Besides nutrition and proper equipment, should amateur players also focus on general aerobic conditioning and muscle strengthening?
Amateur players are typically of two types: Young children whose parents chose the sport to encourage fitness and learn a new game, and executives of the age 30 +, who have now settled in their career and have time and money to pursue a hobby. Young children are at the risk of Over-Training as coaches may push them to perform better (eg. if a particular child has a weak service/ forehand, he may be asked to keep practicing the stroke to perfect it!!). The young / not so young professional is probably very competitive in his approach to everything, and is likely to be overenthusiastic. Both are also likely to be “Unfit” in all three major aspects of fitness, i.e. Cardiovascular or aerobic fitness, Muscular strength, and Flexibility. This puts both of them at a higher risk of injuries.
All players, whether professional or amateur, need to develop a basic fitness level to prevent injuries.
Which muscles in particular should be strengthened?
Muscles surround joints and bones, and usually occur throughout our body in sets of 2 opposing groups. One group is always slowly relaxing while its counterpart is contracting. Hence muscles have to be balanced in terms of strength and flexibility, to enhance performance and prevent injuries. For tennis therefore, it is important to strengthen all large muscle groups. Added emphasis can be given to:
- Wrist flexors and extensors
- Shoulder, especially the very important rotator cuff muscles
- Lower body muscles
- Abdominal wall, core and the scapular stabilizers.
How important is it to include flexibility exercises in the regular exercise regimen?
Flexibility should be the foundation on which all exercises rest. Flexibility is important in all sports, and more so in sports like tennis, where power and speed are important. Long and strong muscles can function better than short and weak ones. Short muscles are also more likely to tear/ get injured when suddenly stretched.
What are the common complaints that a player must watch out for and report- pain in the elbow, neck or back ache etc?
“Tennis Elbow” is a well known tennis related injury. This is pain on the outside of the elbow. Another elbow injury to watch out for is “Golfer’s Elbow” (Pain on the inside of the elbow). Shoulder injuries, especially to the rotator cuff muscles or the Labrum (covering) of the shoulder joint are common because of “Overuse”. Knee injuries and chronic “Tendonitis” in the cord of the Quadriceps muscle is common due to the repetitive lunge movements, and high level of stress to these areas. Besides these, wear and tear of ankle joint, stress fractures of the shin, and low back injuries can also happen.
If not a regular player, should a person get their technique assessed by a coach so that does not lead to physical complaints?
Professional help will always benefit the player. The correct equipment, shoes, technique, playing surface, and good professional advice on “sport-specific” physical training will go a long way towards preventing injuries and improving your game. Please remember that everybody does not need help with technique, and sometimes “over-correction” may lead to increased risk of injury/ over-training to perfect shots. Use good sense and a “moderate” approach.
Any other important points that you would like to suggest.
It would be advisable to start the coaching/ practice only after an evaluation of basic fitness parameters is carried out. Gradual increase in training time, a sensible exercise plan to promote strength and fitness gains, regular fitness tests and injury-prevention methods should be incorporated. This will ensure that the amateur athlete is off to a good start, and any underlying medical/ fitness related issues are taken care of at the earliest.