Healthy feet are necessary for a top athletic performance. In every step you take— running, stopping, and changing directions—your feet are carrying your body and assisting during the movement. You push off the ground and the forces are transmitted upward in the kinetic chain to your hips and upper body.
We often overlook—or even worse, ignore—our feet. If you do fitness training to improve your performance, I am probably right to guess that you don’t give much training time to your feet. With the modern footwear, there is no demand on the small intrinsic muscles in the feet. They eventually stop working correctly and over time, the feet become dysfunctional. Wearing improper shoes accelerates the problems: flat feet, fallen arches, bunions, painful toes, inflammations, stiff ankles, hammer toes, heel pain, swollen feet… not a happy picture, yet very common. All this can be avoided with proper foot training.
When you strengthen your feet, you will become suppler, move faster, and your performance will rapidly increase. The Czechoslovak researcher (yes, my compatriot!), Dr Vladimir Janda, who pioneered and developed many ideas that are foundation for the rehab principle to this day, found out that after only 7 days of 15 minutes a day of foot strengthening, the glute activation speed increased by 200%. That is really impressive, taking in consideration that your glutes are the powerhouse to all your movement!
Everyone needs to find 15 minutes a day to grant some care to the feet. You can do the exercise while watching TV, listening to a lecture, having a meeting at work, or standing in a grocery line. One of the most potent strengthening exercises is Dr Janda’s Short Foot Exercise.
Short Foot Exercise
When mastering this exercise, you will improve the control over your intrinsic feet muscles, which will help to create more stable base of support for your legs, hips and the entire body. The exercise can be difficult in the beginning, because you won’t be able to find or control those muscles. With little practice, you will be able to do it any time and in progressively more difficult exercises.
Stand on your foot and transfer some weight on it. Observe if your arch flattens out and if the foot becomes longer. The weaker the intrinsic muscles, the more action you will see. The main idea with the exercise is to make your foot shorter through a higher arch. Do not curl your toes or turn your foot outward! You will be very tempted to do so, when you feel that you have no control over the correct muscles. Focus and look for them. Once you find how to control them, practice any time you have a moment of standing. Shorten your foot, elongate. Shorten, elongate. Always keep your metatarsals down on the floor.
When this becomes easy, make the exercise harder by transferring your body weight on that leg. Another level of difficulty is doing this Short Foot exercise while doing single legged squat or deadlift, or balancing on one leg while throwing/catching a ball.
1) Besides strengthening your feet, pay attention to the mobility of your ankles. The angle between your flexed foot and shin should be around 25 degrees. If it’s less than that, keep stretching your calves and Achilles tendons.
2) Test the flexibility of your plantar fascia (bottom of your feet). Flex your foot to about 5 degrees and you should be able to flex your big toe about 30 degrees. If your toes are not flexible, your running gait is not efficient. Stretch your big toes by kneeling and tucking your toes under your shins, then transfer your bodyweight toward your heels. Place your glutes on the heels and stay in that position while pleasantly (or probably not) stretching your toes.
3) Work on your balance. Stand on one foot and pay attention what your feet muscles are doing. They should be “pro-active”, maintaining actively your balance. If you have problems standing still and constantly moving and adjusting from the inside and outside of your foot, then your muscles are not strong enough and you need to work on your balance more. Perform this exercise, preferably barefoot, up to 15-20 times a day, for about 30 second each time. When you get stronger, you can stand there longer (1-2 minutes) and less often. Close your eyes to increase the difficulty, or use Airex Pads or similar.
Other simple foot exercises can be found in past articles. Take as good care of your feet as the other muscles in your body. You will be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Prevent Inflammation, Recover Faster, Perform and Feel Better
To be able to train with higher intensities (harder, more often, longer), you have to recover properly, or you will run the body down and won’t improve as much as you could. With increasing age, the recovery time prolongs. You feel more fatigued and experience sore joints and muscles. If you don’t recover properly, you risk a future injury. For ageing athlete, this process becomes slowly more and more irritating. You want to improve your performance, but you have to slow it down.
There are options what you can do:
2) pay attention to healthy nutrition—a lot of plants (veggies, fruits, grains, legumes), low on fat, and without chemically or otherwise processed foods.
3) include one good supplement that focuses on the recovery for athletes—a combination of high quality Omega-3s, vitamin D and a super powerful antioxidant Astaxanthin is a great combo. I used to buy these separately, from different companies and made my own concoction. Not too long ago, I found a company focusing specifically on athletes, and they have just what I needed, in even better proportions that I could mix myself.
Athlete’s Best Premium Omega-3 Plus supplement has been proven to reduce recovery time in athletes of all ages, in many different sports. Even athletes involved in high contact sports, such as football and boxing have noticed shorter recovery times. They are not as sore even after big hits from opponents. The astaxanthin and Neptune Krill Oil (NKO) in the formula has been proven to decrease post-exertion recovery time and decrease soreness after physical activity. They both reduce recovery time by reducing the lactic acid in your muscles, which is an unwanted byproduct of physical exertion. Lactic acid is the “burn” you feel during strenuous activity. It can limit stamina and increase the time it takes to recover. In a 2001 health survey exploring the effects of astaxanthin on exercise, 88% of participants using an astaxanthin supplementation reported improvement in muscle and joint soreness related to having less lactic acid build-up in their muscles. Even aging athletes see an improvement in recovery time.
