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Most Common Shoulder Injury

The most common shoulder injury in tennis (and every other racquet sport) is the aggravated supraspinatus, sometimes know as impingement syndrome or often simply as “a bad shoulder”.

Impingement syndrome causes pain in the shoulder when lifting the arm between 60 and 120 degrees sideways or when rotating the lifted arm inwards. It is a nagging pain that occurs because the supraspinatus tendon (the muscle under the roof of the shoulder) is pinched and aggravated when lifting and rotating the arm.

In most cases, it is an easy problem to fix requiring only some stretching (as the lady to the right is doing now) and some healing time. However, many athletes choose not to do what is required to resolve it and end up suffering needlessly for years. Some also end up quitting tennis because of it. “I had to quit because of a bad shoulder,” they will typically say.

As a coach, I encourage all of my players to include stretching of the shoulder’s posterior capsule (as in the video below) for five minutes at the end of every match or practice. Players who are diligent about this rarely suffering shoulder pain. Those who are not diligent, eventually run into shoulder problems and end up missing or losing matches because of it.

Stretches like these are what separate players in the I-play-to-get-fit category from the I-get-fit-to-play category. In other words, they are what separate dabblers from serious athletes. No truly serious athlete will allow a nagging and completely avoidable supraspinatus injury to keep them off of the court while recreational athletes will not only allow such an injury to develop and get worse, many will simply quite playing tennis because of it.

If you are a serious tennis player — or are aspiring to become one — consider adding some post match posterior capsule stretching to your post match routine. Your serve will thank you, your forehand will thank you and your backhand will thank you, too.

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Ouch!! Avoid Cold Weather Groin Pulls

Groin Injury
Groin Injury
It’s the end of March and spring is arriving across North America. For outdoor tennis players on the West Coast spring is already well underway. For players in the Northern US and in southern Ontario, tennis has been plausible if not convincingly possible everywhere for a couple of weeks now.

In Western Canada, where I live, hardcore players will begin hitting the outdoor tennis courts sometime in April. Nets are already up and waiting in many cities. Community nets will follow by about the middle of the month — weather permitting.

But is it wise to play tennis when the mercury is sitting at or below the 5° mark? Depending on who you talk to, that’s a debatable question.

Experts generally recognize five risk factors when it comes to groin injuries.

  1. Explosive movements
  2. Fatigue
  3. Tight groin muscles
  4. Overexertion
  5. Cold weather

Tennis requires explosive movements. Even players who are “just rallying” will often move explosively when a sudden burst of speed is needed to chase down a wide or shallow return.

Tennis also leads to fatigue and overexertion. And for many recreational players — especially those who have not spent the winter playing indoor tennis — their fitness level is especially poor at the beginning of the season when the weather is the coldest.

Cold weather, therefore, presents a real danger to recreational tennis players. The chances of suffering a level 1 or level 2 groin pull when the temperature is hovering just above zero is real and substantial.

Players must take great care to undertake a full and proper warm up. They must also be vigilantly aware of their body temperature, especially when playing rec-level doubles matches during which there can be long periods of little activity.

Whenever this happens, it is likely that their groin muscles will cool down and tighten up. At this point, the risk of suffering a muscle tear from a sudden, explosive movement becomes a very real possibility.

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Play Your Age and Avoid Injuries

Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Remember when you were 19? You were young and athletic, in the best shape of your life. You hit the ball as hard as you could; you ran as hard as you could. Injuries? Nonsense. It didn’t matter what you did to your body, it would heal in a few days anyway.

Playing in the heat? No problem. Forgot your water? No worries. Six hours on the court? No sweat. A half-dozen cold ones after the game could fix all of that. You were 19! You were indestructible!!

Too bad it only lasted a year. First you were 19, then you were 20 and now, suddenly, you are on your way to 40+. Yikes! That 19-year-old who used to sprint out wide and make those impossible returns now has a 30 pound fanny pack attached to his waistline — courtesy of too many years of too many post-match cold ones.

Injuries that used to heal in a few days now take a few weeks, sometimes a few months. And they long ago stopped healing fully. Now you’re lucky if injured body parts heal to 90 per cent of their former selves.

