As many dedicated players know, tennis is tough on the body. This demanding game requires a great deal of strength, flexibility and mental concentration. Unlike sports such as running and cycling, where you move primarily in one plane of motion, tennis players use the same arm for forehand and backhand strokes, which creates disparities in muscle development on the left and right sides.
Yoga can balance out this uneven development.
Former professional tennis player, Marianne Witmeyer, didn't find yoga until after her pro career was over. It wasn't until after she had her third child and experienced back problems with sports that she gave it a try.
"As I progressed, all I could do was think of the number of injuries I could have spared myself had I incorporated yoga into my workouts while competing," Witmeyer said. "Now when I go out to play, I love the feeling of flexibility in my hips and back. I have more strength and racquet speed than I did in my 20s. I tend to be in a much better frame of mind and find myself using the breathing and focusing techniques to bring my heart rate back down after a long point."
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 also a game of strategy, and being calm, centered 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.
Yoga helps the muscles, tendons, and ligaments move through a full range of motion, thus cultivating balance and core strength which is extremely beneficial on the court. Try these three poses to up your game.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
This pose is wonderful for opening up the muscles surrounding the shoulder and hip joints-- areas that take a lot of stress on the court. You'll definitely find it easier to do on your serving side!
Sit on the floor, and if your hips are very tight, sit on a blanket or block. Cross the right knee over the left. Ideally, the knees are stacked, but that isn't a requirement. Adjust your feet and legs according to your level of flexibility. Hold onto a strap or a towel with your right hand, inhale and bend your right arm, reaching behind you with the hand coming between the shoulder blades. Exhale and bend the left arm, reaching up from underneath to grasp the towel or strap. The goal is to clasp hands without use of the towel or strap. Sit tall. To progress, fold forward. Remain here for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.