Improve your performance by increasing your core strength and stability.
Sport Sciences & Medicine Department
November 7, 2017

Whether you're serving, volleying, or acing your game, you are engaging your core. Having a strong and stable core allows for efficient transmission of energy to the extremities allowing players to increase their power and decrease injury risk.  

WHAT IS THE CORE?

The core is made up of the deep abdominal muscles, diaphragm, and pelvic floor. 

  • STABILITY: it stabilizes the spine and pelvis.
  • MOBILITY: A stable core creates a secure platform for the legs and upper body to move freely, with optimal biomechanical alignment. 
  • This allows an athlete to better execute all the dynamic movements required in a tennis match.
  • Decreased core performance is associated with increased injury risk (lower extremity and low back) in athletes.

 

INCREASED STABILITY leads to improved strength, endurance, agility and power, and enhances performance. 

DECREASED STABILITY leads to compensation, overuse/overload, soft tissue irritability, potential injury and reduced on-court

WHY IS THE CORE IMPORTANT IN TENNIS?

  • The sport specific demands of tennis place asymmetrical stress on the trunk/body.
  • Repetitive and high forces are generated, transferred, and absorbed from the trunk/spine. 
  • 54% of the forces during the tennis serve come from the trunk and legs.

SCREENING AND ASSESSING THE CORE

The side plank test is an effective way to check the strength and endurance of the core muscles.

TO PERFORM THE TEST: Hold the side plank position (a minimum of 30 seconds, or for a maximal hold) without dropping the hips. (See picture below).

CHECK: 

  • Can you hold the position for 30 seconds?
  • Is there a difference between left and right side plank? This may indicate reduced function on one side. This can be rectified with an appropriate exercise program.
  • This test can be used as a baseline to track improvements/changes. Your strength and conditioning coach and/or physiotherapist can advise you on how often the test should be repeated.
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RECENT CORE/INJURY RESEARCH

A recent USTA research study looked at the results of screening tests in 231 elite and professional tennis players. 

  • Players with a history of back injuries performed worse on core tests than those without a history of back injuries. 
  • Decreased core strength, decreased hip mobility, and decreased hamstring flexibility (all on the same side as serving /dominant side) were associated with back injuries.
  • Adolescent tennis players (13-17 years old) reported more back injuries than the other age groups (12 and under, 18 and older).  
  • Adolescent tennis players may be at increased risk of back injuries due to the physical changes that occur during puberty which is characterized by phases of rapid growth and development. Younger players need tennis specific and age specific strength and conditioning and injury prevention programs.
  • The study also found that flexibility patterns differed between male and female players. Females had tighter hip flexors, males had tighter hamstrings and quads. This may influence injury patterns experienced by each gender.

TRUNK ASYMMETRY MAY INCREASE INJURY RISK

Some asymmetry in tennis players is considered “functional” or a sport-specific adaptation; however, it may also contribute to injury risk. Sports scientists in tennis are conducting ongoing research on if and how these functional adaptations contribute to tennis performance and injuries. Although no definite conclusions have been made, there is evidence to support that the side opposite to the serving side (the non-dominant side) of the trunk and lower body, is stronger than the serving side. It appears that this is a sport specific functional adaptation caused by the service motion. Researchers continue to investigate the service motion. The recent USTA study confirmed there are performance differences between sides in the trunk and lower body. TRUNK ASYMMETRY MAY increase injury RISK.

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TRAINING TIPS

  • Train SMARTER, not harder!  
  • MANAGE your core with a well-rounded program of on and off court training.
  • Work both sides of the trunk and lower body equally. Or as advised by your exercise professional.
  • CHALLENGE your core (add unstable surfaces like the Bosu® or physio ball when practicing planks, side planks, bridging, single leg squats etc.).
  • Try incorporating pilates, yoga, tai chi, and Gyrotonic Expansion System® (a holistic approach to movement) into your training routine for more balanced/symmetricalcore and flexibility training.
  • Manage your hip/gluts flexibility with a roller…they are an extension of your core!

 

Get professional advice from a qualified certified strength and conditioning coach or physiotherapist to create the best program for you.

INJURY HISTORY AND FUTURE RISK

  • A history of a prior injury is a risk factor for future injuries.
  • Ask a qualified certified strength and conditioning coach or physiotherapist to screen you and recommend specific exercises for your flexibility/stability needs.
  • After this baseline screening, perform the exercises as advised and monitor and track changes in endurance, strength, and flexibility.  A qualified certified strength and conditioning coach or physiotherapist will advise you on how often to monitor and adjust your program.

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