Want to improve your overall performance as a tennis player? How's your core? The importance of having a strong core cannot be overemphasized. The most productive way to strengthen your core is to do exercises that require all of your core muscles to engage and work together in unison. You want all of your core muscles to be accustomed to working together, which they do naturally when you play tennis - stabilizing you, giving you momentum and power behind your swings and keeping your lower back protected from injury. This isn't to say that you shouldn't target each muscle group separately with certain exercises, but here are three simple yet highly effective exercises that will strengthen your entire core area.
As the name suggests, the core is comprised of all the muscles in the center or "trunk" of your body, including your upper and lower abdominal muscles, your lower back, hips, pelvis and obliques. Core strength for tennis players is essential for a number of reasons:
- A strong core will help keep your body stabilized, especially when performing the explosive stop-and-start movements and quick directional changes that are common to tennis.
- Strong core muscles greatly improve your balance, and they help to sharpen your awareness of your center of gravity, a crucial element to tennis-specific athleticism.
- When you have a strong core, you are able to generate stronger momentum with your swing, which allows you to execute your shots with more power and speed.
- A strong core will help prevent common tennis-related injuries, such as straining the lower back muscles.
Planks are perhaps the most popular--and most hated--core exercise in existence. To perform a plank, get down on the floor and assume a position similar to a push-up, except you will support your upper body on your elbows, with your forearms flat on the floor. You can keep your hands in whatever position is most comfortable, but try to keep them in line with your shoulders. Now lift your midsection off the floor and keep your legs straight so that your body assumes a perfectly straight and flat shape (like a plank). Your hips shouldn't be sagging and your back shouldn't dip down in the middle. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and then rest. Perform three sets of these 30-second planks, and when you begin to get stronger, try holding the plank for 60 seconds. Try to keep your abdominal muscles engaged and tight throughout the process. Your body may shake a little bit, but just do your best to breathe normally and relax. You'll know that your core is getting stronger when you can hold the plank for two minutes straight without resting.
2. Advanced Plank with Arm and Leg Lifts
When the regular plank becomes a little less challenging, now it's time to add a little advanced technique into the mix. Assume the regular plank position, but this time lift your right arm and extend it straight out in front of you, while at that same time lifting your left leg and extending it straight out behind you. Then switch to extending your left arm along with your right leg. If you can hold these extended positions anywhere between 2 to 5 seconds each, you're doing great!
3. Bear Crawls
Bear crawls are another core-strengthening (and core-torturing) exercise that will also greatly improve your upper-body strength, which is essential to your tennis game. The basic premise of the bear crawl is to propel yourself on all fours without allowing your knees or elbows to touch the ground. Give yourself a good amount of open floor space for this one, and bear crawl forward for roughly 15 to 20 feet. Then turn around and bear crawl back to your starting point. You will only need to do this one time to begin feeling the burn in your core as well as your arms and shoulders. If you want to step up the difficulty a notch, bear crawl backwards for the same distance; this will place an entirely different type of demand on your muscles, and will help you develop certain muscles that you don't frequently target with other exercises.
The three core-strengthening exercises listed above are excellent because they're uncomplicated, they require no special equipment and they are all highly effective. In addition, each of these exercises will improve your coordination, balance and patience, all of which definitely come in handy on the tennis court.