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Ask the Lab: Yoga & Stretching

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 Barbara Timmerman of Redding, CA: I do yoga once a week for core strength and flexibility along with the treadmill twice a week for aerobic activity. A very avid tennis player told me yoga was not a good choice for tennis players but couldn't tell me why. I hear very little about yoga in tennis articles. Could you address this issue? Thank you. Barbara, thanks for the question. Yoga is a great exercise to incorporate into one’s fitness routine. Tennis players are no exception. Many tennis players, professional players included, have embraced yoga to help them improve their game.

    Yoga, which is practiced by performing a series of poses, known as asanas, develops both strength and flexibility, in addition to improving one’s balance.

    Tennis players, who typically have tight hips, quads and hamstrings, can perform specific poses to improve these areas of weakness.

    Poses that tennis players should incorporate into their training include:

    Warrior II pose (virabhadrasana II)
    Tree pose (vrksasana)
    Triangle pose (trikonasana)
    Spinal Twist pose (ardha matsyendransana)

    While yoga challenges the physical body, it can also include a mental component, meditation. Research indicates regular meditation trains the mind to relax and improves concentration. For tennis players, regular meditation translates into improved on court performance as they are able to channel all of their energy into the match.

    Because of the recent rise in yoga’s popularity, yoga classes are offered in most gyms and fitness centers. Check your local gym or fitness center for class offerings.

    To learn more about yoga and tennis, visit this website: http://www.yogamovement.com/resources/tennis.html.

    From Carol Naperville of Illinois: 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?

    Battaglia: 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.

    About the Author:

    The answers to this week's column come from Jessica Battaglia. She is the Administrative Assistant to the USTA’s Coaching Education and Sport Science Department and leads yoga classes regularly.



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