Astaxanthin has been shown to improve athletic performance for athletes of all ages. Astaxanthin is one of the most potent anti-inflammatories out there. In 2001, Dr. Andrew Fry of the University of Memphis studied the effects of astaxanthin on healthy athletes who would typically experience exercise-induced joint soreness. He gave young male subjects astaxanthin for three weeks, while they performed strenuous workouts, and then evaluated them for knee pain. The placebo group experienced post-training knee soreness, lasting up to 48 hours after their workouts. But the treatment group showed no increase whatsoever in knee joint soreness following workouts. [Fry, A. (2001) "Astaxanthin Clinical Trial for Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness." Human Performance Laboratories, The University of Memphis, Report 1, August 16, 2001.]
Even a tennis elbow—a pesky inflammation in the elbow joint, that many players experience occasionally—heals much faster. Regular use of the supplement can prevent the initial inflammation, so you won’t experience any injury or pain. A study by the Health Research and Studies Center involved giving tennis elbow sufferers an eight-week course of astaxanthin. The treatment group showed a 93 percent improvement in grip strength, as well as decreased pain. Astaxanthin does not only reduce pain and inflammation in the tendons, it also affects the muscles of the body and the joints. Doctor Gregg Cole, UCLA Professor of Medicine and Neurology, reported: “While anti-inflammatory drugs usually block a single target molecule and reduce its activity dramatically, natural anti-inflammatories gently tweak a broader range of inflammatory compounds. You’ll get greater safety and efficacy reducing five inflammatory mediators by 30 percent than by reducing one by 100 percent.”
(Note: remember to pay attention to your shoulders if you feel aches in your elbows or wrists. Make sure to get them functional with these 3 simple exercises)
Natural anti-inflammatories, such as astaxanthin and Neptune Krill Oil can reach a much broader range of the body. This means that not only will the anti-inflammatory reach your tennis elbow, it will also reach, for example, your sore wrist, or another part of your body that is experiencing inflammation but not yet showing symptoms. This broad range of anti-inflammatory prevents injury rather than just easing the pain of an existing injury. So instead of taking a drug to reduce pain, or stop doing your favorite activity because of the pain, or having to get surgery to fix an injury caused by inflammation, try preventing it and arming your body with the powerful anti-inflammatory effects in Athlete’s Best Premium Omega-3 Plus.
Mike Adams, also known as The Health Ranger, is widely recognized as a leading advocate for health freedom and his website receives over 4 million unique visitors each month. Mike says: “if you want to stay alive and healthy, while helping prevent chronic degenerative health conditions, I strongly recommend these three supplements: astaxanthin, vitamin D, and omega-3s”. He goes on: “if we wanted to turn America into a nation of healthy, intelligent people with genius children and highly productive senior citizens, we would want to hand out vitamin D, astaxanthin and omega-3 supplements to everybody. It could literally revolutionize the future of any nation!”
Other reported benefits reported with using our Premium Omega-3 Plus:
- Improved Stamina & Strength
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Get your Omega-3, vitamin D, Astaxanthin supplement for only $1 per day, it is so worth it.
Train harder, play better, get leaner, and most of all, feel better!
Buried deep in a trunk, the psoas muscle connects the lower and upper body together. With his helper iliacus, psoas muscle is more known as “hip-flexor”, aka iliopsoas. Psoas assists in walking upright, standing up and in almost every athletic movement.
The psoas muscle may seem like one long muscle passing multiple joints, but in reality it contains on average 11 muscle fiber branches attaching to different bony sites (high up to thoratic spine, down on lumbar spine and on the femur). The psoas has superficial and deep layers and in between, there are embedded many nerves. If (or we should rather say “when”, because it is matter of time if you don’t take a good care of it) psoas starts “misbehaving”, it will cause many aches and injuries.
Psoas’ main function is to flex the hip (lift the leg) and stabilize the spine (preventing the vertebrae from rotating in the frontal plane). For the spine and hips to move naturally, freely and without pain, the psoas has to be able to lengthen. And here is the culprit: the majority of modern population has a chronically tight (short) psoas.
We sit too much. Besides the short bursts of fitness activities, we sit at work or school, we sit in the car or public transportation. We sit while eating, watching TV or socializing. Many people sit 10-12 hours a day! During sitting, the psoas is constantly in contracted position and becomes chronically tight. When you stand up, the short psoas prevents you from perfect alignment while standing and walking.
Many of us move straight from school or office to the tennis courts or other fitness activities and perform high intensity training with misaligned structures. To add insult to injury, many activities additionally shorten the psoas: cycling, spinning, stairmaster, treadmill or sitting in the weight machines. No wonder that the majority of population has problems with lower back, pelvis and hips.
Psoas on the treadmill
Walking or running on the treadmill is one of the top fitness activities and an addition to a cardiovascular fitness program of a tennis player—unfortunately, not the best one for the already compromised psoas. The natural gait pattern is through a hip extension, where you push off the ground using the backside of your body (glutes, hamstrings calves). The treadmill changes the natural pattern to one with greater hip flexion. Because the treadmill belt is rolling from under you, your feet have no resistance when they push off. Instead, you have to lift your leg out and up in front of you, recruiting the already too tight psoas. If you run a lot, make sure to dump the treadmill and get out to the nature as much as you can. (Reference: A kinematic comparison of overground and treadmill walking )
Psoas at the desk
You cannot just stop going to work or school, but you may change your working position. The standing desks are becoming more popular, even though the price levels are still high. You can create your own standing desk by adding a special stand or even a simple shipping box on the top of your desk. For me (I am 6 feet tall), the 15x10x12-inch box does it perfectly. $2.
