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Ask the Lab: Leg Workouts and Stretching

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 Pat S., New Berlin, WI: I am looking for leg workouts that are sport specific for tennis. I do some leg weights and do machine aerobics but my legs don't feel strong and reactive when I play tennis. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Dr. Kovacs: Pat, thank you for your question. Developing leg strength that directly translates to improved on-court performance should be the goal of a tennis specific strength training program. It is great to hear that you currently do some leg weights and aerobics. Hopefully the information below can assist you in your future workouts.

One of the reasons why many athletes do not always feel that the workouts that they do in the gym makes them move faster and feel stronger on court is that traditional strength training exercises focus on specific muscle development with little if any focus on specific movements. What this means is that traditional lower body gym exercises such as the squat or a lying hamstring curl are great at putting the muscles of the glutes/quadriceps (squat) or the hamstrings (lying hamstring curl) under tension, but it is in a movement pattern that is not seen during tennis play. The difference between training a muscle group (such as the hamstring group) versus training a movement (like the movement required to during a wide-stretched forehand) is that the movements work the muscles in ranges and positions that need to be strong during tennis. A good example of a lower body exercise that uses movements that are similar to what is seen on a tennis court would be the dumbbell 5-way lunge routine. This requires you to perform a lunge movement in five directions.

(Chase Buchanan is one of our junior players training at the  new USTA East Coast Training center in Boca Raton, and is demonstrating the 5-way lunge routine)

1. Linear Lunge – this lunge is performed in a traditional lunge position

2. 45° Lunge – this lunge is performed similar to the linear lunge, but in a 45° direction 

3. Lateral Lunge – this is performed with the athlete lunging out to the side with the goal of having the knee in line with the hip and the athlete squeezing the shoulder blades together

4. Rear Lunge – similar movement to the linear lunge but the lunge movement is performed using a backward step instead of a forward step

5. X-Over Lunge – This is performed similar to the movements a player would use hitting a low volley in a closed hip position

You should start with light dumbbells to learn the movements and then progressively increase the weight while maintaining proper form during the exercise. As each repetition takes 5 ground contacts per leg, it is recommended that you start with 5 repetitions per leg (25 total ground contact per leg) and repeat this exercises for 2-3 sets per leg. There are many other great lower body exercises that can help your tennis specific movement and many of these exercises can be found on the Player Development website. Hope this exercise helps in your training routine.

From Carol, Naperville, IL: What are ten great stretching exercises to do after a one hour tennis workout?

Dr. Kovacs: 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.

(Chase Buchanan and Jarmere Jenkins are two of the top juniors in the country and train at the new USTA East Coast Training Center in Boca Raton, Florida).

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


About the Author 

Mark Kovacs, PhD, CSCS, is the USTA Manager of Sport Science and is a tennis researcher, certified strength and conditioning specialist and certified tennis professional. He was a former tennis All-American and NCAA champion. 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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