Movement, Power, Efficiency
By David McGill (B.Sc)
Flexibility and training to enhance this is probably one of the most overlooked, poorly executed, poorly understood, undervalued components of physical fitness and overall personal health (Brookes 1998).
This firmly emphasises the necessity not to overlook it, but instead include relevant, essential flexibility work in a sports conditioning, exercise or general daily routine. This is particularly applicable and potentially beneficial to tennis players of all ages and ability levels.
At Bodyrefine, flexibility plays an integral part in safely preparing those clients we train for tennis. Following the selective, highly effective conditioning of all our clients using our unique exercise approach, we progress tennis playing clients onto our specialist Dynamic Flexibility Training (DFT).
Beneficial to players of all ages and ability, Bodyrefine’s DFT safely and effectively helps enhance their game. It assists in preventing injury by preparing the body for the 3-dimensional, multi-directional, high velocity, whole body, coordinated movements common in tennis. This greatly lessens the stress otherwise placed upon the body and the injury eventually caused if the correct preparatory conditioning isn’t used and adhered to prior to playing.
DFT offers great potential in physical conditioning for tennis performance. The dynamic, whole body, functional movements common in DFT can be observed, copied and prescribed by other trainers or coaches. However, without the comprehension and application of the essential, progressive, preparatory exercises prior to safely doing this challenging yet very beneficial type of training, resulting injury despite effort and input will be counterproductive.
It’s perfectly acceptable to question how DFT can be more effective for tennis conditioning than lying, isolative strength exercises common in Pilates, static floor-based yoga flexibility stretches or seated strength exercises on one of the many machines common in exercise training environments. All of these can be referred to as ‘restricted range of motion’. As Sahrmann (2002) explains, “When there is variety in the tension upon and directions of movement of a specific joint, the supporting muscles and joints are more likely to retain optimal precision in movement behaviour than when there is constant repetition of the same body movement or maintenance of the same body position.” This is otherwise common in the aforementioned exercise activities. Though all can be conducive to the body in their respective lying, supported, seated positions, tennis is ultimately a standing, whole body, highly dynamic, multi-directional activity which requires the synchronised, integrative, simultaneous power and flexibility of the body’s muscles.
To support this, Gambetta (2002) emphasises ‘the importance of developing strength and stability through a full range of motion is particularly relevant since many traditional exercises are performed within a restricted range. In this scenario, it can be seen that we have actually adopted a style of training specifically designed to develop inflexibility (due to its movement limitations).
The likelihood is that the individual performing restricted range exercises will become very strong within that range but weak and vulnerable outside it. This places them in a precarious position when asked to perform whole body, multi-directional movements away from the exercise environment that take them toward more extreme joint ranges such as tennis serves, back-hands and outstretched forehands.
In that case, for tennis conditioning, we must otherwise use alternative, specific exercises that more closely replicate the physical demands and develop the levels of flexibility and power required to safely meet these demands.
The correct physical conditioning for these multidirectional, high velocity movements using the necessary preparatory and progressive exercises are therefore essential for safe and effective tennis participation and advantageous ‘transfer of training’. (Where exercise conditioning benefits are transferred to performance on the court).
When using more relevant, beneficially transferable methods of strength training for tennis, this can necessitate a reduction in the load lifted by the exerciser with particular exercises. However, in the context of dynamic power and flexibility this will create the necessary levels of dynamic mobility and stability that tennis players require to meet the demands placed on their body outside of the gym environment, on a tennis court.
We must have the ability to activate the right muscles at the right time in order to adopt positions which occur in tennis play. During movements common in the game, all of the muscles in a player’s body work collectively and simultaneously; some muscles will mainly activate to drive and propel our body to the required position on the court when preparing, striking the ball and recovering from the stroke; whilst doing so, other muscles will assist in taking us there; some muscles will stabilise us while we move there whilst others will control and brake the movement as the end of our position range is reached. This takes us back to questioning the relevance and transferable benefit of isolated seated, lying or floor-based exercises and stretches for tennis conditioning.
The objective of flexibility training is to functionally lengthen and strengthen.” Therefore, any programme directed at reducing muscle tightness must not only include stretching but must be accompanied by efforts to strengthen identifiable muscle weaknesses. It could even be seen, as Gambetta (2002) suggests that stretching work in isolation could potentially destabilise the system if it is not combined with the appropriate strengthening work.
As Kreighbaum and Barthels (1990) put it “Flexibility then is an important factor in prevention of injuries and in efficient skill performance, but to satisfy these purposes, flexibility must be accompanied by muscular strength and stability surrounding a joint in the body.” So, it can be seen that flexibility is a highly dynamic quality that will require a whole series of coordinated, integrated and sequenced muscle responses. It’s about having adequate mobility or freedom of movement, but, as aforementioned and firmly emphasised, also having the necessary accompanying strength, or more accurately stability to control the joint movements. Bodyrefine’s Corrective, Integrative Strength Training and Dynamic Flexibility Training safely oversees and effectively ensures this.