The magic number, 19, has come and gone. You are wealthier now and your life overall is better that it has ever been. But you are older, slower and heavier than you have ever been too. Your body’s healing cycle has changed as well. Things that you could once walk off now require REST, ICE, COMPRESSION and ELEVATION.

So have you changed the way you play? Have you changed the way you prepare to play? Or are you still acting like a 19-year-old — walking onto the court with no advanced preparation and ready to run and hit as hard as you can?

Take a moment and imagine that you are 19 and playing tennis again. Now imagine playing tennis at 19 with a 30 pound pouch tied around your waste. Would you play any differently?

Most people would. Running around the court with an extra 30 pounds tied to your body puts a lot more strain on your joints and connective tissues. The extra weight also changes your balance considerably. The heavier you are, the harder it is to stop and change direction.

Off court preparation, therefore, becomes critically important for older players who have been away from the court for awhile and have put on some extra pounds in recent years. Strengthening the small muscles around the knees and the rotator cuff in the racquet arm is absolutely essential. Core training, too, will help with balance and general injury prevention.

Is it necessary to hire a personal trainer? Probably not. For those who can afford it, it might be a good idea. But for the rest of us, fitness training at the community gym or the local YMCA will do just as well.

The important thing is to recognize that your age and weight have changed. So has your body’s ability to heal itself. So now, more than ever, it is important to do something off court in order to help you perform better — and avoid injuries — on court.

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Double Your Tennis Fitness

In the five years that I have been organizing recreational doubles tennis, I have heard many complaints from new players who say that they are not getting as much of a workout as they had hoped for. My response is always the same: if you’re not sweating, you’re doing it wrong.

Here are four things that you should be doing while you are playing doubles that are guaranteed to raise you heart rate, increase the number of calories you are burning and make you a MUCH better doubles tennis player.

Doubles Tennis Fitness Tip 1: Active Feet — Your feet should be active all of the time while playing doubles tennis. This is especially important when you are not hitting the ball or engaged in the play. Active feet will ensure that the fast twitch muscles in your legs are firing constantly and that you are prepared to move instantaneously when the ball is hit to you.

When the opposing team is preparing to serve, you should be shifting your weight from foot to foot. When the ball is sailing through the air to your partner, you should be should be doing the same. And, of course, your feet should be active when your opponent is setting up to hit a shot in your direction, too.

Active feet will raise your body temperature, increase blood flow to your legs and elevate your respiratory rate. Over time, your feet, your calves and your legs will become leaner and stronger. And since more lean muscle in your body creates a higher resting metabolic rate, you will continue to burn calories long after you leave the tennis court.

Doubles Tennis Fitness Tip 2: Split Step — Watch your opponents carefully while you play. Incorporate a split step into your movement each and every time they are about to hit the ball.rnrnA split step is a tiny but critically important detail that separates good tennis players from great tennis players. Watch the greats and you will see that they do a little hop and land on the balls of both feet a fraction of a second before the opposing player or team strikes the ball.

Like having active feet, adding a split step to your list of doubles tennis habits will raise your body temperature, increase blood flow to your legs and elevate your respiratory rate. It will also add increase the amount of lean muscle in your legs and help you burn calories and lose weight for several hours after you leave the tennis court.

Doubles Tennis Fitness Tip 3: Pick up the Balls — One of the best tips I can give recreational doubles players generally is to work up a sweat and to keep sweating throughout the entire match. Staying warm, especially if your opponents are not focussed on staying warm, can give you an enormous advantage over the course of a doubles tennis match.

Trotting to pick up every ball is the best way I know to stay warm during doubles. Loose balls lying at the net or at the fence represent missed opportunities to activate the muscles in your legs, back and core. Pay attention to recreational doubles tennis and I can guarantee you will soon begin to see a pattern: the team that leaves the most balls lying around during play is most likely to loose the match.

Doubles Tennis Fitness Tip 4: Serve and Volley — The final fitness tip I can give you is probably the best tip of all: learn to serve and volley. This is the foundation of good doubles tennis; it is also a way to significantly increase your calorie burn rate during doubles tennis.

Learn to serve wide to your opponent and then follow the ball in to join your partner at the net. Your tennis will improve and so will your overall fitness level.