RELATED: Wrist Injuries; Leg Injuries and Hydration; Knee Problems and Tennis Elbow; Hip Pain and Cramping
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With the new year upon us, many tennis players will start off by making new year’s resolutions about how to improve their games and/ or fitness.
The USTA Sport Science staff and the Sport Science Committee have put together some things to think about to help you get the most out of your game – enhancing performance while keeping things safe in 2008. Have a great new year!
- Don’t overdo it!
It is very easy to get excited when you think about your tennis and all the things you want to accomplish in 2008.
Many times players will jump into the new year and add all sorts of new components to their training. However, it is important to ease into things gradually.
The body performs best when training follows the principle of progressive overload – do a little more this week that you did last week, and a little more next week, and so on.
For example, if you’ve only been playing tennis 1 day a week, don’t immediately jump to playing 3-4 times per week - start with twice a week Similarly, if you have not been involved in a strength training program, don’t start off with lifting every day.
Many well-intentioned athletes have been set back by injury because they tried to do too much too soon.
- Set goals for yourself.
It is amazing what you can accomplish when you write your goals out on paper – list what you hope to accomplish in 2008. It is OK to have some “outcome oriented goals”, like winning the sectional championship, but also remember to set “process oriented goals”, like improving your first serve percentage or learning to volley effectively.
Many times you cannot control the outcome oriented goals but you do have control over the process goals. Keep your goals with you in your wallet or purse, or post them in a place where you will see them every day. These goals will keep you on track and help you prioritize your efforts.
- Eat for success.
Food is the fuel that drives your body. Just like your car runs poorly on low-grade fuel, your body will not function optimally if you do not give it the right fuels and the right amount of fuel.
One of the most important things you can do is make sure you refuel the body as soon after practice or a match as possible – eating mostly carbohydrates and some protein. Your body is very receptive to topping off energy stores right after you finish play – so don’t delay.
If proper nutrition is something you struggle with, it may be a good idea and a worthwhile investment to visit with a nutritionist once or twice to go over nutritional strategies and develop a plan to help your game and improve your heath.
- Prepare for the heat.
We get a lot of questions for this column, but it is surprising how many pertain to playing in heat and cramping. If you’ve read this column in the past, you likely know that some cramps can arise because of muscular fatigue, but true heat cramps result, in part, because of a loss of sodium (not potassium) from the body.
Fluid replacement before, during and after play is essential, but so is replacing the sodium that is lost in your sweat. Use sport beverages or add salt to foods to replace these essential electrolytes. Frequent crampers may need to ingest extra amounts of sodium during long matches.
It also is important to acclimatize to the heat gradually. Allow your body time to adjust to the heat by avoiding play during the hottest times of the day and by increasing your playing time in the heat gradually.
- Strength train to prevent injury.
Not everyone has the time or the resources to engage in a full-blown strength training program. With that said, there are still a number of exercises any player can, and should, do to prevent injuries.
Tennis players develop pretty specific strength imbalances which can lead to injury if left untreated. You should make it a part of your training plan to strengthen the external rotators in the shoulder and the upper back muscles, for example.
Also, make sure to strengthen the core of the body, particularly the lower back, as well as lower body strength. You can download some sample exercises from the Player Development website under the Strength and Conditioning link at www.playerdevelopment.usta.com.
- Take the time to recover.
Allowing time for recovery is one of the most important things you can do – yet, it is something most people do not do. Whether it is allowing adequate rest between training sessions or simply getting enough sleep, one of the best things you can do for your body is to give it rest. Rest is when the body grows and when all the adaptations you started with your training really take hold.
Even with high performance players we recommend taking at least one full day of rest each week. Listen to your body and make sure your training schedule includes periods of rest.
- Take a lesson from a tennis pro.
You can learn a lot by watching the top pros play tennis on TV or in person, but most players can really benefit by taking a lesson from a certified teaching pro.
Taking a lesson, or a series of lessons, can not only help you to improve your on-court performance, but can also help in the prevention of injuries. Not every injury is the result of poor conditioning or a strength imbalance - many are caused because of a technique flaw. Taking lessons can help even an accomplished player hone his or her game while avoiding injury.
- Take care of yourself in the sun.
Because tennis is frequently played outside under the sun, it is important to take steps to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays. Make sure you wear adequate sunscreen and protective clothing.
- Know what you’re putting into your body.
In this day and age, it seems that everyone is looking for a quick fix – something that can help achieve success with little or no work. Taking supplements is one area where we see this playing out. Many supplements are touted as enhancing performance or helping improve your fitness. But also realize that supplements can be dangerous to your health or even illegal when playing tennis.
Before you put anything into your body, check with your health care provider and do some research into what the supplement actually does. Check to make sure it does not violate the tennis anti-doping program rules and regulations. Also, realize that just because a supplement’s label says it does not contain any banned substances, that is not necessarily true (18% tested positive for banned substances in a 2003 study of off the shelf supplements purchased in the US).
You are responsible for what you put into your body – make sure these things are healthy and safe.
- Have fun.
Remember, tennis is a game and the bottom line is you should have fun playing it. Get out there with a friend and reap all the great things tennis has to offer. Good luck in 2008!