Stretching and Yoga

Every tennis player KNOWS they should do stretching. And many do a cursory three minutes leaning on the net post before a match. But speaking as someone who has had very tight muscles and joints all his life, the value of regular and real stretching is significant.

The old mantra used to be: get fully stretched out before doing any physical exercise. And while the basic concept still seems to be valid, the current thinking is to change the type of stretching being done.

We all used to do “static stretching,” which had us hold a position and let the muscles and tendons stretch to their limits. As I am being told nowadays, that kind of stretching BEFORE and exercise can actually tire the muscles.

What is being recommended by trainers today is some “dynamic stretches” and a series of muscle warm-ups before you play; and then do static stretching AFTER you play. “Dynamic stretching” involves doing all the same stretches we used to do; but rather than holding the pose, you push to the limit for only one or two seconds, release, and repeat six times.

The “muscle warm-up” concept was taught to us by the trainer at tennis camp, who worked for years for as head trainer for a major league baseball team. He recommends “letting the big muscle groups know they are getting ready for some serious play time.” He believes in doing warm-up motions from head to toe, literally.

The actions cover all things from moving your neck side to side, waving your arms in a variety of motions, to body twists, jumping jacks, abbreviated squats, etc. Just picture what Rafael Nadal looks like when he first walks on the court, already glistening with a light sweat.

If you did no exercise or sports, stretching is still probably a good idea. But because you play tennis and possibly do other strength training, stretching becomes essential. According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of regular stretching are multiple:

Increased Flexibility – If you have flexible muscles, you can bend for the low volley, twist to get a ball behind you, and generally have a more fluid tennis motion on all your strokes.
Improved Range of Motion of Joints – In addition to improvement on the court, good range of motion will keep you in better balance off the court.
Improved Circulation – Stretching improves the blood flow to your muscles, which can help speed up your recovery after muscle injuries.
Stress Relief – The basic action of stretching relaxes tense muscles that often accompany stress.
Also according to the Mayo Clinic, some studies indicate that stretching helps prevent athletic injuries as well. However, some other studies don’t support that theory.

Do you stretch?

7 thoughts on “Stretching and Yoga

  1. When it comes to stretching….., the issue is when and why:

    This is perhaps the most important question – not only is it important that we choose the right type of stretch, but we also need to perform the right stretch at the right time.

    For example, I love dynamic stretching – but doing it before bed isn’t a great idea. Who wants to be fired up and neurally primed right before bed?
    Don’t answer that

    Or imagine an elite athlete getting ready to hit the field – do they want to static stretch (and calm their nervous system and relax their muscles) right before they go out and sprint, run or cut explosively?

    Here’s a general framework of when you should use each type of stretch:

    Use static stretches immediately before bed. This will not only help you relax but calm the nervous system and promotes better sleep. One exception could be to use static stretching before lifting sessions if the primary focus of your session/training block is improving mobility, or if you need to increase extensibility in a specific muscle group (i.e. the hip flexors).

    Use dynamic stretches pre-workout, or as part of a mobility circuit throughout the day.
    Immediately post-workout, stretch only muscle groups or areas that have been found to be short or too stiff in relation to adjacent segments.

    Hope that helps a little, and for what it’s worth…i would be very very careful with yoga. Sadly there are only a handful of really good teachers and thousands of yoga studios. caveat emptor….

    Marc – Good stuff! thanks george

  2. After five years of struggling with a chronic hamstring injury, I started some rigorous dynamic stretching before playing, and it’s a whole new ball game. Pain is almost all gone. Unfortunately, am now getting some tennis elbow flare up trying to make up for lost time. Sheesh!

  3. Some excellent points in George’s article and the comments. Some thoughts –
    First – evidence base research shows that there is no benefit (injury prevention or improved performance) to static stretching PRIOR to activity.
    Second – warm muscles are more mobile and perform at a higher level.
    Third – static stretching post activity is great even right before bed time.
    Fourth – Although Yoga and Pilates have their benefits, proceed with caution and gradually progressive program (don’t try to do what the instructor does the first few sessions.
    Fifth – cool down post activity can include some dynamic exercises and static stretching (evidence based research again).
    Sixth – strength training is another key element especially for the senior group.
    Finally – it is hard to find the time but if you want to give yourself the best chance of preventing injury and performing at your best, you need to do it! Thats my 2-cents. Larry

    Larry – Coming from a world-class professional trainer, great points! tks and see you at Newk’s. george.

  4. Because of an injury I couldn’t play tennis or run so I turned to yoga and pilates in a desperate attempt to maintain fitness. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Yes, some teachers are better than others, and yes, it’s smart to be careful and ease into the poses. That’s true of any type of exercise including tennis. I wish I had been more open-minded about yoga when I was younger. I thought it was wimpy, something women did. There are classes for all levels.

  5. Bill, make no mistake about it….I do believe in yoga and it’s many offshoots and modalities. I do it myself, BUT, I urge people to be very dilligent finding a good teacher.

  6. Bill,

    Agree with Bill and Marc, yoga (especially power yoga) and Pilates both have a place in any fitness program. Just be smart and always know that there is not ONE exercise,. ONE program, or ONE system that does it all. It has to be a combination of aerobic, anaerobic, strength, flexibility and SKILL to perform at your best!

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