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How you can improve your tennis with Pilates

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

The global pandemic has meant most of us have been locked indoors for several months. If you're into a specific sport, this has been pretty tough! Several weeks ago, tennis & golf centres all over the UK were allowed to reopen - Hooray!!! It's been a wonderful turn around and tennis lovers are hitting the courts with enthusiasm. So I'd like to know, what are you doing to keep your body in tip-top shape to prevent injuries, and to win that game over your opponent? I think the answer is Pilates, and let me tell you why....

Pilates is a full body workout, focusing on strength and flexibility of the spine and joints, breathing correctly, moving mindfully with coordination, all whilst engaging your 'powerhouse' (what we call our core).

Pilates follows these 6 principles:

  • Breath

  • Concentration

  • Control

  • Precision

  • Centre (core strength) and

  • Flow

If you play tennis, you will recognise that all of these components are quite important for your body during play.

I hear very frequently, "Oh my friend/neighbour/doctor, etc told me to do Pilates. I suppose I should do more stretching", picturing a class full of bendy people wearing the latest Sweaty Betty gear lying on the floor. Errr, wrong! Ok, so perhaps you will see some fabulous Sweaty Betty outfits, and maybe some people will be super bendy (lucky them), BUT, you should be working hard in your Pilates class - enough to break a sweat.

Sure, flexibility is one element, but we use strength and stability to lengthen areas of the body. Pilates is all about opposition. You work one area whilst you are lengthening another. But mostly we are focusing on control and precision of movement. Also very important in a game of tennis!

"The Pilates Method teaches you to be in control of your body and not at its mercy." ~ Joseph Pilates

Tennis requires you have have not only great control, but great range of movement through your shoulders, spine and hips. You use your whole body, gaining power from the ground up. Powerful, explosive movements that start at the feet, travel up through the legs, hips and spine, and then finally through the shoulders and arms.

No-one plays a good game of tennis by standing square-on to the net, only swinging their arm to hit the ball. Stepping forward and back, or side to side like a retro arcade game. And if you did, you'd probably find yourself with some shoulder issues pretty quickly, not to mention the one buying the rounds after you've lost your game (ouch!).

Now let's look at the movements of the spine: Flexion, Extension, Side flexion, Rotation. How does this relate to tennis? Think about your forehand shot (keeping it very simplistic here, I'm no tennis coach!). You turn to the side, then you swing through and catch your racquet: rotation, flexion, side flexion and a little extension of the spine.

Serving, more extension, rotation and flexion.

Going for a low shot, lots of flexion - lots of stability, and rotation....You see where this is going....

Moving onto the pelvis. Remember in tennis we move from the ground up, right? The muscles that help stabilise the pelvis...the Gluteus Maximus, Medius and Minimus, the hip flexors, then further down along the chain the quadriceps and hamstrings, the calves, ankles and feet. Lots of lunging and single leg work, changing direction, running backwards for a long shot, forward for the killer volley shot. All of these movements require excellent strength, flexibility and stability of the pelvis, knees and ankles.

The shoulder girdle....well, where do I start? The shoulder is the most anatomically complex joint of the body, so it's really important we treat our shoulders with love and care to keep them healthy. We work the whole shoulder girdle in Pilates whilst connecting to your upper back at the same time. Whether it is through a range of various types of plank, push up, or simply reaching and floating the arms to make a hard move look effortless, working to improve range of movement whilst stabilising the trunk - Pilates has it all. Then of course there is the elbow, wrist and hand, also important to keep them strong for an injury-free season of tennis!

I work closely with clients on their specific and individual needs, and break down the exercises so they can be achieved by people of differing abilities. So whether you have a slight imbalance or a chronic issue such as lower back pain, achilles tendinopathy, tennis elbow, now is the time for Pilates to iron out those issues. Or perhaps you're in the best shape you've ever been and are ready to work your body in a different way. Pilates is literally for every body. All ages, shapes and sizes.

As a Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist working with general aches, pains and sports injuries, I feel my work as both a physiotherapist and Pilates teacher are the perfect match. Using my physio knowledge to diagnose an area of imbalance, helps me to know exactly which Pilates exercises you need (and not just to play tennis!).

I've gone from seeing clients move from regular sessions in the physio clinic with hamstring strains, tennis elbow, back pain etc, to the Pilates class. They stop complaining of those strains, pulls or aches when they start doing Pilates consistently. I know without a doubt, this beautiful strengthening regime is the key.

So how can you start? You can choose between Equipment Pilates in a private session (the gold standard!), or Matwork in a class setting.

What is the difference? Private sessions - you get all of the attention! You receive lots of feedback and corrections where needed. This is way the go especially if you have a specific injury or goal. Or you can join an online group class which is a great way to socialise and get stronger at the same time! (I am looking forward to seeing people in real life in a class as soon as it is safe to do so!).

Get in touch for a chat to learn more on how you can start your Pilates journey, and lead you on your way to improve not only your body, but your tennis game!


Phyx Pilates & Physio

MSK Physiotherapist and Certified Pilates Teacher

Cover Image Tennis Photo: by Julian Schiemann on Unsplash

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