Strengthening your core is one of the best and most overlooked ways to dramatically improve your tennis game. A strong core will help stabilize your body during sudden start-and-stop movements (which are very common in a typical tennis match), and it will also add power to your swing. Your core is much more than just your abs; it is comprised of several muscle groups including the pelvic floor, transverse abdominals, lower back and more. In order to get the most out of a core workout, you will need to include a well-rounded variety of exercises. Below are six exercises that improve core strength in tennis players by targeting several key areas to help provide you with optimal stability as well as greater muscular control.
Love 'em or hate 'em, crunches are a key element of a basic core workout. But are you doing them correctly to get the most benefit out of the movement? Be sure to keep your lower back as flat on the floor as possible when performing crunches; in other words, don't rock onto your upper back when lowering your upper body back to the floor. In addition, make sure not to go all the way up to your knees, or come all the way back down to the floor during your repetitions; both of these movements take the tension off your abdominal muscles, which is what you want to engage when performing the exercise. With crunches, the more limited the up-and-down movement is, the more tension you will actually put on your abs, and this is a good thing. Also, resist the urge to clasp your hands behind your head and pull yourself up by your neck; this can lead to neck strain, and places less emphasis on the abdominal muscles as well.
This classic fitness staple is regarded as one of the most comprehensive core-strengthening exercises around. While push-ups are famous for building up the chest and shoulders, they also engage your upper and lower abdominal muscles, as well as your upper and lower back muscles. For an even more challenging and core-burning workout, pull one knee into your chest (alternating legs with each rep) every time you reach the peak of the repetition.
Planks help to build stamina, stability and static core strength. To perform a plank, you will assume the same position as a push-up ot you can lower yourself so your arms (from your elbows to your wrists) are flat on the floor. Your job is to hold the plank position, with your back as flat and level as possible, for as long as you can. Most fitness experts recommend holding the plank for about 30 seconds for beginners, and up to 90 seconds for more advanced athletes.
- Bear Crawls
This is a rather demanding exercise, but as soon as you try it, you'll definitely feel your core being engaged. You basically perform a regular crawl (just like a baby), but without allowing your knees to touch the floor. Try to cover at least a 10-15 foot distance - more if you can manage it. It will also help to perform this exercise on a carpeted or padded floor, as bear crawling on a hard surface can get somewhat brutal after a while.
When performed correctly, this exercise looks like its name. Begin in a sitting position, with your legs straight out in front of you. Lift your legs to a 45-degree angle, focusing on keeping them straight, then reach out towards your shins with your arms, as you are able to do so. At the peak of the movement, your body should take on a V-shaped appearance. It is not uncommon for you to wobble at first before learning the proper balance necessary to perform the movement. To intensify the exercise, hold the "V" position for a couple of seconds at the peak of the movement.
- Back Extensions
This exercise helps to strengthen your lower back, an essential element of a solid core. Lay flat on your stomach, with arms down by your side (palms up). In a smooth motion, lift your upper body up a few inches off the floor, using your lower back muscles, and then gradually lower it back to the floor. You shouldn't try to crunch or jar your lower back, but rather perform a gradual movement up and down.
An important thing to remember is that it it okay to ease into these exercises. If you have difficulty with performing an exercise, you can experiment with modifications until you can build up your strength for the full-fledged movement. Perform the above core-strengthening exercises on a regular basis, and you will begin to notice a difference in your ability to control and perform a variety of athletic movements on the tennis court.