We all know what usually happens when you take an elastic band that has not been stretched for some time and try and stretch it to its max — it will likely snap. However, if you stretch it gently and warm up the rubber band, it becomes capable of stretching further. The same applies to the muscles and tendons in the body; if you attempt to stretch them too far in the first instance, then there’s a high likelihood of pulling a muscle, or at worst rupturing a tendon.
This is why tennis players should always include a proper warm-up and stretching regime before they play. Investing time both pre-match and post match by doing a thorough warm up and warm down is a great way of boosting your injury prevention methods.
So how should tennis players warm up?
Many tennis and stretching novices fall into the trap of thinking that bouncing up and down and touching your toes a few times are sufficient ways of warming up. Wrong! Trying to stretch a cold muscle is not advisable.
A tennis warm-up should start with some walking or gentle jogging to get the heart pumping. This raises the body temperature and readies the heart and lungs for exercising as well as warming the muscles. You should do this to the point that you begin to perspire.
On reaching this point it recommended that you do some dynamic stretching, which means doing stretches with movement, such as a lunge. The real key to stretching pre-play is to get your muscles moving in the same way they will during your tennis match. You can do this with a series of dynamic stretches that mimic the movements of tennis, including high-steps, arm circles, quick racket swings, and lunges, but they should be done in a controlled manner so as not to overstretch.
You can then go on to have a practice hit, but starting slowly and gradually building up the pace. Remember, always save your practice serves for last. The serve puts the most pressure on the body, so it’s best to be fully warmed up before attempting a serve. Also, don’t warm-up too early as the benefits are lost after about 30 minutes of inactivity.
How should tennis players warm down?
There’s a temptation to overlook the warm-down in favour of a celebratory or commiseratory drink, but you should save that for after the warm-down. The warm-down gradually brings down the heart rate and removes lactic acid that has built up in muscles. A proper warm-down minimises the risk of muscle soreness.
The cool-down should consist of a gentle jog followed by stretching. Seeing as the muscles and tendons will be thoroughly warmed up after a game, the body will be better able to cope with some static stretches (i.e. stretching without movement) post-play, for example, touching your toes.
Tennis stretching — the final word
Warming up and warming down is often overlooked by tennis players, but should be as much a part of your routine as practising your serve. By committing a few minutes to stretching before and after tennis can significantly reduce the risk of injury.
As a general rule, although there is still some disagreement between ‘experts’, dynamic stretching is recommended before you play tennis, and static stretching is best post-play. Remember, while stretching, if you feel pain, stop immediately, but that doesn’t mean forget about stretching forever.