Tennis is a great competitive or social game that keeps you fit. It is a game you can play and enjoy for many years. But playing regularly can be tough on your body and mind. You may have read or seen that many of the top professionals have adopted specific yoga for tennis routines into their training. Can yoga for tennis benefit your game, whatever level you are playing at?
Tennis is a sport that requires your body to be flexible and strong and challenges you mentally. Yoga for tennis will improve your flexibility and joint mobility creating a stronger physical foundation. It will also refine your focus and mental game allowing you to play in the zone more often.
There was a misconception that yoga for tennis was only valuable for older players. Fortunately tennis training has really evolved in the 2000’s. Many more players are focusing on their health, preparation and recovery than ever before. They are also more open to addressing the mental side of their game and looking for ways to enhance that area. While you may not be able to afford the support team the professionals have, you can use the power of yoga to make major improvements to your game.
Flexibility and Stretching
Flexibility training is quite often underrated and underemphasized in training programs. The reason for this is that the tangible outcomes are tough to quantify. There is no obvious direct gain in size or speed but indirectly it will impact your ability to develop more power and speed. Flexibility gains reduce the amount of energy you require to move around the court or jump for a serve. The other benefits of good flexibility are:
- Improvements in joint health
- More efficient and effective recovery
- Greater muscle relaxation
- Reduces muscle tension
Embarking on a yoga for tennis stretching program you can experience all the benefits of good flexibility and enhance your tennis game. Your muscles will become more pliable and less likely to shorten over time. Shortening muscles means the bones are closer together and this will limit the movement in your joints.
Your joints will also be more healthy with better integrity. Better flexibility leads to more efficient and effective recovery from playing or injuries. Static stretches after a long or tough match will reduce muscle soreness significantly.
Yoga Stretches for Flexibility
The target areas of your body for improving flexibility and joint mobility are the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors. Stretching your glutes are important because they are active during every step or jump you take on the court. Aim to stretch out your hamstrings after every intense practice session. It will significantly decrease the risk of injury especially to the lower back. Also it reduces the onset of delayed muscle soreness the following day. Many tennis players have tight hip flexors and to avoid multiple injuries, stretch them out as often as possible.
Yoga for Tennis – Glutes and Hips
Shortened and tight glutes is a very common issue for lots of people, especially athletes. The harder you train the more demand you put on your poor glutes. Daily stretching will ensure that you keep your glutes evenly flexible and strong. They will also help to address the issues caused by the one-sidedness of tennis.
Your dominant side will always do more work as your serve, volleys, overheads and forehand shots are hit with your dominant side only. Over time, this dominant side of your body gets stronger, bigger, and tighter. These imbalances can be addressed by doing the following yoga for tennis stretches that target the glutes and hips.
This pose will get your glutes and hamstrings firing, while also engaging your core and warming up your lower back. It offers a nice stretch for the upper and front body.
How to: Begin lying face-up on the floor, knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your heels on the floor, raise your hips until they are in a straight line with your shoulders and knees. Hold hips parallel to the ground for a three breaths before lowering down.
Chair pose requires a lot of effort for you to hold yourself up using only the strength in your legs. Focus on putting as much weight in your hips and backside. It is a strong, active pose that strengthens the ankles, thighs, and calves, as well as the spine.
How to: Stand straight and tall with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Inhale and lift your arms, stretching them straight and parallel with wrists and fingers long. Keep your shoulders down and spine neutral.
Exhale as you bend your knees, keeping your thighs and knees parallel. Lean your torso forward to create a right angle with the tops of your thighs. Keep your neck and head in line with your torso and arms. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Pigeon pose is a powerful stretch for releasing the glutes and the hip flexors. It works as a hip opener and forward bend, stretching your thighs, groin, back, piriformis, and psoas.
How to: Begin in a tabletop position. Bring your right leg forward and sink down so the outer edge is resting on the floor. Extend your left leg behind you, keeping your hips angling toward the floor. Hold for 60 to 90 seconds, then step your right foot back under you and repeat on the left leg.
