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Fit for tennis.

Tennis players generally aren't known for their muscles. Yet players who ignore strength training put themselves at a competitive disadvantage, since well-toned muscles can help them hit the ball harder and charge the net faster. Muscle strengthening also reduces the risk of injury from overuse, which is as much of a problem for occasional players as for the pros.

Like all sports, tennis emphasizes a limited number of muscle groups. Even in your serving arm, certain muscles tend to be neglected. This can result in injury to the overworked muscles. Strength training, by compensating for these muscle imbalances, may prevent the tendinitis or other damage that can result.

Here are some strength-building exercises that may help improve your game and prevent injury.

For the rotator cuff

This set of muscles and tendons in the shoulder is the downfall of many tennis players. Because of exertion or overuse, one or more of the tendons may be "impinged" upon--that is, compressed and irritated--by the shoulder bone, resulting in inflammation and possibly microscopic or even larger tears. Exercises using elastic tubing (Theraband is one well-known brand) can help strengthen the rotator cuff. The elastic allows you to modify the motion so you can simulate actual tennis strokes (see illustrated example). Other shoulder exercises were shown in our August 1994 issue.

Rotator cuff strengthener. Stand with elbow at side, bent at 90[degrees], and grip elastic tubing (other end attached to fixed object such as a doorknob). Pull arm across body, keeping elbow at side, then return slowly. Repeat. Then pull with other arm from same position. Then turn around and repeat with each arm.

For the elbow

Tennis elbow (epicondylitis) eventually sidelines about half of all amateurs who play at least three times weekly. Professional players suffer from it, too. A too-heavy racket or poor playing technique, especially involving the backhand, can dispose players to tennis elbow. The elbow tendons can develop microscopic tears any time they are exposed to a repeated stress greater than the tissues can withstand. Experts think it's not the vibration that causes the tears but excess torsion--for instance, when the ball hits off center and the racket twists your arm. Experts report that players who undertake strength training have a lower incidence of tennis elbow. One forearm strengthener: squeeze a ball 40 to 50 times with your arm extended horizontally in front of you. Also do wrist curls, as shown here.

Wrist curls. Lay your forearm on a table with your hand hanging over the edge and your palm up. Holding a 5-pound weight, slowly flex your wrist 10 to 15 times. Then turn your hand over so the palm faces down and repeat. Switch arms and repeat.

For the back

Tennis puts a fair amount of stress on your back and abdominal muscles. Doctors treating tennis players have found that those using a two-handed backhand have a high risk of low-back pain. Here's where sit-ups come in. (We'll show you how to get the most out of them in an upcoming issue.)

For the knee

Like any sport that calls for lots of running and quick changes in direction, tennis can put your knees at risk. Leg extension exercises on a machine or using ankle weights can help strengthen your quadriceps, the thigh muscles that stabilize the kneecap. For muscle balance, you should also strengthen your hamstrings, located behind your thighs.

Ropes, tubes, medicine balls

Here are some exercises, using simple equipment, from the U.S. Tennis Association's new video Strength Training for Tennis:

1. Work out with a jump rope to strengthen your upper arms and forearms--and to build endurance.

2. Hold a medicine ball to your chest as you do partial squats (bend only quarter way); as you stand up, push the ball overhead. This works the shoulder and arm muscles, as well as quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings, and calf muscles. As a squat variation, hold the ball near the back of your neck; push the ball overhead as you stand up.

3. A sit-up variation for tennis players: To strengthen your oblique abdominal muscles, sit on the floor and place a medicine ball near your tailbone. Move the ball in a full circle around you: swivel to pick up the ball, move it in front of you, and then back again to the other side, replacing it behind you. This can also be done with a tennis racket, as shown here.

Abdominal twist. Sitting with your back at a 45[degrees] angle to the floor, hold a racket and swivel 180[degrees], twisting your upper body from side to side.

4. Mimic an on-court lunge by holding a medicine ball behind your head and then stepping across diagonally in a lunge. This works the major leg muscles and lower back and buttocks.

5. Use elastic tubing to simulate a rowing machine: sitting on the floor with your legs extended, stretch the tubing around the bottoms of your feet and pull the ends to your abdomen and repeat; keep your elbows low. This works your upper back and shoulder muscles.

6. Use elastic tubing to do a leg press: sitting on the floor with your knees bent, hold the tube around your feet and push out against the resistance.

7. A novel way to work your forearm muscles: with one outstretched arm, hold a page of newspaper by a corner and roll it up into a small ball as fast as you can using only that one hand.

The U.S. Tennis Association's video is available for $24.95 from Human Kinetics (800-747-4457; in Canada 800-465-7301), which has also just published a new book called Power Tennis Training by Donald Chu ($14.95).
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Title Annotation:conditioning exercises for tennis players
Publication:The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter
Date:Feb 1, 1995
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