by Developing the Core
Kinetic Select May 2021
The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing the Core, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.
Tennis is a physically demanding and complex sport that requires a high level of strength, power, speed, agility, coordination, balance, endurance, and flexibility. The players who are most successful are the best all-around athletes. Having strong, powerful, efficient core muscles is paramount to success in the sport. Tennis is a ground-based sport that requires efficient transfer of energy from the ground up through the trunk and finally out to the arms and racket and into the tennis ball. The conditioning of the core muscles helps improve energy transfer, resulting in greater movement speed, agility, and power production into the strokes (serve, forehand, backhand, and volley), while also reducing kinetic chain weaknesses and the likelihood of injuries.
In competitive tennis, points are short (averaging less than 10 seconds per point), with an average of four directional changes per point (Roetert and Ellenbecker 2007; Kovacs, Chandler, and Chandler 2007); however, any given point can range from a single movement to more than 15 directional changes during a long rally. It is not uncommon for matches to require more than 500 changes of direction. These short distances and the extensive number of direction changes, along with the need to generate power in all planes of motion, require the training program to focus on core muscle strength, flexibility, and power. Because tennis is a sport that requires extensive rotational movements (e.g., forehand, backhand, and serve), core muscle work with a rotational emphasis should be a major component of a tennis training program.
Since a tennis player is always on her feet, it is important to perform core muscle movements that are ground based (with feet on the ground as opposed to lower back or abdomen on the ground). This will help develop the core muscles while specifically addressing the movements and summation of forces that are representative of what is experienced during matches. All too often athletes focus on the development of strength, power, and endurance in the core musculature, without sufficient focus on the functional flexibility needed in this region to truly transfer the work performed in the gym to on-court performance.
The typical competitive tennis player has a flexibility profile that includes relatively tight hip flexors, spinal erectors (erector spinae and multifidus), external hip rotators, and hamstring muscles. These four muscle groups should be a focus of a core muscle flexibility program because it provides immediate benefit in improved on-court performance as well as a decreased likelihood of injury. Competitive youth, collegiate, and adult tennis players suffer a majority of injuries in the low back region, and appropriate core muscle development may prevent many of these injuries.
All tennis strokes have a strong core component, and although there is a misconception that tennis players need to address movement in only the transverse and sagittal planes, lateral trunk flexion (especially in the serve) is vital to explosive power production. The typical core muscle exercises prescribed to players predominantly involve explosive trunk action through the transverse and sagittal planes (e.g., medicine ball rotational throws, chops, and lifts). Inclusion of exercises for the core musculature that include transverse, frontal, and sagittal plane emphasis is an important part of a comprehensive core muscle conditioning program for tennis.
In competitive tennis players, a strength imbalance between the muscles of the abdominal area and the lower back has traditionally been observed (Roetert et al. 1996). Therefore, it is important to screen tennis athletes to make sure this imbalance is not excessive, and it may be appropriate to devise programs to correct these potential imbalances.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the world’s leading sport conditioning organization, offers its unrivaled expertise in a book perfect for any athlete seeking to strengthen the core and improve athletic performance. Featuring 11 ready-to-use sport-specific programs, Developing the Core provides more than 50 of the most effective exercises along with science-based assessments to help athletes understand their individual needs. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.