Yoga for Tennis – Hamstrings
Having strong hamstrings isn’t enough for playing tennis. Your hamstrings must also be stretched so you can attain, and maintain, as much range of motion as possible. When you run your hamstrings play an important role in support and force production. On the tennis court, if you need to turn and recover to the baseline, your hamstrings play a key role in your ability to slow down and change direction efficiently.
Training and strengthening your hamstrings reduces the likelihood of injury. The hamstring tear is one of the most common injuries. Yoga for tennis stretches for the hamstrings should be dynamic before a workout or match and static after the activity. Incorporating the following stretches will improve range of motion as well as strength in your hamstrings
Alternate Hamstring Stretch
This hamstring stretch helps to get the blood flowing to your hamstrings and calves.
How to: Plant both feet on the floor, hip-width apart. While keeping your legs straight, bend forward from your hips and reach for your toes with both hands (or as far as you can). Rest your hands on the mat, feet, or on your shins — whichever is most comfortable. Press further into your left heel and bend your right knee. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating between right and left for 60 to 90 seconds
Walking Toe Touch
This is an active and dynamic hamstring stretch in which you’ll walk and stretch every step.
How to: Start by taking one step forward. Plant the heel of the front foot, keep the toes up and straighten out your knee. Reach across your body with the opposite hand to touch that toe, then stand up and step forward with the other foot, repeating the stretch on that side.
This pose will deeply stretch the back of your legs. It will also help improve your balance, mental function, and circulation when performed correctly.
How to: Start in a standing position with your feet together. Move your left leg three feet back, making sure that both legs remain straight. As you move your foot, your left hip should rotate forward so that your feet are parallel, facing forward. Maintain this position and slowly bend your chest forward toward your right knee. Hold this pose for one minute, and then repeat the steps on your other leg.
Active Range of Motion
The top professional tennis players can really do some funky things with their bodies on the court now. You see players sliding on hard courts and contorting their bodies like never before. Just watch a Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams match, they’re essentially doing the splits on a regular basis. While at the same time smacking a groundstroke back at 100mph! That type of mobility requires more than a few passive stretches done daily. Stretching that improves your active range of motion will bring improved athletic and non-athletic performance. You will also reduce the risk of injury.
Common Tennis Injuries
There are many reasons why you might get injured while playing tennis. Issues range from improper training volumes, imbalance in strength and poor mechanics, A limited range of motion especially in your hips and shoulders increases the risk of injury. Tennis is a repetitive sport with specific patterns of movements requiring repeated muscular contractions. The result is restricted and shortened joint capsules, ligaments, muscles and tendons. Your active range of motion will be severely limited and have a higher risk of injury.
Improve Active Range of Motion with Yoga for Tennis
Your active range of motion is related to how your joints move. There are a number of factors that impact your joints movement:
- Dexterity – Subtle transitions support and improve your overall movement leading to a greater range of motion.
- Injury Free – Inflammation, tears or any injury of soft tissue around joint will limit the range of motion and mobility of it
- Joint health along the chain of movement – If a connecting joint is injured it will have a ripple effect on other areas of your body. An example would be in your serving motion. If your elbow joint is injured it will impact your shoulders range of motion.
- Strength of surrounding tissue – Ligaments, muscles and tendons around the joint need to be strong enough to support joints when they are moving
The key to improving your active range of motion with yoga is to vary your practice. Poses that increase the mobility of hip and shoulder joints can be challenging. Use props like blocks and straps to make them more accessible and they will assist you in holding the pose for longer.
Poses for Hip Mobility
Your tennis game will benefit greatly with improved hip mobility. Tight hips can lead to a lot of lower back pain and limit your movement around the court. Therefore tennis players also benefit from opening the hips and hamstrings to help with the rapid movements done during practice and games.
Stretches the front of the body, particularly the abdomen, chest, hip flexors and quads. This is a backbend that improves spinal mobility and overall posture.
How to: Start on your knees with your legs and feet hip width distance. Place your hands behind you as if they were in the back pocket of your jeans. Engage your core and press your hips and thighs forward. Lift your chest and reach back touching your heels with your hands.
This is a pose that really opens your hips! It is a great stretch for the hip flexors, hamstrings and quads. Doing Lizard regularly will improve the mobility of your hips and strengthen muscles in your legs.
