Tennis injuries are not uncommon due to the fast-paced, plyometric and repetitive nature of the game. Absence of a proper warm up could contribute to injury, whether it be acute or from overuse. Tennis is a total body sport and in order to perform all strokes with proficiency, it requires proper timing, sequencing, flexibility and strength throughout the entire kinetic chain. During a tennis match, all of the player’s joints from the foot and ankle to the hip, pelvis and trunk and into the shoulder girdle and neck are working together to produce motion, speed and power. Tennis involves substantial levels of lateral movement, quick changes in direction, pivoting and rotation. To prevent injury, the player must demonstrate just the right amount of soft tissue extensibility and elasticity as well as muscle activation prior to playing.
A proper warm up for these athletes is vital. First, the player should start with a general aerobic warm up to increase their core temperature, generate heat and warm the muscles. This can be done using whole body exercises to increase the heart rate, such as light jogging in place, jump rope, butt kicks, ladder drills, skipping or jumping jacks. Now that the athlete feels warm and body temperature has risen, it is time to work the muscles and joints through ranges of motion and movement patterns that progressively loosen the muscles, lubricate the joints and prepare for force production. The key to an effective warm up is turning on the muscles in the same way they will be used during the match. This can be performed dynamically, meaning stretching with movement.
An important component of the dynamic warm up is increasing dynamic flexibility and muscle activation without compromising force production that is needed during the match. This means warming up just enough so that the athlete does not feel fatigued prior to playing. Examples of multi-directional, well controlled and functional movement patterns include posterior or forward lunges with trunk rotation, lateral lunges, inchworms, upright arm circles, cariocas, side shuffles, body weight squats, book openers, leg and arm swings and hip openers.
Use of elastic bands to activate key muscle groups is highly recommended as well. The gluteus medius/maximus, hip lateral rotators, calves, periscapular musculature and rotator cuff are all utilized vigorously and repetitively when playing tennis. Elastic band exercises include side stepping, monster walks, eccentric calf raises, internal and external rotation at multiple angles, dynamic hugs and scapular retractions. Finally, a tennis-specific warm up should always include all variations of racquet swings as well as specific foot work needed during the game.
The warm up can be completed right on the tennis court and should take about 15-20 minutes or until the athlete feels adequately warm. To avoid cooling of the joints and muscles, the warm up should be performed as close as possible to the start of the match. By the end of the warm up the athlete should feel physically and mentally prepared to play.
Jenna Baynes is an advanced clinician at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance Center at HSS. She is an athletic trainer and board certified orthopedic specialist.