The Science of Tennis Performance and Physical Training.
Injury Prevention and Prehab
Half the battle in tennis is in staying healthy and being able to train and compete each week. The key to staying healthy is reducing the stress on the body as the player moves on the court and hits each day. Most common are overuse injuries associated with the shoulder, elbow, hips, knees and ankles...these are the areas that take the most stress as you play and practise.
In the lower body, the main cause of oversue injuries, muscle tweaks, muscle pulls, tendinitis and inflammation is from incorrect movement mechanics as the player repetitively moves around the court. If the angle at the knees for example, is slightly incorrect when the player stops and changes direction, they put excessive strain on the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the knee (above and below). Over time, with hundreds of slighty incorrect repetitions, these muscles, tendons and ligaments become inflammed, worn and damaged.
In the upper body, the main cause of these overuse injuries is often a muscle imbalance and strength imbalance between opposing muscle groups and on opposite sides of the body. One group of muscles may be able to speed up the arm to hit the ball at very high speeeds. BUT the muscles used to slow the racquet down after hitting or often weak and this can lead to strains and damage in the shoulder and elbow with thousands and thousands of shots hit each week.
At the start of any physical training program, an evaluation should be given to identify any potential areas of weakness and muscle imbalance. These problem areas are then brought back into balance with the rest of the body movements through a series of progressive exercises.
Other areas such as the knee often take the stress from improper movement technique and biomechanics. If the knees move too far forward when changing direction for example, then this will put excessive stress on the tendons around the knee and the quadriceps muscle. Over time, these areas will become inflamed and damaged leading to pain and injury. A problem like this can be corrected by learning to activate the the glute and hamstring muscles when slowing down on the run and changing direction. This not only absorbs some of the stress from the quadriceps but also puts the player in a better balanced position with the hips back and weight more evenly distributed through the lower body. This is just one example how the correct technique with movement (which can be taught) helps to eliminate many common injuries and at the same time makes the player more efficient with their movement on the court.
For the 2004 & 2005 season, I traveled full time with Maria Sharapova. She was 17 years old, growing fast, very tight with her flexibility and generally weak in most of the overuse injury areas. We focussed a great deal on muscle balance, movement technique and preventative strength work. Maria was able to play the whole season without missing a single match due to injury. She won the Wimbledon Championship in July 2004 and the Year Ending WTA Tour Championships in LA. After a regeneration break and then a pre-season training block, she also made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in Jan 2005. If the physical program is desgined correctly for your specific player, then they can get through a whole season with less overuse and no unnecessary injuries. This means more time able to practise and fewer matches lost because of lack of physical ability.