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The Role Of Dynamic Stretching
by Matt Fitzgerald|
Historically, tennis players have used static stretching as a warm up for match play. But in recent years, the trend has shifted to dynamic stretching. Learn why...
Dynamic stretching involves a series of movements to reduce the tension across a joint or around it. Exercises designed to warm the spine and hips are an important part of match preparation, particularly for the taller players on the ATP World Tour, who have been on the rise over the past few years, says Dr. Gary Windler, orthopedic consultant to the ATP World Tour. “Although we haven't studied the statistics, there seems to be an increase in the number of very successful taller players in the game today, like Ivo Karlovic, John Isner and Kevin Anderson,” says Windler. “For the taller player, the ability to get down for the low balls requires both good technique (knee bend) as well as good flexibility, primarily of the hips and spine.”
Illustrating his example is 6’ 5’’ Belarusian Max Mirnyi, who Windler considers to be one of the most naturally flexible players on tour. “Mirnyi’s flexibility enables him to dig out balls returned low at his feet on his serve and volley and has helped him to be one of the top doubles players over the past decade.”
Mirnyi also fits the profile of the modern day tennis player, possessing a long and lean body type. But though many players on tour have similar physiques, there is great variability in both body type and flexibility between competitors. “Fernando Gonzalez, a former Top 10 player, has just returned to the ATP World Tour after undergoing hip surgery. He has a naturally strong and muscular body type and can hit a forehand as hard as anyone in the game,” Windler says. “But, muscular players like Fernando also tend to be less flexible. A flexibility program and warm up including dynamic stretching are particularly important for those players with a more muscular build.”
Why Shift From Static To Dynamic?
In contrast to dynamic warm ups, static stretching entails isolating a muscle through a certain position and then holding it in place. The stretch lasts for 20-30 seconds, and two to three stretches are done in a particular area to try to improve the flexibility of that joint by lengthening the muscle. But according to Todd Ellenbecker, Director of Sports Medicine for the ATP World Tour, the use of static stretching prior to match play may hinder performance.
“Research studies have shown that static stretching has been found to produce a short-lived decrease in muscle performance,” says Ellenbecker. For example, if someone does static stretching with their legs, he may not have explosive jumping ability for up to an hour after he does that stretching. With dynamic flexibility, you don’t have that loss in muscle strength.”
Windler states the main advantage of dynamic flexibility is applying exercises to tennis specific movements. “Rotational exercises are a good example of dynamic flexibility. The rotation of your lower spine and hips is a common movement in tennis, such as moving to strike a forehand. This gets the muscles working, increasing the blood flow to those muscles that are going to be an important part of your tennis game during a match.”
Andre Agassi relied on dynamic warm ups to offset his innate stiffness. “One of the greatest players of all time, Agassi, was known to be less flexible than most other players on tour, but he compensated for his lack of flexibility extremely well in his technique using small quick steps to the ball and short backswings,” explains Windler.
“Unfortunately, his career ended with him suffering from severe back pain. Could improved flexibility have helped to prevent his back problem and also made him an even better player? One can only wonder.”
It’s Meant To Be Short
Although there are no injury concerns when it comes to dynamic flexibility, it’s meant to be done over a short period of time, asserts Ellenbecker. “You don’t want to get tired doing dynamic flexibility to the point of fatigue. It’s a safe method to use on court, but is intended for a short-term period of about 10 minutes. If you tire yourself out with your dynamic warm up, your performance will be altered in a negative way.”
Pre-Match Warm Up
Ever wonder why your coach forced you to play five minutes of mini tennis before starting your lesson? Now you know – it’s a common dynamic flexibility exercise. “Playing in the service boxes, mimicking the strokes and hitting at a soft pace gets the body going,” Ellenbecker says. “A warm up is important because you want the body to be prepared when you hit a ball hard or run vigorously across the court.”
Don’t Eliminate Static Stretching
While a dynamic warm up is recommended before playing, static stretching still has a place in a tennis player’s workout program. It’s an important technique to increase range of motion around joints, but needs to be used at the right time. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” declares Ellenbecker. “Generally after finishing a match or practising, players have areas that are tired or feel tight. This is a good time to work on the area using a static stretch. We just don’t do it before playing like we used to do for years.”