How to: Begin on all fours in Downward Dog. Step your right foot forward to the outside edge of your right hand, coming into a lunge position. Lower your left knee to the ground and press into your hips, keeping your arms and back straight. From here depending on your flexible you have the option to lower onto your forearms
Bound Angle Pose
This pose stretches the hips, groins, knees, and inner thighs. It also stretches the groin, the ankles and feet, and strengthens the back. Sit on a rolled up blanket or two to elevate your hips.
How to: Sit comfortably and let the knees open to the sides, drawing the soles of the feet to touch and the heels in toward the pubis. Open the feet like a book, and hinge at the hips to fold forward any amount.
Poses for Shoulder Mobility
Your tight shoulders will weaken them over time which will lead to neck strains and other upper body injuries. A common shoulder pain for tennis players is shoulder Bursitis. Bursitis is inflammation of a sac of fluid called a Bursa. Increasing your range of motion in this complicated joint, and the strength in the tissues surrounding it, can alleviate pain, stress, and future neck or back issues
Cow Face Pose with Tennis Racquet
Excellent pose for improving range of motion and stretching the rotator cuff. It will also demonstrate how different the sides of your body are. You will probably find it a lot easier to connect further up on your racquet on one side than the other.
How to: Grab the top of your racquet with your right hand. Reach your right arm up over your shoulder and down your back. Place your left hand at the center of your lower back and grab the handle. The key is finding a position where you can relax the shoulders with a gentle stretch. If you’re a right handed-player, hold for 1 minute; switch sides and hold for 2 minutes. If you’re a lefty, hold for 2 minutes with your right arm up; switch sides and hold for 1 minute.
This pose strengthens and stretches your shoulders, arms, upper back, and legs. Dolphin Pose is an excellent whole body workout, especially when held for longer durations.
How to: Start on your hands and knees. Bring the forearms to the ground, shoulders over the elbows, fingers facing forward placing the hands directly in front of the elbows, tuck the toes about hip distance apart, lift the hips and belly toward the sky, and focus on lengthening the spine. Let the neck relax and head freely fall from the shoulders.
Shoulder Release Pose
Another excellent pose for stretching out your shoulders. It also opens your chest which can help improve your breathing during a tennis match.
How to: Begin by lying on your stomach with the right arm outstretched long, palm facing down. Place the palm of the left hand next to the chest, and start to roll onto the right side of the body. Deepen the stretch by bending your left knee and stepping the left foot outside the right thigh. There’s also the option to clasp your left and right hands together; a strap can help you move toward the full clasp. Hold for at least three minutes, and then repeat on the opposite side.
Warm Up Exercises for Tennis
Your best preparation for playing tennis, for practice or a match is a dynamic warm up, This type of warm-up will prepare your upper and lower body effectively. Tennis requires constant stopping, starting and the rigors of moving around the tennis court. In a dynamic warm-up you will be moving as your stretch, which it has the following advantages:
- Better activation of the muscles you will be using when you play
- Enhance your muscular performance and power
- Improve your body awareness
- Increase your range of motion
Your dynamic warmup should be structured and focused. It’s not a 5 minute casual stretching routine. It’s a workout that should take approximately 15-20 minutes depending on weather conditions. You should be ready to play when you have removed your outer clothing or get a light sweat. The body parts your dynamic workout should focus on are your back, calves, hamstrings, hips, IT band, knees and rotator cuff. Completing a thorough workout will help prevent injury, improve coordination and your overall performance.
Yoga Poses in Dynamic Warmup
A good dynamic warm-up consists of two or three stages.
Stage 1 – Light Aerobic Warm-up
The purpose of this stage is to raise your core temperature and get your muscles more elastic for the workout. This can be light jogging, biking or skipping that will increase your heart rate/temperature.
Stage 2 – Soft Tissue Work on a Foam Roller (Optional)
An optional stage that can be very beneficial when your body has chronic tightness and tension. Or if you have a history of injury or overuse which is relevant for tennis. Foam roller can be an effective tool at reducing muscle soreness and help to increase range of motion.
