Why Core Strength Matters
Connor Hyde, DPT | April 1, 2019
Like many junior tennis players, my time off the court was often spent watching Tennis Channel re-runs with my dad, breaking down each player’s game. Every so often we would hear or see stories about what players did off the court, which always caught my attention. These included Lleyton Hewitt training with rugby teams to Andre Agassi’s incredible bench press numbers, to the Spaniards warming up by playing soccer on the court
One that has stuck with me over the years was when Andy Roddick’s former coach, Doug Spreen, talked about how implementing more core strength into his routine helped his serve and groundstrokes. In a Tennis Magazine interview he said, “We want to make his whole body stronger so it’s less susceptible to injury. ADVERTISEMENT The shoulder is key for his serve, and the core keeps the entire body balanced. It’s become a real priority of Andy’s.” For all tennis players, one of the best ways to improve your tennis game is to follow how professionals perform, and this holds true to off court training as well.
What is “The Core”?
The core is made up of a large group of muscles. About 35 to be exact, which can be divided into 4 main groups: abdominals, back extensors, lateral trunk muscles and hip muscles. All regions play a role in stabilization during movements and allowing your low back, pelvis, hips and abdomen to work together in unison.
Why is the Core Important?
With our strokes, over 50% of the power is generated in our legs, hips and trunk.* This makes it crucial to have a strong core to help transfer that power from our lower body up through our arms to our racquet head. Furthermore, the core is the center of gravity in the body which is necessary for balance on the court. A strong core while hitting an out-wide forehand allows you to maintain a stable and controlled body while allowing your racquet to do the work.
The lower back and spine is the site of one of the most prevalent overuse injuries to professional and top level junior tennis players*. The highly repetitive rotation, extension, and bending of the spine places a high level of load on the vertebrae, ligaments, and discs. Studies of tennis players show that players with low back pain had a lower activation in extensor muscles, less co-contraction muscle patterns, and overall decreased abdominal endurance* This makes it necessary to develop a strong core off the court so your body can work in a cohesive unit.
The Good News
Fortunately, the spine is strong, resilient, and adaptable to demanding activities such as tennis. Proper activation of the abdominal musculature surrounding the spine is shown to help prevent injuries and improve performance. Adding a simple core routine several days a week will strengthen your core in all 4 regions. This will help add the stability, power, and balance needed to improve all strokes in your tennis game. Below I describe and show 4 exercises to add into your routine to begin developing a strong core.
1) Shoulder taps
On hands and knees (quadruped positioning) engage core by drawing your navel to your spine. You should feel the front and side abdominals contract.
Next slowly bring your hand up to the opposite shoulder. Do not allow your shoulder and body to move as you reach. This will activate your core by resisting this rotation
Perform 2 sets of 8-10 shoulder touches on each side
2) Side planks
On your side, start on your elbow and either your knees or ankles
Keep your elbow directly under shoulder, engage your core and lift up. You should form a straight line from shoulder to hips to knees or ankle.
Perform 2-3 sets of 15-45 seconds on each side
Assume the same quadruped position as shoulder taps with knee shoulder width apart and hands directly below shoulder
While keeping a tight core, simultaneously raise opposite leg behind you and arm in front of you. Keep your back straight and your hips level.
Hold each position 6-10 seconds
Perform 3 sets of 4 on each side
Lie on your back with arms extended in front of your shoulder
Bend your knees and hips to 90°
Tighten your core by drawing your navel to your spine
Slowly raise arm while extending your contralateral leg
Keep your back flat on the floor and don’t let it arch
Perform 2-3 sets of 6 repetitions on each side
Connor is a New Hampshire native and state champion tennis player with over 20 years of experience playing and teaching tennis. A college tennis player at University of Redlands, he now resides in Honolulu and practices physical therapy at JACO Rehab.
For any questions or if you have an injury you want evaluated, please visit jacorehab.com or email us at info.jacorehab.com
Correia JP, Oliveira R, Vaz JR, Silva L, Pezarat-Correia P. (2016). Trunk muscle activation, fatigue and low back pain in tennis players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 19(4), 311-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25987492
Fu, M. C., Ellenbecker, T. S., Renstrom, P. A., Windler, G. S., & Dines, D. M. (2018). Epidemiology of injuries in tennis players. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 11(1), 1–5. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-018-9452-9
Kibler WB (1995). Biomechanical analysis of the shoulder during tennis activities. Clin Sports Med (14) 79-85