Flexibility is a not talked about, yet an extreme, secret advantage in most athletes’ repertoires. It has been proven that if you are extremely flexible, then you are less likely to get injured, which ultimately contributes to longevity in any sport. In the game of tennis, both Djocokic’s and Clijsters’ famous splits prove that they’ve adopted a heavy stretching program; this supplemented both athletes success on their individual journeys to their #1 rankings. So do you still think that stretching is really overrated for a tennis player?
Stretching brings with it an abundance of benefits; the ability to move through a normal range of motion without undue stress for an athlete is an enormous advantage. Stretching enhances performance, reduces injury and muscle soreness, and contributes to gains in mobility through the joints. With all these benefits, who wouldn’t want to stretch every second of the day to help you secure a top ranking on the tennis circuit, and attain longevity in your career?
Thus, if you want to compete in today’s tennis game that is accompanied by extreme speed and power – then stretching is a must!
Now let’s learn about what type of stretching is needed when.
Pre-game Static Stretching
It has been proven that acute static stretching, holding a stretch for thirty seconds and longer, is detrimental to performance that is related to maximal force. Tennis players compete in a very explosive game, which requires first-step quickness and high-speed agility movements. As such, pre-performance static stretching has a negative influence on explosive sports, including tennis.
One of the main contributing factors affecting explosiveness due to stretching before a match is a mechanism referred to as elastic potentiation. A phenomenon explained by the release of elastic energy stored in muscular and tendinous structures. It has been proven that there is decreased ability of these structures to store elastic energy following a stretch; therefore, optimum stiffness is required to maximize the magnitude of elastic energy for explosiveness. Neurological mechanisms can also account for decline in performance by myoelectric potentiation after stretching; referred to as the stretch reflex that increases muscle activation during a period of concentric work.
Numerous studies have been conducted regarding pre-game static stretching. Fowles et al. (2000) found that a 9% decrement in maximum plantar flexion was present following an aggressive 30 min stretch. Additionally, Cornwell et al. (2001) measured a significant decrease in jump height in both standing jump (4.4%) and counter movement jump (4.3%), and according to Young and Behm (2003) a negative influence on vertical jump performance is associated with static stretching. These results, any many more, identify the presence of reduction of maximum force following static stretching that is detrimental to a tennis player.
So here is some advice on what do to before and after a tennis match:
A Tennis Players Stretching Regimen
Before a Match:
The goal before a match is to prepare the body for strenuous movements that will be induced on court. Thus, a tennis player should complete a dynamic warm-up that will prepare the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system. A dynamic warm-up will allow the tennis player to stretch through the full range of motion used during the match. For example, one exercise used in a dynamic warm-up before a match is completing a forward lunge and twisting the upper body at the bottom of the lunge – this exercise is repeated ten times per leg.
After a Match:
This is where the fun begins! After a match, it is critical to spend that extra time to recover from all the vigorous activity experienced by the athlete on the tennis court. The first step to recovery is to spend at least thirty minutes static stretching. Note that it is only necessary to stretch the length of the muscle needed for the full range of motion in tennis; remember that if you stretch the muscle further than what it is needed on the court, the muscle will loose elasticity to enforce the power production required for the game. Not only is static stretching mandatory to gain flexibility, but it also resets the tone of the muscle that aids in bringing back the muscle under control faster.
The second and most important step is self –myofascial release, such as foam rolling or trigger point release. After a knot has been released, an athlete will experience vast gains of flexibility; and consistent myofacial release helps avoid majority of preventable injuries.
There are also different variables that affect the flexibility in any athlete. These include:
- Making sure that the athlete eats correctly to avoid any inflammation on a cellular level;
- Maximizing the quality of sleep to help restore the muscle as quickly as possible; and
- Finally incorporating the use of contrast baths after a workout to help preserve flexibility in the athlete.
So be smart about your stretching routine and use it wisely to gain maximum performance benefits.