Another option is kneeling by your desk. I use the Airex balance pad (see it here on Amazon), which you can use for strengthening your intrinsic feet muscles and balance as well! I donated my big comfy office chair and purchased a simple stool (see it here on Amazon), that I can easily slide under the desk while kneeling or standing. The stool also allows me to keep good posture while sitting and if I feel adventurous and need a more stretch in my hips, I can sit on it with crossed legs (half lotus or lotus).
Psoas on the floor
The Asian populations (and other non-western populations) have the great habit of sitting on the floor. They sit with crossed legs in lotus or pigeon positions, their hips are beautifully flexible and they have no issues with tight psoas and lower back pains. They also sit in deep squat position and look extremely comfortable, because their joints are fully flexible. This is something we should work on more and if you have a moment, while watching TV or socializing, why not sit or squat on the floor? By the way, the 15x10x12-inch box is perfect for the laptop while sitting or squatting on the floor.
Psoas stretching and myofascial release
All the above measures may seem a little bit drastic or weird if you are more conservatively inclined. But believe me, only a few days of reducing the sitting time will make you feel so much better. And if you keep stretching your quadriceps and do hip-flexor myofascial release, the change will happen even faster. You will notice that your athletic performance will increase, because when your hips, pelvis and lower back get better aligned, your movement and force production will be more efficient.
During my research on standing desks, I found this great website: IKEAhackers with tips how to improve or create anything possible. If you are skilled with your hands (and love IKEA), you must definitely check it out for new ideas. They have a few ideas on standing desks.
Final thought: it’s all about perspective…
The holiday season is here and the good intentions to exercise daily and eat light are gone. “Tomorrow… I’ll be good tomorrow.” After many “tomorrows”, the New Year will be knocking on the door and you have a long list of resolutions: a new fit body, healthy living, multiplied income, tons of free time. What an excellent 2013!
Many big goals create chaos in your planning because you don’t know where to start. Let’s start small. Let’s start just with one easy thing: eat less at your last meal of the day. After many months of overeating, this will create nice lightness in your body and a new motivation to stay focused. Now, if I told you to get lighter by eating more noodles and pasta, you would think I must be on a holiday sugar high, right?
Pasta, together with other starchy carbs (bread, potatoes, cookies, rice) is traditionally a no-no for the health conscious person who is on a mission to get fit and lose some unwanted weight. How about if I told you about a delicious pasta that has zero calories?
Maybe you have heard about the Japanese noodles called shirataki. Many different brands of shirataki build the base of the low-carb diets. Even though I believe more in a balanced nutrition, I also believe that a nice zero calorie pasta meal after several months of overindulgence is a perfect addition to your New-Year-You.
I have tried many shirataki brands over the years and they were ok. Nothing that I would get super excited and write a whole article about. Just recently, I came across the Miracle Noodle brand, and I must say that they are super yummy. So delicious that I ordered three 30-packs and have been creating all possible pasta meals, in many different forms. Even a sweet variation that reminds me of European noodles with poppy seeds (recipe). Many of my students are now eating the Miracle Noodles and I am so excited that I have decided to write an article so I can tell everybody who could be interested.
The noodles are made from Konjac root (see all about Konjac on Wikipedia), the source for the natural fiber glucomannan. Konjac root has been used in Asia as a part of healthy diet for long time. The konjac root is processed into edible form and is all fiber. That’s why the noodles don’t have any calories.
They come in a little package filled with fluid that to some people may smell a little bit awkward, maybe fishy. I don’t mind the smell, and it will go away quickly. Preparation is fast: put the noodles without the fluid into the pan and heat them. That’s it! Prepare your dishes in any form you like; use the Miracle Noodles just like you would use a regular pasta.
Just be prepared that they don’t taste completely like wheat, egg or grain pasta. They look like pasta, they have similar texture like pasta and they have no calories and no carbs. Don’t expect them to taste like Italian spaghetti, rather create your sauces and additions such that they will carry the taste of the meal. The fiber (glucomannan) will make you feel physically full while you are not adding too many calories. You can reduce your total calories in the pasta dish with 400-500! The fiber also reduces the glycemic index of your meal, which is great for all the people who have to control their blood sugar.
There are a lot of different kinds: fettuccini, linguini, rice, angel hair, penne, and much more. My personal favorite is the green spinach angel noodle. It has a few calories thanks to spinach, but I do enjoy the texture (chewy) and color. I very highly recommend trying them. You will need to figure out what kind you like the best, but once you do, you may never stop eating them, long after achieving the desired results of your fitness transformation.
I like to use my Miracle noodles meal for the last meal of the day, because I love to eat a lot, and at least when I use the miracle noodles, I won’t ingest too many calories late in the day before I go to sleep. Add your miracle noodles to your nutrition now, or get ready for the New Year and start strong!
The company has an offer 12% off all orders until December 24th with coupon code ‘Holiday12‘, and always free shipping. Take an advantage of the offer and load up so you can be ready for your New-2013-You.
Tennis Serve Secrets — a Holiday 50% off Offer From Jeff Salzenstein
If you previously missed your opportunity to snatch Jeff’s excellent Tennis Serve program at a discount, he is now offering a holiday discount of 50% plus two special bonuses: Serve Strategy Bonus and Instant Serve Cures. Once you purchase your Tennis Serve Secrets (here), send a receipt to Jeff at email@example.com to get your two bonuses and extra edge on your serve. Jeff believes in his program so much, that he offers that you can try it for a month and if you don’t see benefits, he will refund you your money. That’s confident, isn’t it?
Happy holidays and the best and fittest 2013!!!
