25 May Why Pilates for Tennis
With Rhonda Scott
Rhonda, formerly a Senior Pilates Instructor at Flex, has been playing tennis her whole life, but she took it up again more seriously eight years after having children. She noticed that she approached her movement and her shots differently when using her Pilates knowledge, seeing an improvement in flexibility and range of motion, her speed to shots and her endurance. And the following applies to any racquet sports, as well as rotational sports like golf!
I started doing Pilates after the birth of my first son and realised very quickly how my body not only looked better, but more importantly felt better. Pilates has definitely improved my tennis game as I am able to recruit my core and surrounding muscles, giving me a better game and fewer injuries.
How does Pilates benefit your game?
Pilates is all about core stability and lengthening or strengthening the muscles to give a strong body. As tennis is a fast, high-impact and all-over sport, Pilates enables me to recruit from my core and use other stabilisers such as obliques or glutes to increase my power or longevity in the game.
Pilates brings an overall understanding of the body and the muscles I need to use for different positions or shots. If I just used the same global muscles for every shot the body would wear out faster. This could lead to pain in my back or hip, or I could land the wrong way for the shot, causing further injury.
The ball toss is key to any serve and the strain on the back muscles is high if done incorrectly. Recruiting from my core muscles, obliques and lats helps me to get the power as well as accuracy for the serve. Otherwise, shoulder strain or back strain can occur.
The backhand requires a lot of torso mobility, from the foot to the hip and back to the shoulder. If I am not stable in my core the shot does not have full power and I will increase the level of injury to the spine. A strong core and back muscles is needed to get the full potential out of this shot.
Of course hand-to-eye coordination is paramount in the game of tennis, along with foot work. The forehand uses the full body, encompassing the deep core, adductors, obliques and glutes. Pilates gives my body a “learnt” understanding of how to get the most out of my feet and full body to execute the shot. It increases my power, but also the lightness of my feet to get to the shot overall.
Pilates and recovery
Tennis, like other rotational ground sports, pushes the body into a quick response-and-flight pattern. I am constantly sent in all different directions over the court and need to execute different shots one after the other. I know of a lot of people that have developed injuries from overusing the same muscles and find it hard to recover quickly. Pilates has enabled me to use my muscles more efficiently so I am able to recover for the next shot and also the next game.
Pilates has given me a more conscious mental state as I play. Pilates exercises require you to think and feel where you are in space, and for my game of tennis it has enabled me to think more in general, leading to an economy of movement. For example “What do I need to recruit so I am faster on the court?” or, “How can my serve be more accurate?”.
The breath is so important in any sport, whether it be tennis or my overall Pilates practice. A body that is tense and stiff cannot execute any shot or any Pilates movement well. As Joseph Pilates himself described, using breath patterns effectively gives “an internal shower to your organs,” therefore helping you play well and recover well!