Stage 3 – Dynamic Warm-up exercises
Your warm body is now warm, you are ready to put your body through some dynamic stretching movements. They will gradually loosen your muscles and lubricate your joints. Many of these stretching movements are yoga based:
This yoga staple is a great dynamic warm-up exercise for strengthening your upper body while opening up the back and front of your body. Go through 5 flows at a nice and easy tempo.
A dynamic stretch based on Lizard pose which will open up your hamstrings and hips.
How to: Start in a push-up position bringing your right foot through to the outside of your right hand. Sit your hips down and feel the stretch, then return to the starting position and repeat with your other leg. Go for 10 reps total.
A dynamic version of the Downward Dog where you walk your feet and hands out. Excellent for both the upper and lower body, targeting the entire backside of your body and extending your body into a pushup position.
Twisting Reverse Lunge
Your balance will be challenged as you open up your hip flexors and stretch your abdominal muscles.
How to: Begin in a standing position then take a long step back with your left foot, drop down into a lunge, and then twist and extend, over your right leg. Then, return to standing and repeat with the other leg/side for a total of 10 reps.
Another yoga staple, it is an exercise that will loosen your glutes and open the tightest of hips. Unlike a traditional pigeon where you hold the position for a few breaths you alternate between legs once you feel the stretch.
Rest and Recovery
Tennis’s dynamic nature means rest, regeneration and recovery through yoga is essential. Intense engagement in sports can be a huge strain on the body. So it is important to balance that with rest and recovery. Restorative yoga helps tennis players recover faster from any particular strain.
Restorative Yoga Poses for Tennis
Restorative yoga poses for tennis players elongates the muscles spent so long contracting, so it is a great counteraction. Yoga props like blankets, blocks and even chairs and walls provide extra support. They help you release the grip of muscular and mental tension. The following restorative yoga poses are great for tennis players to use in rest and recovery.
How to: Place one block or cushion at the top of a yoga mat and another block or cushion about a foot and a half farther down. Lie down on your back with one block or cushion under your head and the other under your shoulder blades. Lay arms out to the sides and lengthen legs. Hold for 5 to 8 minutes.
Supported Bound Angle Pose
How to: Place a bolster or cushion lengthwise on a yoga mat and one block on either side of the mat. Lie down with your back resting on the bolster or cushion, legs bent, knees resting on the outer blocks, and bottoms of feet together. Hold for 5 to 10 minutes.
Supported Lounging Pigeon
How to: Place one block or cushion at the top of a yoga mat, one at the center of the mat, and a bolster or folded blanket lengthwise farther down. Lie down with head resting on the top block or cushion, ribs resting on the other, left leg bent with foot under right hip, and right leg extended, resting on the bolster or folded blanket. Rest forearms to the sides of the head. Hold pose for 3 to 5 minutes, then switch sides and repeat.
Supported Vertical Leg Extension
How to: Place a folded blanket on top of a yoga mat and a bolster against the wall. Sit on the bolster with one shoulder touching the wall and in one movement, rotate your body to lie down on the blanket and rest your legs straight up on the wall. Rest your head on the mat with arms out to the side or on the chest. Hold for 5 to 20 minutes.
Yoga for Mental Focus
Many tennis games are won or lost in the head. By developing your mental focus you will be able to remain calm in tough scenarios. Tennis strategy and mental tips are parts of your tennis game that you can learn off the court. Your game can change drastically by applying a new strategy, think in a new way or know in advance how to deal with a stressful situation in a tennis match.
To achieve a mental edge in the game yoga teaches you the technique to control your breathing. With the help of ‘pranayam’ you are able to relax your mind before the onset of a tough match. Pranayam also helps improve your cardiovascular strength and increases your blood circulation. When you are completely relaxed, you are completely aware of all aspects linked to the game.
Yoga poses for tennis players helps to enhance flexibility and stability. They help balance your core muscle groups and ensure that you achieve a better body balance. Yoga poses for tennis players ensure the development of stamina and achieve symmetry on either side of the body. The poses will strengthen your lower body and ensure that you are always full of energy. Finally, yoga helps tennis players to achieve full body coordination and prevent sport-related injuries.