Strong glutes are a candy for the eye. Functional glutes are even better—they keep our performance high and prevent possible future overuse injuries. You use your glutes in every step you take (when you push off and extend your leg behind your body). On the tennis court, you start, stop, change directions all the time, and in all those movements you use your glutes. Or, you SHOULD.
What can happen—and we see it more often than one would want to believe—is that the glutes don’t function correctly, either because they are too weak, or inhibited. Or often both. It can happen without you even noticing. If you sit a lot, your hipflexors get too tight and short and that can inhibit the glutes. When you exercise with weak/inhibited glutes, other muscle groups will have to compensate to create the desired movement and they will have to do more work than what their job is, and eventually get overused. They get tight, short and develop painful trigger points. All this can sneak on you without even noticing. Unless you have read my book and pay good attention. :-)
When you start noticing that some muscles are getting tighter/shorter than normally, there’s something not too good going on. A warning light for you! In the case of weakened glutes, the muscles that may become overactive and tight are the adductors (inside of the thighs), lower back, hamstrings and calves.
Your immediate plan of action should be:
- Stretch the hip-flexors and quadriceps, calves and the adductors
- Do myofascial release for all of them
- Strengthen the glutes
In previous articles we mentioned great exercises for glutes: squats and jumps, lunges, stiff-legged deadlifts… They are great, however, if your glutes don’t fire correctly, they may not fire in those exercises either. You need to do something more concentrated just on the glutes.
Gluteus Medius – Monster Walk
For the gluteus medius, do the monster walk exercises with the rubber band. I carry a band in each bag or purse so I am always ready if I have a moment. You can do a few monster walk sets before your tennis practice to reconnect with your glutes, and then afterward you can do a bigger glute workout. Perform the moster walk with bend legs and just for fun try to have your legs completely straight—it will feel differently and hit more your TFL muscle.
Gluteus Maximus – Hip Extensions
For the gluteus maximus, perform prone (laying on your stomach) leg extensions. Make yourself comfortable laying down, bend one leg, relax your hamstring and lift your knee toward the sky. Hold the top position for 1 second and then slowly reverse the movement. Repeat 15-20 times, and change sides. It is very important to relax the hamstring and drive the movement from the glute. You can also do this exercise with straight legs as a variation, but if you don’t feel connected with your glutes, go back to the bent-knee version.
Another variation of this exercise is lifting the bent leg from the glute and hold it in the top position for 20 seconds. Yes, twenty… two-zero… it’s a long time if your glutes are not very functional. By training them this way, they will get stronger, and 20 seconds will feel easy eventually. Change sides and repeat 10-15 more times, or until you lose the connection with your glutes or get bored. ;-)
Kneeling Hip Extension
Get down on your hands and knees. Keep your back and hips parallel with the ground, bend your one leg 90 degrees in your knee and with relaxed hamstrings drive the heel and knee toward the sky. All movement should happen from the glutes. Do 15-20 repetitions and switch side. Once your glutes are strong, you may find this version too easy. Then it’s time to pull out the rubber band from your bag and hook it around your feet, close to your ankles. In similar way, push your foot upward, using your glutes to extend the hip. The other foot serves as an anchor for the band. Depending on how strong your band is, the movement may be very small. As long as you feel it in your glutes, you are fine. Perform 12-15 repetitions and switch sides.
This little routine is not too taxing physically and you can do it after your tennis practice even if you don’t feel very energized, or on your active off-days. If you find your glutes very disconnected, do these exercises more often, 3-4 per week.
It’s All About the Booty
You will notice that after training your glutes more often, your lower back will feel better and if you had other little aches in your body (knees, ankles, feet), they may disappear as well. It all starts in the hips. Like in life, even in training it is all about the booty. Even Aristotle pronounced the booty the most important thing in humanity. For us athletes, the glutes should be the number one priority, because they are the powerhouse and center of all the athletic activity.
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. (Aristotle)
Special Offer—Perfect Forehand
For a while, I have been working on improving my forehand to get it much bigger. You know, like a pro. Generally, female tennis players (myself including) have better backhands than forehands, but I would like to be one of the few. I have a great coach working with me, and I am using another great coach’s online video training. It’s helping tremendously. It is not a miracle, the hard work is still required, but I highly recommend Jeff’s stuff to anybody who wants to improve their game.
He is having a special offer for his Forehand Solution program right now, and that’s why I am bringing it again to my readers. Grab it now if you have ever been thinking about dominating with your forehand. Here is Jeff’s little 3 minute video on using your off-arm. Simple yet so powerful. I really like the young man Max who is showing the exercise. That’s my forehand in a few months :-)
Simple… and of course, if you like meat, help yourself but choose the grass-fed ones, they are much better for you.
In tennis, you need to start quickly, accelerate, stop, change direction, load and unload your legs and hips and for all this you need to strengthen your feet, hips and core. The modern tennis with the open stance forehand causes the right hip (for the right-handed player) to absorb huge forces during the loading and unloading phase of the stroke production. The repetitive nature of tennis works the right hip repeatedly and it is very common that you develop imbalances: overactive and tight right hip, and weak left hip, which often doesn’t fire. (the neuro-muscular connection is lost).
When the gluteus muscles in the hip get weak, other supporting structures such as hamstrings or lower back need to help during the movement and they get overused and tight. Weak glutes can also cause knee problems. When the running mechanics are not correct, (fore example the weak glutes make the knees buckle in) then each step you take, there are increased forces on your joints in your knees, feet, or hips, which over time leads to overuse injuries.
It is obvious that we have to pay attention to our glutes. One of the simplest exercises to execute is the tube walking, also known as monster walk. You don’t need any gym equipment and you can do it anywhere, anytime. You will feel a big difference in your movement on the court after only a few sessions with your rubber band.
