We’ve all got our match-winning traditions; whether it’s the lucky socks that have never been washed or a special meal that led to a successful practice on a rough day. Who knows if these work or not (nobody argues about it though), but there is one aspect of getting ready that most have in common: stretching. But are we really supposed to stretch or is that kind of superstitious, too? It seems like a no-brainer; I mean, I’ve been told we should stretch before doing physical activity since elementary P.E. But after looking at some articles, I’m wondering if the hold-for-30-seconds stretching is really beneficial for playing tennis, a game that requires explosive muscular performance…
First, that kind of stretching is being called static stretching by researchers today. This is the classic touch your toes, flex your quads, etc. stretching. Most sports experts and physicians agree that stretching improves athletic performance and prevents injury. But apparently there is a wrong way to stretch… (who knew?) According to Dr. Ben Kibler, one of the medical founders of the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science, “static stretching can cause decreases in muscle performance for about 20 minutes.” 20 minutes?! That’ s a long time in a match… Oh but it gets worse. The New York Times gives the stats: “static stretching reduces strength in the stretched muscles by almost 5.5 percent” and “explosive muscular performance also drops off significantly, by as much as 2.8 percent.” You might say that’s not a big deal; but if you’re in a tight match, that small percent could be the difference between a win and a loss.
So should we even bother warming up? Yes…. But how? Dr. Kibler divides it into 3 categories: warm-up, dynamic stretching, and static stretching. Start with warming up: take your racquet out and start moving around the way you play using good footwork and putting your body through a full range of motions that you use throughout your game. This is when you’re checking to make sure you have good mobility, that your muscles feel good and ready to go. Mix in the dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching gets your blood pumping; you’ve probably incorporated exercises like this already into your routine like jumping jacks, quick kicks, jogging, different kinds of lunges, etc. This can go before and/or after the warm-up phase.
After you’ve played your match, it’s time to wind down and get into static stretching before you sit in your air-conditioned car for 20 minutes. It can seem pretty basic and boring, but there’s good ways to mix it up. You can use resistance bands for leg, shoulder, forearm, and core stretching. Static stretching should take longer, so hold each movement for about 30 seconds before switching. Aim for working on your flexibility which can really up your game by increasing your mobility.
Have you tried this routine? Let us know if you’ve noticed a difference in your game or if it’s all a bit of a stretch.
Check out more from Dr. Kibler and the studies I mentioned: http://www.tennis.com/your-game/2009/08/stretching-the-truth/17688/
Here’s that New York Time article you might want to take a look at: