01 Jul Yoga and Tennis – how an Ancient Practice can Help your Serve
“Yoga overall has made me stronger in all of my movements on the court. It helps me get my body behind the ball, especially on my serve and overhead”
Tennis can put extreme pressure on the body and its connective tissues. With each stroke of the racquet, you put great force on your shoulder, arm, and wrist. And the quick, multidimensional movements as you zigzag across the court impact your legs, hips, and spine.
Tennis is a one-sided sport, meaning one side of the body tends to be more muscled than the other. This dominant side gets more action, and this creates imbalance in the knees, ankles, and hips. Unequal development of the body can eventually lead to muscular misalignment resulting in pain in the back, hips, and even in the legs and knees.
A taylored yoga practice can be an important warm up and recovery tool to stretch tight muscles, encourage tissue resiliency, and address muscle asymmetries. Yoga cultivates balance and core strength which is extremely beneficial on the court, and helps muscles, tendons, and ligaments move through a full range of motion.
“For tennis players, it is vital to incorporate yoga poses that can build balance and symmetry on both sides of the body. Serving generates stress on the shoulders, and rotator cuff injuries are common. Therefore, focus should be placed on the shoulders to open up joints tightened from the forward pull of serves and ground strokes. Developing strength and length evenly will help counterbalance what happens on the court.”
Tennis is a mental game
“A big part of tennis is getting rid of inner chatter, so when you get into the match, instead of thinking, ‘Oh, I have to win this point,’ you have trained your mind to be still.”
Yoga’s emphasis on breath control and mind-calming techniques will add mental power to your game. Deep breathing exercises increase your breathing capacity while calming your mind. Correct breathing improves circulation and cardiovascular strength, but it also develops greater focus and concentration. Practicing yoga will train your mind to relax during a match, which will help you to play “in the zone” with all of your awareness on the game.
Try this simple routine before / after every match for fast recovery and to stay agile and injury-free:
1. Cat and Cow Movement
For warming up and stretching your back, do a few rounds of the Cat/Cow movement.
Start on your hands and knees. While inhaling, show your chest to the floor, and concave your spine, with the tailbone rolled upwards towards the ceiling. While exhaling, arch your back, press through the shoulder blades, and tuck your chin in towards your chest. Feel the muscles in your back, and take notice if one side feels tighter than the other.
2. Gomukhasana – Cow Face Pose
A great pose for stretching the outer hips and the shoulders and arms at the same time. Since this is an asymmetrical pose, you’ll be more able to feel the differences between the two sides, and modify your practice accordingly.
Start on your hands and knees, bring your right knee towards the hands, and take your right foot over the left knee. Your legs are crossed, and you can widen the feet so that you can slowly lower yourself between your feet. Sit on a block to make the pose easier on the knees. Take your right hand parallel to the floor, turn your thumb towards the floor and bend your arm behind your back. Take your left hand towards the ceiling, palm facing back, and bend the elbow to reach down.
If you cannot bring your hands together, you can use a belt to draw the hands into each other. Stay for up to one minute, then switch sides.
4. Pigeon Pose
The Pigeon Pose offers a deep hip opening position, stretching the quadriceps and hip flexors for the side of the leg which is pointed to the back.
Start on hands and knees, and slide your right knee between your hands. Be mindful of the right knee, and if the knee feels stressed, bring the right ankle closer to the hip. Centre yourself so that your weight is even. You can support the upper body with your hands, or lower yourself to your elbows, or even completely to the floor. Stay for 3 minutes on either side, then change sides.
5. Parivrtta Trikonasana – Revolved Triangle Pose
The Revolved Triangle stretches the spine, chest and shoulders. It also strengthens and stretches the legs and can improve your balance.
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your left foot back. Leave your right foot facing forward at 90 degrees, while you turn your left foot slightly outwards at 60 degrees. Square the hips towards the front of the mat, and place your right hand on your right hip. While inhaling, bring the left hand up, and upon exhaling hinge from the hips, twist and then reach forward and place your left hand on the outside of your right leg. Open your chest, and continue to gently twist the upper body towards the right, keeping your right hand on your hip, or extending it towards the ceiling. Take 6 breaths on either side.
6. Virabhadrasana II – Warrior II
The Warrior II Pose is great for strengthening the core and the legs, while also stretching the chest, hips and shoulders.
Step the feet apart. Turn the back foot inwards at 60 degrees. Raise your arms to shoulder-level, parallel to the floor, palms of your hands facing down. Make sure that the arms are aligned. While exhaling, bend the front knee and bring it over the ankle. If needed, move the toes of the front foot so that your knee and toes are pointing in the same direction. Open your shoulders, keep your body centred, both feet active and feel the strength of a warrior for 6 breaths on either side.
Most twists are excellent for tennis players. This seated spinal twist helps to keep the spine, hips, and shoulder joints limber and flexible. It provides relief from fatigue and back pain, and calms the mind.
Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you, arms resting at your sides. Bend both knees, placing the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Then, drop your left knee to the floor. Tuck your left foot under your right leg and rest your left foot alongside your right buttock.
On an inhalation, raise your left arm overhead. Exhaling, twist to the right against the inside of your right thigh. Place your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Keep your forearm raised, fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. To deepen the pose, lower your forearm and clasp your left knee. Reach behind your body and rest your right hand on the floor behind you.
Spiral your torso around your spine from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
With each inhalation, make your spine longer. With each exhalation, twist a little deeper.
Turn your head to gaze over your right shoulder.
Hold for up to one minute.
To release, exhale and unwind your torso. Come back to centre and extend both legs in front of you. Repeat the twist for the same length of time on the opposite side.
Finally, Tennis can throw your body out of alignment, particularly causing strain and injury to the elbows, wrists, knees, ankles, and spine. Yoga focuses on re-balancing the body, creating symmetry and alignment. These benefits result in a greater range of motion, increased strength, and reduced risk of injury.
Tennis is also a game of strategy, and being calm, centred and focused are vital for success in a match. The focus on yogic breathing and mind-body connection in yoga is essential in helping athletes develop mental acuity and concentration.