Tube Walking aka Monster Walk Sideways
Place the rubber band around your ankles. Get into the athletic position with bent knees, neutral lower back and looking forward.
Start walking sideways maintaining a posture with bent knees. If you are strong, you can get even deeper. Open your stance wide and keep good tension on the band. Step out to the side with one foot and then step in with the other foot, without dragging it on the ground.
Make sure that your knees are always aligned in one line from the hips over the feet and the feet are pointing forward. If your glutes are very weak, the knees tend to buckle in to compensate. Don’t let them!
Walk 20-30 steps one way, and then return to the starting position working the opposite hip. If you want to increase the difficulty, put the band around your feet instead of the ankles.
Monster Walk Forward and Backward
In the same athletic position and the band either around your ankles or feet, widen your stance and start walking forward with small steps, about 3-6 inches. Make sure your hips and chest are facing forward, don’t rotate your entire pelvis while you walk. After 20-30 steps, reverse the movement and walk backwards. Your glutes should be on fire by now!
Pay attention to your body and learn to observe how it feels after your tennis practice. Is your lower back tight or sore? How about the hamstrings? Are your adductors (inside of the thighs) shortened? There is a big chance that your glutes are weak and/or not connecting. Pull out your band and do your monster walk. You will become strong and pain-free really fast, and your tennis game will follow and improve surprisingly a lot.
I like to shop online and I like the quality of Power-system’s products so I get my bands here at powersystems.com. If you like to go shopping, you can find the bands in many forms in any sport store of your choice, or on Amazon.com.
Two Enemies of Success in Training and Life
We all have ideas what we want to do and achieve — in life or on the tennis court. Often, we feel like we don’t have time to work on our goals now, or we still need to do something first, or we have to learn more how to do it. This thinking stops us from achieving. There will never be a good time to start. The time is now. You can do just a little bit at this moment, and another little bit tomorrow. If you keep doing this, suddenly you realize how far you have reached.
Do you want to become more flexible? (I hope you said “yes”). Do you want to get faster or stronger? Or you need to lose some weight? Your objection may be that you don’t have extra 3 hours a day to go to workout, then run and stretch and then eat a healthy meal. Well, start small. Do just one round of the monster walk, it’s 5 minutes. Stretch 5 minutes while watching the news on the TV. Eat a few apples and vegetables (5 minutes). If you do this every day, you will be amazed how far you will reach if you stick with it! Get inspired by these great words by Napoleon Hill:
This is one of the most common causes of failure. “Old Man Procrastination” stands within the shadow of every human being, waiting his opportunity to spoil one’s chances of success. Most of us go through life as failures, because we are waiting for the “time to be right” to start doing something worthwhile. Do not wait. The time will never be “just right.” Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.
LACK OF PERSISTENCE
Most of us are good “starters” but poor “finishers” of everything we begin. Moreover, people are prone to give up at the first signs of defeat. There is no substitute for PERSISTENCE. The person who makes PERSISTENCE his watch-word, discovers that “Old Man Failure” finally becomes tired, and makes his departure. Failure cannot cope with PERSISTENCE.
If you have been around my newsletters for a while, you may be familiar with the Tennis Forehand Solution program that my friend and exceptional tennis pro Jeff Salzenstein created. It helped me and many players improve our forehands dramatically. Jeff has been working on his Tennis Serve Secrets program and released it a few days ago.
Jeff had one of the biggest, nastiest left handed serves on the tour and even hit a 136 mph serve in the BNP Paribas Open at the age of 32 (like a fine wine, he is aging well!). His serve also helped him break the top 100 for the first time at the age of 30.
If you feel like you struggle with your serve, or you need to make some final improvements for it to be a real bomb, you may want to check out Jeff’s newest program on serving. You will discover the big ideas and proven serve lessons that work with all of his personal students giving them super fast results. Jeff has 100% money back warranty if you feel like you haven’t been helped. I just hope I won’t play against you in the future!
A picture is worth a thousand words :-)
If you enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to forward it to your friends or post it on your Facebook wall.
Tight Shoulders and Neck?
All athletes, high-level or fitness enthusiasts, often push their limits to the extreme. Playing on hard surfaces and the uneven nature of tennis where one side is used more than the other, makes it hard on your body. You need to spend as much time and effort—if not more—on recreating balance and health in your body as you do on playing tennis.
Almost everybody who experiences tight shoulders and neck accompanied with tension headaches knows how unpleasant the pain can be. A few people suffer from them regularly. The culprit is a bad posture with the head forward, weak upper back muscles and tight chest muscles. People with round upper backs and heads forward are a common sight when you look around. The older they are, the more distinct it is because the gravity will accelerate the process if the surrounding muscles are weak. Unfortunately, we can see this phenomenon among still relatively young tennis players as well.
In the majority of tennis strokes, you perform an upper body turn while rotating and loading in your hips. Additionally, some of trunk rotation comes from the thoracic spine (the upper back). The overuse and small micro-tears will cause the upper back muscles to tighten to protect themselves. If the upper back becomes weak and tight, you experience severe problems and pains. The tight muscles do not allow as much blood flow into them and therefore there is not enough supply of nutrients and energy needed to stay healthy. Tight muscles eventually get weak and then tighten even more. You need to break this vicious circle.
