By Liz Reid
It’s time for tennis again as Wimbledon started last week of June! It’s such a quintessentially great British affair, loved by so many and really cements the heart of the summer season.
Watched by millions across the world, it’s a treat to have access to view this entertaining sporting tennis and arguably best tennis tournament on our TVs daily for 2 weeks. Wimbledon, whether you are a regular fan of tennis or not, instils excitement for all things summer; picnics, outdoor cinema, BBQs, festivals, weekends away and enjoying time outside in the long, warm heady summer evenings.
Tennis is a sport which demands a lot from the body. It requires not only fast reactions but accuracy and skill in controlling the ball in play, strategy, strength and stamina. Some professional games can last hours. The record for the longest match was between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut, during Wimbledon 2010 on Court 18, which lasted a colossal 11 hours and 5 minutes! (Source: Wimbledon AELTC). This match length was a historical first of course but most tennis matches last a few hours, so endurance is vital.
The game of tennis demands a lot from the body, including good control. Huge forces occur through the body as shots are delivered and received, with tennis ball serves reaching well over 100mph regularly. The hamstrings, which are muscles at the back of the thigh are relied upon hugely and are very powerful, voluntary muscles, which you control how they move and when they are activated. The hamstrings consist of three strips of muscles and enable your hip and knees to move. So, when walking, running, sitting or squatting, the hamstrings bend the knees. They also help you to tilt your pelvis, which is important for movement. So, if your hamstrings are the correct length, movement should not be restricted but if hamstrings are tight, usually from sitting down too much, they can pull your pelvis so it tilts too far forwards when you walk, stand or run, which then puts undue stresses on the back.
Professional tennis players will need to ensure that their hamstrings are kept in good check and at the correct length so that they minimise the risk of injury to them. Pulled, torn or bruised hamstrings can severely hinder the ability to run, walk and even stand, so it is critical for professional players to look after them and keep them not only strong but flexible. Pilates is excellent at keeping hamstrings at the correct length or improving them if they are tight and is extremely effective post cardio exercise or after playing sport.
Not only do professional tennis players need to look after their hamstrings but the Achilles tendons are really important. When playing tennis and even badminton or squash, there is a huge risk of the Achilles being damaged or even snapped if the player comes to an abrupt stop. If the foot locks down and brings the body and legs to a sudden stop, the energy and force from such an explosive movement, cause serious injury to the Achilles, which could be as damaging as a broken leg! A snapped or torn Achilles tendon can take around 6 months to heal, which if you’re a professional tennis player, can leave you out of action or playing on the court for a year!
So, it is important not only as a professional tennis player but if you play similar racket sports, to look after your hamstrings and Achilles Tendons in particular and Pilates is the answer.
Pilates exercises such as ‘The Roll Up’, ‘The Neck Pull’, ‘The Side Kick’, ‘The Push Up’, The Leg Pull’, ‘The Control Balance’ and ‘The Spine Stretch’ to name quite a few, all help to not only lengthen the back but specifically target lengthening the hamstrings and stretch the Achilles Tendons, providing relief also to the calf muscles, which from use in exercise, can get quite tight and can often cause cramp.
With the regular and proper practice of the original 34 Pilates Mat work exercises, you can keep your body in shape, toned and strong, with lengthened hamstrings, and good Achilles, which all help improve your balance, coordination and control, giving you the freedom of movement to play an Ace in whatever sport you play!