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Ask the Lab: Beneficial Exercises

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, 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 that specifically targets the 'core,' i.e., the abdominals and obliques?

Satoshi Ochi: Taimur, thanks for your question. Both multiple muscle/joint movement exercises and exercises that are specific to the core (mid-section of body) are beneficial for tennis players. Therefore, to answer your question, you should focus on both types of exercises to improve tennis-specific functional strength.

Your strength and conditioning program should include at least one or two exercise(s) that focus on multiple muscle/joint movement and a few different core (abdominal, oblique and lower back) exercises. Of course, intensity, frequency and volume of your training sessions should be adjusted based on the levels of your tennis competition and fitness. Here are some advantages of each exercise:

Multiple muscle/joint exercises:

1. You can train many different muscle groups, including the stabilizing muscles. Many people think that exercises, like the squat, are only working on lower body. However, it is actually working with your stabilize muscles, such as the core (mid-section of body), as well. Therefore, you are improving total-body strength with one exercise.

2. You can stimulate the nerves and muscles to a greater degree with multiple muscle/joint exercises better than single muscle/joint exercises. Hormonal responses are tightly linked to the resistance training exercise type, especially large muscle group/multiple joint exercises. Therefore, if you are using correct amount of resistance with proper techniques for multiple joint/large muscle exercises, you will improve your muscle strength both at a cell level and also from a nerve level, which will allow you to get stronger at a faster rate.

3. You can perform tennis-specific movements with multiple muscle/joint exercises. Tennis movements are very complex, which means you are moving many different muscles and joints at the same time. Therefore, some of the multiple muscle/joint exercises could be used as tennis-specific exercises.

4. See Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 below:

Fig. 1: Lunge bottom position (left) and Justine Henin’s reaching back hand position (right)

Fig. 2: Squat initiation of concentric (upward) movement (left) and Venus Williams’ forehand finish and recovery position (right)

Core exercises (abdominal, oblique and lower back):

1. The mid-section of the body is a key component of tennis performance. It is very important to maintain your muscular balance with your resistance training programs. You may have a strong upper body and lower body. However, if an athlete cannot connect these two body parts (upper-body and lower-body strength), you cannot efficiently produce the power that you need for tennis. An exercise like the Plank Hold (Fig. 3) is one of the exercises that you can check and train your total “core” stabilization.

Fig. 3: Plank Hold: hold your body with your elbows and toes. Make sure to maintain straight body line during this exercise.

2. “Core” exercises are important for injury prevention purposes. Lower back or abdominals are one of the most common injury sites for tennis players. Therefore, it is very important to have a balanced and strong “core” for tennis players. Normal abdominal crunch (Fig. 4) and kneeling superman (Fig. 5) are examples of the basic exercises you can do to improve abdominal and lower-back strength and balance.


Fig. 4 (above left)-- Abdominal Crunch: Flex your knees about 90 degrees so that you can focus on the abdominal muscles, not hip flexors. Raise your head and shoulders off the floor.

Fig. 5 (above right)-- Fig. 5. Kneeling Superman: Maintain your natural lower-back position (lordotic curve) during this exercise so you can activate your lower-back muscles when you lift your hand and leg.

3. The “core” exercises are focused on the abdominals, obliques and lower-back muscles. However, please remember that “multi-muscle/joint exercises” that are performed with correct technique will stimulate the mid-section of the body functionally and efficiently.

Both forms of exercises are very beneficial for tennis players. However, these exercises may require professional instruction to be performed correctly. Therefore, it is recommend to consult a certified strength and conditioning professional in your area before you perform these exercises.

About the Author:
Satoshi Ochi is the USTA's Strength and Conditioning Specialist, USTA Sport Science. Ochi is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Since 2004, Ochi has received the NSCA’s Coach Practitioner distinction, recognizing him as an elite strength and conditioning professional in the United States. The USTA Sport Science department is responsible for testing, training and tracking top junior and professional tennis players, as well as producing, evaluating and disseminating sport science and sport medicine information relevant to tennis.

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