If you don’t stretch properly after physical activity, the muscle never gets elongated to its natural length and over time will adapt and become short. A bad posture with rounded back and shoulders tilted forward causes an additional stress on the upper back. The head is a very heavy object, weighing 10 to 12 pounds and if its position is only a few inches forward, the back and neck muscles must work much harder and get easily overloaded. Several things will help your aching and tight upper back:
- Stretch regularly! Try this great stretching routine. (It is also available in interlinked PDF format for your phone or iPad)
- Focus on your posture until it becomes a habit.
- Bring your shoulders back and keep your head straight up. Remember that slouched shoulders can cause rotator cuff problems.
- Strengthen the upper back muscles with a variety of rows and pulls.
- Reposition the shoulders with elbow touches and arm circles.
- Perform upper back myofascial release as described below:
Upper Back Myofascial Release
Tight muscles often contain trigger points. With stretching, you can lengthen the muscle, but if the trigger points remain there, the muscle will tend to shorten again. In addition to stretching, perform myofascial release to get rid of the trigger points.
Lie down on a top of a foam ball or a tennis ball that you place under your upper back in the shoulder blade area. Bend your legs and lift the hips off the ground, which will help to apply sufficient pressure on the ball. Keep your hands either under your head to support it, extend them above your head, or give yourself a big hug— each variation will feel different. Experiment with the various positions to find the best response. Roll around until you find a painful trigger point, and while breathing deeply, stay on the spot until the pain dissipates. Then roll to another spot in your upper back and methodically go through the entire area, until you do not find any more trigger points.
Keep your upper back muscles healthy and your posture straight. You will feel and look better, and your tennis game will benefit as well.
Nutrition Tip – Chia Seeds
Chia is an ancient plant with tremendous nutritional value and medicinal characteristics. The seeds were used by ancient cultures as high energy endurance food, especially for their running messengers, who would carry a small pouch with the seeds. Chia has been called ‘Indian Running Food’ and gives a steady stream of energy.
- Chia is nutrient dense and full of trace minerals (like potassium), vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and essential fatty acids.
- It is high in omega-3 fatty acids, so it a great addition to anyone’s diet.
- Chia seeds are a great way to clean out. The seeds bulk up and work like a digestive broom, sweeping through your intestinal tract, helping to dislodge and eliminate old accumulated waste in the intestines.
Chia seeds have the ability to absorb more than twelve times their weight in water, thus allowing prolonged hydration. The seeds help in retaining moisture and regulate the body’s absorption of nutrients. Read more about Chia at Wikipedia.
Benefits of Chia Seeds for athletes:
• do digest easily
• are absorbed very easily
• muscle and tissue builder
• increases energy and endurance
• have extensive hydration properties
• good source of protein, calcium, potassium and iron
• high in both soluble and insoluble fiber
The easily digestible chia seeds are a great post-workout snack because they transport fast to the tissues and are utilized by the cells. Chia seeds will replenish iron, calcium, and potassium — the lost minerals during your tennis practice hrough sweat and muscle contraction. Chia seeds help speed up the recovery thanks to to their high amounts of protein. Due to their exceptional water-absorption quality, they will help you prolong hydration and retain electrolytes. There are new drinks on the market where they add chia seeds in the drink. You can easily make such drink yourself: add the chia seeds into your favorite beverage, let them swell a bit, and then keep drinking.
You can get chia seeds at any health food store, or at my favorite shopping place – Amazon.com. Here is my favorite brand of chia seeds on Amazon.
Recommended Book of the Month – Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our habits, behaviors and lives? You decide to get fit, start working out and then something sabotages your efforts. Or you want to get lean, start a great healthy diet, but then one day you give in to the “bad” foods and your efforts are gone. Why does this happen more often than we wish?
The authors of the book say that we have a conflict in our brains, because our minds are ruled by two different systems: 1) the rational mind, 2) the emotional mind, and they compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
The book is pretty short and very worth reading, because you will learn how to change your habits that will make you closer to your goals. Find Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard on Amazon.
SAY THAT AGAIN? — a Humorous Play with Words
- When chemists die, they barium.
- Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.
- I know a guy who’s addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.
- I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
- This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I’d never met herbivore.
- I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.
- They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.
- Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations.
- We are going on a class trip to the Coca-Cola factory. I hope there’s no pop quiz.
- I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
- Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?
- Broken pencils are pointless.
- I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.
- What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
- England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.
- I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
- I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.
- Haunted French pancakes give me the creapes.
- Velcro — what a rip off!
- A cartoonist was found dead in his home. Details are sketchy
- Venison for dinner again? Oh deer!
- The earthquake in Washington obviously was the government’s fault.
Besides the obvious use of a tennis ball–moving it around the tennis court–you may also think of playing fetch with your dog, but do you know that you can use tennis balls for many beneficial exercises, such as grip strengthening, foot massage, trigger point release, or juggling to improve your hand-eye coordination?
Tennis Ball Squeezes
It is good to have a strong grip, not just for tennis and other sports, but also for your leisure activities such as cleaning, gardening or repairing your car. Grip the tennis ball with all fingers and squeeze it with maximum power for one second, then relax. Repeat at least 20 times, then switch hands.
Tennis Ball Foot Massage
Place one or more tennis balls on the floor, take off your shoes and put one foot on the ball(s). Stand up and slowly transfer your body weight on the balls until you feel good pressure. Roll your foot over the balls, massaging the entire surface of your foot. This will refresh your tired feet after exercising and walking around all day. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, this exercise will relieve the problems.
