Tennis is a “multi-planar” sport. By that, we mean it is played in any number of directions, with speed and agility. These directional changes are performed hundreds, if not thousands of times during a long match. Pilates conditions the body in multiple planes, in alignment and with coordination. For the tennis player, this kind of training produces strength, agility, and flexibility, while at the same time, encourages injury prevention.
The majority of movement in tennis is lateral, which requires proper balance, and lower body and core strength. Most of us are familiar with Pilates exercises for core strength, whether performed on the mat or on an apparatus. However, balance is a profound result from Pilates training that often goes unrecognized. By working the core of body, the abdominals, obliques and back muscles, we create a corset of strength and flexibility that responds effectively to split second decision-making, whether during a tennis match, or even during everyday activities. During play, these muscles are constantly challenged to their maximum capacity. Switching directions suddenly, yet with control, leads to winning shots, if not an entire game. For example, a tennis player needs a stable base of support to perform an effective tennis stroke while sliding on a clay surface. A skillful slide movement is essential. The energy expended by the player is lower than taking multiple smaller steps to cover the same ground. The abdominal and oblique muscles are recruited to maintain that slide and see it successfully to the stroke.
Pilates works both the smaller and larger muscles, as the smaller muscles stabilize your joints, which lessens the risk of injury. Lateral recovery movements require a great deal of stability during play, and especially for a long game. The faster the recovery, the better. Movements such as a lateral cross-over (front/back) or shuffle recruit muscles such as the gluteus maximus and medius, adductors and abductors—all of which would benefit from the multi-directional leg and hip exercises done on the Pilates apparatus, which uses progressive resistance (the springs on the equipment).
Proper footwork is crucial for movement on the court. Footwork requires agility, precision and speed. Gait does play some part in this as well, supination and pronation aren’t corrected with Pilates; however, they are supported and strengthened to compensate for gait faults that may affect play. There is also specific footwork in the Pilates repertoire that address the feet and provides conditioning for the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves simultaneously. Tapping into these exercises will provide the tennis player with efficient, explosive, smooth and quiet footwork on the court. Noisy footwork means more running than what is necessary!
The proof is on the court, as 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray practices Pilates and has been photographed on a Cadillac stretching. He credits the repertoire by citing it as a key factor that supports his tennis game. Control, flexibility and power are as vital to lateral movement in tennis as they are in the Pilates repertoire, and gained by performing low impact movement that taps into every tennis player’s needs.
Lori Ettlinger Gross
<p>After 20 years of practicing Pilates, Lori Ettlinger Gross became a BASI PILATES-accredited instructor for mat and all apparatus in 2012. She also has an Equinox Mat Pilates certification, and is working towards her Tennis Performance Trainer certification through the International Tennis Performance Association. Lori is also an author, freelance writer, and retired attorney. Her appointment-only studio, Sweatstyle Pilates is located in Great Neck, N.Y. She may be reached by phone at (516) 644-8808 or e-mail <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.</p>