Q. Every time before practice or matches, my school coach never requires us to stretch or warm up. I find it odd, because I know it is important to stretch before doing any kind of exercise or sport. However, I end up not having enough time to stretch before practice or a game, so I, too, don't warm up. Is it absolutely necessary to stretch before playing tennis? If so, what do you recommend?
A. Yes it is necessary to warm-up prior to any vigorous physical activity, but no it is not usually necessary to stretch. A good warm-up consists of whole body movements that begin slowly and gradually increase in range of motion and intensity. It might be that your coach has designed some stroking drills for the start of practice that progressively intensify the arm and leg movements required.
It might come as a surprise to most players, but the logic of stretching prior to competition (there was no science to back up the logic) has been refuted by dozens of studies. We now know that stretching prior to vigorous exercise does not affect risk of injury, and actually reduces most all kinds of performance. Most tennis players should stretch after matches to try to maintain normal levels of flexibility.
Q. What are 10 great stretching exercises to do after a one hour tennis workout? A few years ago the USTA had available a card, "Basic 10 Flexibility Exercises." Have these concepts changed with our better understanding of conditioning and flexibility for the sport of tennis?
A. A while back the USTA produced a poster and exercise cards listing ten stretching and flexibility exercises for tennis players. This document was originally produced in the 1990s and is available to download below:
Download the Basic 10 Flexibility Exercises Chart.
The stretches listed on the chart target most areas of the body and are equally as important today as they were when the poster was developed. Two additional stretches that should be performed by all tennis players, yet are not on the list, are the hip flexor stretch and the Figure 4 stretch.
While the importance of stretching has not changed in the past 10 years, some of the thinking about when stretching should be done has changed, however. It used to be typical for coaches and players to recommend static stretching before play thinking that it would reduce the risk of injury when the player stepped onto the court.
However, review of the research on stretching has shown a couple of things.
1. Stretching before a practice or match does not reduce the risk of injury during the following period of play – A player runs the same risk of suffering an injury during a practice session or a match whether he or she stretched beforehand or not, and
2. Stretching can actually reduce the amount of force and power a muscle can generate for over an hour after the stretch is performed – this means there is the potential for decreased performance after static stretching.
Please do not misread this article, stretching is still important for tennis players – you need to maintain normal ranges of motion throughout your body. However, stretching should be performed after practice or a match and not before. Prior to stepping on the court you should do some activity that will warm the body up, like dynamic warm-up exercises or jogging lightly. This will improve muscle performance when you start playing tennis.
Q. What are ten great stretching exercises to do after a one hour tennis workout?
A. Thanks for bringing up an important component to tennis training. Stretching after practice has many great benefits for the tennis player. As a result of numerous research studies conducted over the last 15 years, we have a much better understanding of what types of stretches are more beneficial to implement before and after workouts. As you may be aware, dynamic warm-up routines have been consistently shown to produce better results in speed, strength and power movements before practice than static stretching routines. The Player Development website has some great information on the dynamic warm-ups and the USTA has produced a DVD outlining many different dynamic warm-up routines (USTA Dynamic Tennis Warm-Ups produced by human kinetics www.humankinetics.com). Following tennis practice or competition it is important to cool-down appropriately and then perform static stretching exercises on all the major muscle groups that are used during tennis play. Although there are dozens of great stretches that can be performed, listed below are 10 static stretching exercises that hit the major muscles that are typically used during tennis play and can be implemented at the end of your tennis workouts.
1. Hamstring Rope Stretch
2. Adductor Rope Stretch
3. Lower Back/Hip Rope Stretch
4. Figure 4 Stretch (Glute Stretch)
5. Kneeling Hip Flexor
6. Slant Board Calf Stretch
7. Lower Back Stretch
8. Posterior Shoulder Stretch
9. Tricep Stretch
10. Forearm/Wrist Stretch