Pilates for Racket Sports: Tennis And Squash
Pilates, says the writer Martin Amis, who does it twice a week, is the reason that he no longer groans when playing tennis. 'Pilates', says Elena Baltacha, one of Britain's top women players, 'helps with a lot of injury prevention. I'd recommend it to anyone.' Baltacha herself reportedly spends an hour a day doing Pilates.
In fact, our own opinion at Pilates Central is that Andrew Murray, the great hope of British men's tennis, would suffer far fewer injuries if he did a properly tailored programme of regular Pilates.
A growing number of tennis and squash players at every level for everything from injury prevention and recovery to rectifying muscle imbalance, improving flexibility and building core and stabilizer muscles.
Well-known tennis players who do use Pilates range from Venus and Serena Williams to Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati. Martina Navratilova says that Pilates has helped her body regain the flexibility of her prime, while Pat Cash, the former Wimbledon champion, still does Pilates as a key part of his fitness routine.
The Squash Player magazine, meanwhile, recently featured a full Pilates programme for squash.
Racket sports are by their nature one-sided. Most players repeatedly use the same hand and arm to hit the ball, generally in the same direction, with the head and neck usually adopting the same position in anticipation of playing a shot. Such pronounced left- or right-sided movements load stress on the structure of the body, producing a physique that is out of balance and more liable to break down with over-use injuries particularly prevalent.
Further problems can result from the fact that few tennis players have a bio-mechanically perfect serve. Repetitive, inefficient patterns of movement combined with the quest for power give rise to problems in the collection of joints that make up the shoulder. 'Tennis elbow', or inflammation of the muscle tissue and ligaments at the base of the elbow, is caused by chronic twisting of the arm plus repeated shocks to a small bony ridge on the outer elbow.
While even the best Pilates instructor may not help you serve like Venus Williams or Roger Federer, a programme of specific exercises will work the body more uniformly to prevent overdevelopment of one side, while also strengthening the deep abdominal muscles needed for a stable base from which to hit that winner. Addressing flexibility through the shoulders and upper back while lengthening the tighter front muscles of the torso will boost your power and range of motion - and make it easier to reach for that drop shot at the net.