An estimated 17.9 million people play tennis in the United States, according to the Tennis Industry Association (TIA), making it one of the most popular sports in the country. Unlike many sports that have set duration times, tennis matches can go several hours. The sport demands much from its athletes, with repetitive strokes and movements that can stress muscles, joints and more, and make individuals susceptible to injury. So what can a devoted tennis player do?
As a Resistance Training Specialist (RTS), President and Director of Education at the Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE), the key is be mindful about the frequency of playing, intensity of effort and recovery. Muscle spasms, continued soreness, joint aches and pains, and muscle tightness are all potential indicators of overuse, as well as a change in performance is a strong indicator that the athlete needs a break.
Unfortunately, more times than not, athletes tend to ignore their bodies method of communicating and continue training and playing as the nervous system finds solutions and often creates compensatory movement patterns which may lead to further musculoskeletal concerns. Soreness is a sign of overuse. The human body cannot differentiate a “good soreness” from a “bad soreness” as many people believe; this is just not true. The longer recovery takes can be an indicator of just how much trauma the tissue has been subjected to. Little to no soreness is a fair determent of efficient training, as opposed to the mindset of no pain no gain.
Returning to sports after injury
All injuries have unique characteristics–if you get hurt and you’re not seeing a reduction in pain and return of function, it’s essential to be evaluated by a healthcare practitioner (chiropractor, physical therapist, and orthopedist) and then follow the treatment protocol. Recovery is essential to an effective comeback. An athlete must understand that an interruption is better than a termination. An athlete should be prepared that this is part of playing a sport—sometimes suspending activity so you can resume with less chance of reoccurrence.
When an athlete gets injured, there is a fear of losing one’s skill(s) because he or she is not practicing. But your skill will not go away. You may need to work to return to your previous levels of strength and endurance, but the skill is something that is nervous system related, mapped and patterned in you neuromotor memory. Additionally, there is much research that points to the benefits of visualization training during recovery.
Although there is not a single program for success that works with every individual, sometimes an athlete doesn’t reach their peak performance because they’re over-trained, over-stressed and potentially not receiving adequate nutrient load. He recommends avoiding preservatives, processed and fast foods. Being mindful of not only physical stress, but emotional stress as well. The addition of the practice of mindfulness and meditation are very helpful and effective.
The static stretching myth
There is a difference between stretching and warming up … toe touches and shoulder circles have nothing to do with preparing for your sport. The best activity preparation is the activity. It actually prepares the body for the activity; in addition you’re training the nervous system in skill acquisition as you are increasing tissue temperature, circulation and joint lubrication. Start slow and be thoughtful as the intensity of activity is increased. Modulate the intensity based on how the body feels.
Perfect your practice
Practice makes perfect is not really the whole story. Skill acquisition and proficiency from a practice perspective is based upon perfecting the practice. Without identifying the inefficiency of a movement pattern and the cause(s) of it, practice will only reinforce less than desirable adaptations. There are three phases of skill acquisition according to Attention and Motor Skill Learning (1964; Fitts and Posner, 1967): “The cognitive, associative and autonomous stages. The cognitive stage is characterized by the exerciser trying to figure out what exactly needs to be done. Considerable cognitive activity is typically required in this stage, in which movements need to be controlled in a relatively conscious manner. The associative phase is characterized by ‘more subtle movement adjustments.’”
The movement pattern becomes more consistent from trial to trial and due to neuromuscular adaptations, the movement becomes more economical. Lastly, the autonomous phase, after repetitive execution, the individual reaches the autonomous phase (termed “motor stage” by Adams, 1971), characterized by smooth, synchronized and seemingly effortless motions, with few variances or errors. During the skill development phases, it is essential that the “input” be precise and accurate. When practice or play isn’t proving to be efficient, sometimes it’s beneficial to take a step back and take a break. With a little less expectation of the performance you might enjoy the process more.
Vincent Carvelli, B.S., R.T.S., C.P.T. is President, Director of Education and Resistance Training Exercise Biomechanics Instructor at the Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE), an education, continuing education and nationally-accredited personal training certification organization. For more information, visit AAPTE.org.