Piriformis and Glute Massage
If you have ever suffered from sciatica problems, you know how painful this condition feels. Often, the sciatica pain is nothing more than “piriformis syndrome”, a tight piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle stretches across the glutes, and with prolonged sitting or intense activity, it can get tight and shortened and impinge on the sciatica nerve. You then feel the pain in the hip and shooting down the leg. There is an easy solution: sit on the floor, bend both knees and place the foot of the painful leg on a top of the other knee. Place the tennis ball under the painful glute, toward the outside, and transfer all your body weight on it. Search for the tight and painful spots (called trigger points) and stay on each spot, breathing deeply, until the pain goes away. Roll around the entire glute area, until you don’t find any more trigger points, then switch sides.
Upper Back Massage
If you sit for prolonged periods, you may have tight upper back and neck area. It is even more common among tennis players. This tightness may cause tension headaches. A tennis ball is a perfect tool to release the upper back tension. Lie down on the floor, put the tennis ball under your upper-back area, and transfer the weight on it. Roll around and search for trigger points. When you find one, stay on it while breathing deeply and relaxing, until the worst pain goes away. Work the entire upper back area, stretching wide toward the armpits.
Front Shoulder Massage
Tennis players often feel tightness or pain in their dominant shoulder, because the muscles are tight and shortened. You can use a tennis ball to relieve the pain in the shoulder and upper chest. Lie face down, place the tennis ball under your right shoulder, and stretch your right arm to the side. Transfer your body weight on the tennis ball, while supporting yourself on your left arm to control the amount of pressure. If you find a very sensitive or sore area, stay on it while breathing deeply and relaxing until the pain goes away. Cover the entire chest and front shoulder area, then switch sides.
Side Shoulder Massage
Stand sideways by the wall and place the tennis ball between your shoulder and the wall. Lean onto the ball and using your legs, move your shoulder up and down, letting the ball massage the outside of your shoulder.
Lie down on the floor. Put two tennis balls into a sock and place them high up on your neck, almost at the bottom of your skull, one ball on each side of the spine. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, relaxing for 5 to 10 minutes. This is an excellent technique to refresh your mind when you are tired.
Spinal Muscles Massage
Use the two-ball-in-the-sock tool from the previous exercise. Lie down on your back and place the balls under your lower back, one ball on each side of the spine. Slowly roll up and down, along the entire length of the spine. If you find tender spots, stay on them, breathe deeply and let the pain go away.
IT Band Massage
Lie down on your left side and place the tennis ball under your left hip. Support yourself on your hands to adjust the amount of pressure. This exercise is often very painful, because tennis players have their IT bands overused and full of trigger points from the continuous direction changes on the court. When you encounter a painful trigger point, stay on it, try to relax and breathe deeply until the pain goes away. Then move slowly on the next trigger point. Roll through the entire area from the hip down the knee, and back up toward the hip, several times. Then switch sides.
Juggling Three Tennis Balls to Improve Hand-Eye Coordination
Let us call the three balls A, B, C for an easier understanding. Hold two tennis balls (A, B) in your right hand, one ball (C) in the left hand. Toss one of the two balls (A) into the air and when it reaches the highest point, toss the ball (C) from your left hand up in the air, then catch the first ball (A) with the left hand. Now, as the ball (C) is hanging in the air, toss the right hand ball (B) and catch the ball (C). There is always one ball in the air and one ball in each hand. Repeat until you feel relaxed and your movement is smooth. This exercise will improve your focus, coordination and patience!
Tennis Drills, Strategy and Tips
Not too long time ago, I found a very nice website for tennis enthusiasts: www.WebTennis24.com. The site’s owner, Cosmin Miholca, who is a very successful tennis coach in the Southern California, shares his knowledge and passion for the sport. He put up over 400 videos and articles of pure tennis content: video lessons, tennis tips, tactics and strategies for singles and doubles play, tennis drills, footwork and fitness drills (my favorite area!), and the newest section – The Hot Seat – where tennis experts answer questions from the site’s members.
Once you are there, you might want to grab a FREE copy of his “Winning Tennis Tactics for Singles and Doubles” ebook that you can instantly download and begin applying the lessons to your game. So take a look at WebTennis24.com to see it for yourself, and let me know what you think.
Book of the Month: Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
I must say it is a little bit “hardcore” book, but it is amazing, if you enjoy reading about the brain, thinking, decision making and problem solving. It is over 500 pages long, only 6 months old and has been residing on top 1 spot of many lists since it came out.
Daniel Kahneman got a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and engaged in psychology research for decades. His book gives you a really deep (and sometimes scary) insight what is going on in your head during your reactions, conclusions, choices and judgments. If it is your style of reading, you must definitely check it out. If you don’t love things like this, then it’s going to be too heavy for you. Here it is on Amazon, you can read a bit more about it.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, feel free to pass it on your friends, and share on your favorite social media. The spring is here and the summer will arrive before we even notice it. Start working on your fitness even more, so you are ready for the bikini season and long hours on the court.
Working on your tennis game, just as your fitness and health, is a life-long process. Make you sure you stay persistent and enjoy the process. I have just read and interesting philosophy from Jim Rohn (www.JimRohn.com) whom’s teachings I greatly admire. They are simple and powerful. His ant philosophy applies to life and our athletic endeavors.
“I think everybody should study ants. They have an amazing four-part philosophy, and here is the first part: ants never quit. That’s a good philosophy. If they’re headed somewhere and you try to stop them, they’ll look for another way. They’ll climb over, they’ll climb under, they’ll climb around. They keep looking for another way. What a neat philosophy, to never quit looking for a way to get where you’re supposed to go.
Second, ants think winter all summer. That’s an important perspective. You can’t be so naive as to think summer will last forever. So ants gather their winter food in the middle of summer. An ancient story says, “Don’t build your house on the sand in the summer.” Why do we need that advice? Because it is important to think ahead. In the summer, you’ve got to think storm. You’ve got to think rocks as you enjoy the sand and sun.
