click on Picture for a larger version

While standing, with your feet about two feet apart, slowly squat until you are completely down (again…no pain!) Hold this position for 20 seconds then slowly rise to a standing position. If you have very weak knees you may want to avoid this stretch.

Behind the Back Arm Stretch

Figure 14
Figure 14

Click on Picture for a larger version

Grab your right elbow with your left hand (behind your back and above your head). Now, slowly pull your right elbow to the left…do not cause yourself any pain. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch with the other hand/arm. You should feel this stretch in your triceps and the sides of your body. Keep your upper body straight when doing this stretch. Do not bend your body.

Overhead Wrist Stretch

Figure 15
Figure 15

Click on Picture for a larger version

Take your hands and interlace the fingers. Now, lift your hands above your head…keeping the back of your hands pointing downward as you do. Try to straighten the arms as you do this stretch…but do not do it if it causes you any pain. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds.

Individual Wrist Stretch

Figure 16
Figure 16

Click on Picture for a larger version

Take your right arm and place it straight in front of your body at shoulder height without any bend in the elbow. Now, with your left hand gently pull your right wrist back. Do not pull the wrist quickly nor to a point where you experience pain. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Repeat this stretch with the other wrist.

Chest/Arm Stretch

Figure 17
Figure 17

Click on Picture for a larger version

Find a pole or fence that you can use for this stretch. I like to use the entrance to outdoor courts whenever possible. If you are using such an entrance, stand in the center of this "doorway" facing one of the two support posts. With your right hand, grip the fence support post. Now, turn your body slowly to the left keeping your right arm straight. Rotate until you begin to feel a little strain on your chest (not pain!). Hold this position for 20 seconds. Then, repeat the stretch with your other hand/arm. You should feel this stretch in your chest, shoulders and arms.

These are the basic stretch that I use before each match and training session. In addition, I make the effort to perform these same stretches after I have completed my exercise or competition.

I assure you that if you faithfully perform these stretches, you will find yourself more limber and less likely to stiffen up. And in no time, you’ll find yourself becoming the tennis overdog you are meant to be.

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This column is copyrighted by Ron Waite, all rights reserved. Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ron by using this form.

Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments. Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the game's leading instructors.

In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master the game of tennis.


 

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