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Ask the Lab: Strength Training & Plantar Fasciitis

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM

PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the High Performance Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

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    From Taimur of Champaign, IL: Is it more appropriate to focus on compound (involving multiple muscles) exercises for increased strength, such as squats and presses, or should a player have a regime specifically targeted at the 'core' (i.e the abdominals and obliques)?

    Dr. Riewald:
    Taimur, the answers to your questions are ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’. It is actually important to do both. The core is an essential link in the kinetic chain and having a strong and stable core allows you to put the power of your legs behind the shots you hit.

    The abdominal muscles in many tennis players are stronger than the back muscles (this is the reverse of what you would see in a non-tennis player). So make sure when you do your core training that you involve the low back muscles as well as the obliques, which aid in trunk rotation.

    The complex, multi-segment movement are also important since hitting a tennis ball is a complex, multi-joint. Some of the exercises you mention, like squats or lunges, are good multi-joint exercises, but there are actually more tennis specific exercises.

    Something like a low to high chop involves loading of the legs, coordination of the upper and lower body, and rotation – much like a tennis stroke. A medicine ball squat, in which the ball is thrown to the sky, shifts the focus of the squat from moving heavier weights slowly to placing an emphasis on generating power – again much like a tennis stroke.

    You do not say how old you are, but keep in mind that power exercises should not be done by tennis players until they have gone through puberty.

    The bottom line is that tennis players need to build strength throughout the body, but also focus their attention on key areas, like the core, as well.

    From Colleen Smith of Windermere, FL: What are the best exercises for plantar fasciitis? I have a heel spur that always hurts after I play and the sole of my foot hurts whenever I get up from a sitting position.

    I'm 50 years old - been playing tennis a long time - spend many hours on the court both playing and teaching. What can I do to overcome plantar fasciitis and get back to playing the kind of tennis I am used to? This condition puts serious limitations on my ability to move.

    Dr. Riewald: Colleen and Ken, many athletes suffer from plantar fasciitis (pronounced fa-she-eye-tis) and there are a couple of things you can do to help it get better and prevent it from coming back again.

    The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs from the toes to the heel and helps support the arch of the foot. With activities that involve a lot of running it is possible for this fascia to become tight and inflamed.

    When it does it can cause pain in the bottom of your foot, particularly where it attaches to the heel bone. The pain is usually worst first thing in the morning or after sitting for a while. Here is what you can do.

    First, cut back on any activity that involves running to give the injury some time to recover. The provide ice and massage regularly throughout the day. Ice and massage are good for helping to treat plantar fasciitis. One way to do this is to use a frozen water bottle. Roll the frozen water bottle under the sole of your foot, massaging the fascia. Do this for 15-20 minutes several times per day.

    Also, stretch the plantar fascia by pulling your toes towards your shin. You should also stretch both muscles in your calf; perform a calf stretch first with the knee straight and then with the knee bent slightly. Hold each stretch or 20-30 seconds and again, perform each several times per day.

    Finally, check your shoes. Worn out shoes, or shoes that provide poor arch support can contribute to the occurrence of plantar fasciitis. As the pain subsides, gradually increase the intensity and volume of your tennis and/or running. If this does not work, check with your doctor as more aggressive treatment may be necessary.

    The answers to this week's column come from Scott Riewald, PhD. Dr. Riewald is the USTA Administrator of Sport Science, he reports to Paul Lubbers, Director of Coaching Education. Dr. Riewald and the Sport Science staff work with Coaching Education to provide information to the coaches of top American players through seminars, workshops and newsletters.

    Past Riewald Columns:
    Strength & Flexibility Exercises
    Playing in the Sun & Jumping Rope
    Banned Substances & Youth Strength Training

    About the Author:

    From Ken Stetz of Neptune, NJ:


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