The Power Within

Core strength and stability are vital in enhancing court performance.

Published April 22, 2011 04:48

The Power Within
Nadia Petrova

In tennis, most shots require strength, power, speed, agility, coordination, and precision, which are achieved through various types of training. An athlete must possess a solid foundation of strength and stability upon which to build these characteristics. In addition to general upper and lower body strength, the athlete must possess core strength and stability (Core = the muscles of the pelvic girdle & trunk). All athletes can enhance their performance on the court by training the core stabilizing muscles.

Research indicates that by developing a stable base, you can:
• Increase strength
• Increase momentum
• Increase control & endurance of your extremity muscles (arms & legs)
• Improve posture

Do You Train For Your Game?
Many athletes today are aware of the term "core stability" and include some type of "core" exercise in their fitness program. Yet, many athletes still suffer injuries associated with a weak core. This may be due to a few reasons:
• Core stabilization is ignored in the athlete's conditioning program;
• The athlete may have suffered a previous injury that has left a deficit; or
• The athlete may be performing exercises which are too advanced for her abilities.
To reduce your injury risk and enhance your on-court performance, you need to train properly in your off season, and then continue with a good in-season maintenance program.

Perform on a Solid Foundation
Your exercise program should be based on your needs. Evaluation by your physical therapist, fitness trainer or coach will assist to identify any limiting factors. When any limiting factor(s) is identified through functional testing and injury evaluation, then your exercise program can be tailored to the meet your needs and goals, injury history, surface, strengths, weaknesses, and demands of your sport.

The best approach is through a tiered approach that progesses you from correcting the identified problem all the way through to competing.

• Foundation = correct, align, activate
The aim is to correct joint stiffness and/or soft tissue problems and restore movement patterns, for proper physical alignment, muscle activation, & mobility..
• Function = mobility to stability
The goal is to enhance mobility, stability, strength, flexibility, & tennis movement patterns and progress toward an advanced sport-specific program.
• Fundamentals = sport specific skills
The focus is to increase power, speed, coordination, and agility with high-intensity activity that imitates the movement patterns found in tennis.


A Stable Core May Prevent Injuries
Every tennis shot and on-court movement places a significant amount of stress on the spinal musculature. Different muscles of the spine serve different purposes:
• Larger, superficial (toward surface) global muscles, such as the rectus abdominus or erector spinae, create powerful trunk movements.
• Smaller, deeper local muscles, such as the transverse abdominus or multifidus, act as position/postural sensors and spinal stabilizers.
Without appropriate core stability, muscle imbalances may occur, which could lead to injury, poor stroke mechanics, and less than optimal on-court performance.

Core stability training includes two different concepts:
1. Motor Control Stability = Muscular control from effective co-contraction of muscles that maintains functional stability of the lumbar spine joints. These exercises
• Can target a specific local or global stabilizer.
• Use low functional loads to recruit slow motor units, necessary for stability.

2. Muscle Strengthening of Core Muscles = Muscular strengthening from non-specific overload training to increase power, and may cause hypertrophy (increased muscle size). These exercises:
• Use high load resistance or endurance overload to fatigue all the relevant synergists (muscles that work together to create one movement).
• Overload both slow and fast motor units.

Build Your Foundation
Learn how to effectively activate and control your deep stabilizing muscles, and incorporate this muscle stabilization into your normal strength training activities.
• The quality of movement is most important…you want a submaximal contraction.
• You want to activate (switch on) the muscles, not increase their strength.
• The key muscles to activate for core stability are the deep local stabilizers:
1. Transversus Abdominus (TA) - acts like a corset, stabilizing deep inside your abdomen.
2. Multifidus - deep low back stabilizing muscle.
3. Pelvic Floor, Diaphragm and Psoas - important deep stabilizing muscles.

Power Button: To start a machine, you have to hit the power switch "on". The same applies for exercise only your "on" button is deep core muscle activation to prime your "machine" (body) to safely complete an exercise. To start:
• Lie on your back with hips & knees bent, feet placed flat on the floor, and your fingertips resting on your belly inside of your hip bones, below your ribcage to feel the Transversus Abdominus contract.
• Flatten your belly by slightly pulling your belly-button straight down towards your spine while you gently contract your Diaphragm by pulling your left and right lower ribs down and inward toward your belly button.
• You should be able to hold this position contracting your TA & diaphragm for 10 seconds while you continue breathing. Repeat until fatigue, about 5 - 10 repetitions.
• Pilates, yoga, and tai-chi are types of exercises that target core stabilization in every movement.

Advance Your Position
A training, conditioning, or rehabilitation program for any sport must be comprehensive, including: acute injury management, aerobic and anaerobic endurance training, and sports-specific training including strength, power, speed and agility training. However, if an exercise program is to be effective and successful, it must be built on a solid foundation which includes a stable core.

Get to the core - start building yours today!

The contents of the Health site are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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