Many of us at the recreational level have an end goal of winning. But at what cost? I see many people with braces on their knees or arms and in obvious pain when they play. The winner of the matches at a recreational level is a trophy at best. This "winning at all costs" mentality caused a lot of injuries while I was playing in my twenties. Most of the injuries didn't last too long because of my ability to recover, so I just simply ignored the aches and pains. After more serious injuries (knee injury and ruptured disk in back), I took my health much more seriously and realized a few things that have made me feel a lot better when being active. What I am alluding to is that it may be wise to reevaluate what a win is as a recreational tennis player.
For example, I played pick-up basketball a couple of days ago in the morning and then trained for tennis in the evening. Walking off both courts with no injuries was a win for me. Also, waking up and feeling great was another win. Knowing that I can push myself to do a lot of activity and not pay for it the next day has given me the confidence to know that I know what I'm doing :-)
It wasn't always like this as I mentioned before and now that I'm injury-free and physically fit to stay active, I do not want to go back. Let me share with you a few tips so that you can allow you to enjoy your tennis more and also not pay for it the next day.
Tip #1: Relax
This is the hardest thing to teach with words. I often will grab a player's hand that I am teaching with the racquet in it to feel if there's any tension with their swing. Another way to look for tension is how someone follows through. The racket should finish in a natural slowing stop not a jerking one. Many players will try this and say that they feel like they lost control of the racquet. That is what it should feel like at first because in essence that is what you are doing. I joke that players with tights grips have trust issues. A tight grip will not only give you ineffective strokes, but also increase the likelihood of injury.
Tip # 2: Engage The Right Body Parts
Players that complained of knee or back pain often do not realize why this is occurring. Most likely the culprit is the lack of engagement of the correct muscles. For tennis players, we tend to use our quads way too much. This is the opposite of what we should do on the tennis court as we should try squeezing our glutes and engage our hips when turning to hit the ball. The best way for you to feel that is to have your toes face the net and simply keep them turned that way as you rotate your upper body to the left or right without moving your feet. You will feel it in your glutes and hips. Also to minimize back pain, start engaging the stomach so it takes over the front of the movements rather that your back. To do this, think about sucking in your stomach and tightening it while you swing. These are just examples of what to do to engage the right parts of your body to minimize injuries. They will not feel natural at first as it did not for me but after a while it will feel much easier to do without thinking.
Tip # 3: Work Out With Impact In Mind
One thing that I notice with workouts is that many feel like it needs to be a tough ordeal and they should feel very tired at the end. If you are an athlete who plays at least one sport regularly, this is not the case. For example there are no football players at the professional level that work out with a CrossFit regimen. This is because their sport is so hard on the body already that they know better to make it even harder with workouts. They will isolate muscle parts to strengthen them so that they can take on the brutal beatings they get during games. This should be the same idea for tennis. Think about working out by putting less pressure on your joints. Running should be shorter such as doing sprints or alternate running and walking rather than long distance. Fast movements in the weight room should be changed to slow and deliberate ones. Focus on engaging the right parts of the body while performing the exercises that are essential to keeping you strong on the tennis court while also allowing you to perform all the hard movements that a tennis player goes through in a match.
Tip # 4: Eat Right
I like to keep my meal plans simple and consistent. Most of us like variety in our foods so if that is you, just keep one thing in mind when creating your meal plans. "Earn your carbs." For example, I will have simple carbs to eat before a workout and something with sugar and protein in it for recovery but throughout the day I limit my carbs because all they do is provide an opportunity to gain weight. Try to eat as many vegetables as possible and minimize your sugar intake. Don't drink your carbs meaning only water and tea and possibly a cup or two of coffee throughout the day and that should be it. The last weight you are carrying around you, the easier it will be on your joints. Your organs will also have a much easier time functioning when you are giving them proper nutrients.
Overall Theme:. Choose Your Identity
I tried to keep things simple in my life in regards to taking care of myself. Something that has helped me is to create an identity that I want to be that allows me to make the right choices throughout the day. If I see myself as a professional tennis player (although I am not), I will act accordingly. If I think of myself as a professional couch potato, I will also act accordingly. Try to pick an identity that you would feel proud of being and after a while you we'll see results from the consistent actions you have done. They will become easier to do as they become habits for you to be doing without much effort.
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