By Cassiano Costa, Ph.D., Head of Tennis Performance, IMG Academy
While watching a tennis match, it is easy to see the large demands that are imposed on the shoulder, elbow and wrist of a player. These joints are highly involved with every action performed during a match and considering that the movements happen very fast and often, it is common for the muscles that control these joints to become easily tight and fatigued.
As the Head of Tennis Performance at IMG Academy, I develop strength programs that take care of each athlete’s overall development and specifically focus on protecting these joints. Most tennis players experience strong, one-side dominance, extreme tightness of the internal rotators and a lack of strength of the external rotators of the shoulder. Since some important muscles have their origin (or insertion) on the complex formed by scapula, shoulder and clavicle, it is easy to understand that taking care of this area is a very important point and makes my role dynamic!
Working with tennis athletes can be challenging due to the travel demands of the sport. Athletes spend at least 50% of their season competing, which means they are removed from their training regime and facilities. It is surprising to note that many tournaments are hosted at locations that lack fitness facilities. This gives me ample opportunity to be creative with conditioning programs.
One part of my athletes’ routine that I am able to keep consistent is our warm-up that includes general and sport-specific movements, along with prehabilitation exercises. With all the data presented above, you can imagine the importance of keeping the muscles loose enough to maintain natural elasticity and to avoid stiffness that can impair mobility. Limited mobility can ultimately increase the risk of injuries.
The exercises described below are integral to the prehabilitation concept. All you will need is a GRID® Foam Roller and TriggerPoint™ Total Body Kit. Like IMG athletes, you can perform these exercises before your fitness session or tennis practice.
- TriggerPoint Pectorals Release
Items Needed: TP Massage™ Ball and Baller Block®
Why: Located between your clavicle and sternum, these groups of muscles help in two important actions; pulling the racket forward and across the body on the ground strokes, as well as stabilizing on the final motion of other strokes.
Set Up: Standing straight with torso elevated, place one of your arms out to your side. Bring your palm towards the chest. Place the TP Massage Ball in the hand, stacking the opposite hand on top of it, providing pressure. For additional pressure you can place the Baller Block between hands and TP Massage Ball.
- Pivot: Keep both elbows elevated, and build compression to the area moving the ball and area together, perform two pivots to the right and two to the left.
- Pull: Keep the compression. Now pull the ball and the muscle down and slightly toward the armpit. The massage ball should not move more than one inch. Return to the start and perform again. Repeat this motion for four total reps.
TriggerPoint Latissimus Dorsi Release
Items Needed: TP Massage Ball, Baller Block
Why: With part of the origin of this muscle attaching at the inferior angle of the scapula and its insertion at the humerus, this muscle has a very important role as an internal rotator and extensor of the shoulder on the overhead actions. For example, while taking the service you will find its activity during the following motions: cocking, acceleration and follow-through.
Set Up: Divide the latissimus dorsi muscle into two zones. Zone 1 is at the bottom of lat (in line with chest and half way to armpit, Zone 2 from the half way point to just below armpit. Leaning against the wall and applying pressure, raise your working arm overhead. Bend the opposite arm at elbow level, moving it across the body and locate the muscle. Position the TP Baller Block against a wall at armpit level. Place the TP Massage Ball at the center of Baller Block, leaning your body against the equipment.
- Pivot: Rotate your torso slightly back and forth on the TP Massage Ball. Two times to the right and two times to the left.
- Reach Overhead: Extend arm up overhead keeping the pressure against the tool. Repeat this motion for four total reps.
- Pull Across Body: Keeping the previous position, raise opposite arm, grab wrist of working side, and pull it overhead across body. Again, repeat this motion for four total reps.
Repeat for Zone 2
- TriggerPoint Thoracic Spine Release
Items Needed: Two TP Massage Balls, Baller Block, TP 2-Ball® Sleeve
Why: The muscles that we are focusing on are the lower trapezius and rhomboids, and part of the latissimus dorsi. Many studies have shown that the biomechanical mechanism for tennis elbow and other biomechanical pathologies of the arm and wrist are often set by abnormal action (changes in the vector of force) of the thoracolumbar region. This changes the mechanics of the entire shoulder-arm-elbow-wrist-hand mechanical unit.
Set Up: Divide the upper back into three zones. Zone 1 is 2” (5-6 cm) below the shoulder blade, Zone 2 starts at the bottom of shoulder blades; Zone 3 is the middle of shoulder blades. First place the two TP Massage Balls into the sleeve, and then lie back with knees bent placing the block behind the head. Lift the torso placing the two balls in the mid back region. Optimal area is contacting the T4-T6 vertebrae, you can find it directly in line with the sternum.
- Arm Reach: Raise the hips, extend arms up. Repeat this for four total reps.
- External Arm Rotation: Externally rotate arms and pause. Repeat this for four total reps.
- Internal Arm Rotation/Pivot: Internally rotate arms and hug the body. Slightly rotate torso on TP Massage Balls, returning to start position. Repeat this for four total reps.
Repeat for Zones 2 and 3.
- TriggerPoint Lower Arm Extensors Release
Items Needed: The GRID® Foam Roller
Why: Just below your elbow, all the muscles on the back of your forearm converge into a single thick tendon, the common extensor tendon. At the point where the muscles that extend the wrist and fingers converge, lies one of the most inevitable myofascial trigger points in modern civilization, many times related to tennis elbow. This area is very important for racquet grip and spin control, so it is absolutely necessary to keep the surrounding muscles loose.
Set Up: Divide the forearm into two zones. Zone 1 from the wrist to half way point to elbow; Zone 2- mid way to elbow. Stay on your knees sitting back on your heels, leaning forward with palms facing up, forearm placed on the foam roller. Roll forward extending your arms. Keeping the motion back and forth.
- Four forward and back rolls
- Four Cross Frictions
Repeat for Zone 2.
- TriggerPoint Chest/Anterior Shoulder Release
Items Needed: The GRID Foam Roller
Why: This complex of muscles is directly involved on the forehand swing and two-handed backhand swing.
Set Up: Begin by lying on your stomach, placing the GRID foam roller under your chest half way from your shoulder to your neck, at about a 45-degree angle from your body.
Action: To experience a full release of your pectorals, the goal is to roll across your shoulder joint, back and forth, from chest to arm. Apply firm compression on the GRID, rolling from a couple inches onto your chest, to a couple inches onto your arm. Perform four forward and back rolls, and four arm sweeps (extend arm laterally, palm facing down and sweep overhead.)