The third part of the ant philosophy is that ants think summer all winter. That is so important. During the winter, ants remind themselves, “This won’t last long; we’ll soon be out of here.” And the first warm day, the ants are out. If it turns cold again, they’ll dive back down, but then they come out the first warm day. They can’t wait to get out.
And here’s the last part of the ant philosophy. How much will an ant gather during the summer to prepare for the winter? All he possibly can. What an incredible philosophy, the “all-you-possibly-can” philosophy.
Wow, what a great philosophy to have—the ant philosophy. Never give up, look ahead, stay positive and do all you can.”
Apply Jim Rohn’s ant philosophy to your tennis fitness training, too. Have a goal that you plan to achieve always in your sight and diligently work on it, even if it is just a little bit every day. Ten minutes of stretching is better than nothing. Doing a few sets of jumps or lunges after your tennis practice is better than nothing. Rolling your feet in bed before sleep and upon awakening will surprisingly make a big difference over time. Even if you feel that you don’t have time, remember that even a minimal effort toward your tennis fitness is going to help. Remember the ants!
We take 5,000 to 10,000 steps per day, with forces on your joints 1.5 or more of your body weight. For a tennis player it is even more — more steps and higher forces. Tennis players’ feet suffer tremendous overuse. In the last newsletter, we were addressing the importance of healthy and fit feet. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from people with different (minor) knee and hip problems, who started to pay attention to their feet, and only after a few days of regular ankle and feet strengthening exercises, they already feel difference and their aches went away. That is very exciting!
All the exercises outlined in the previous newsletter will help, but it may not be enough. It’s about the whole chain between your feet and the upper body. If your pelvis suffers from decreased flexibility, the feet and ankle will suffer, too. With all the prolong sitting that the majority of us does, and with the subsequent athletic overuse on the tennis court, the hip flexors get shortened and tight and displace the pelvis forward from its optimal position. The pelvic tilt will move the hamstring attachment higher and thus pull on the hamstrings. The hamstring’s fascia is interconnected with the calves, which are interconnected with the feet. Therefore, for the full range of motion and complete functionality of our ankles and feet, we also need to stretch the hip flexors (psoas and iliacus), quadriceps and TFLs. Here are 4 simple stretches:
1. Quadripceps Stretch
Stand on the right leg, bend your left knee and grab the left foot behind you. Pull toward your glutes until you start to feel a good stretch in the front of the left leg. Tuck your pelvis under and squeeze the glutes. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and repeat for the other leg.
2. Psoas Stretch
Step forward with your right leg into a big, deep lunge. Tuck the pelvis under and squeeze the left glute. Continue tucking your pelvis, lower your chin to the chest and look down at your belly button. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and switch sides.
3. Iliacus Stretch
Start in the same position like the psoas stretch, with the right leg forward in a deep lunge. Lift your left arm high up and slowly rotate your upper body back and to the left, toward your back leg. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and then switch sides.
4. TFL Stretch
Step forward into a deep lunge with your right leg forward, just like in the hip-flexor stretches above. Lift both arms over the head and grab your left wrist with your right hand. Keep your glutes engaged and slowly lean your body to the right side. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds and then repeat for the other side.
Even if you don’t have any serious aches in your hips, knees or feet, doing these stretches and feet exercise regularly will help you to move better and more efficiently, and you will notice that you are faster on the court and play better by getting to the ball quicker. Give your feet all the love they deserve!
Lastly, I have an announcement from my fellow tennis teacher friend, who not too long ago launched his amazing Tennis Forehand Solution program that helped many (including me) to improve their forehands. He has just released the Total Tennis Training Inner Circle program, which is said to be the most comprehensive training you can find on how to play your best tennis, and is created by a former top 100 ATP player, Stanford All-American, and national junior champion Jeff Salzenstein.
Jeff says that it’s time for players to learn how to improve their tennis games by getting the right advice and information. Why not take your tennis to new heights right now and become a better player? Jeff’s tennis system can help you do it. His program can help anyone from the complete beginner to the top pro. You have 30 days to test drive it before you decide if it is for you. You can continue for as long as you want and it is easy to cancel at anytime. All the videos play beautifully on your iPad and iPhone so you can easily take them on the court with you and learn as you practice. If it sounds tempting, join Jeff’s Inner Circle now!
Here, you can look at some of his free videos with great tips on footwork (just like a dance), running forehand or holding the finish. Good little tips that you can for sure incorporate into your game and feel better.
The winter is almost over, the summer saving time is starting this weekend. Unless you live in the sunny states where you can be outdoors all year around, you will now look forward to your workouts in the good smelling spring grass. Get intense and get fit for the summer! If you need motivation for intense and effective exercises without any equipment, browse through your favorite “Tennis Fitness for the Love of it” book, or email me with questions, requests or ideas.
It’s All about the Feet
Our feet have many nerve endings that collect data on pressure, temperature, and terrain if we are walking barefoot. Wearing shoes limits these inputs and the balance and mobility is less natural and can increase the risk of falls, ankle sprains, and other injuries. Lately, there has been a lot of movement toward minimalist footwear (such as Vibram’s FiveFingres shoes) and a lot of books on barefoot running. Obviously, that is not something a tennis player would want to do, especially when playing on hard courts. A few players state that playing in minimalist footwear on clay or grass is an amazing and healthy experience, but for the rest of us, we need to take care of our feet in a different way.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Feet Muscles
Any imbalances in musculature in your feet will limit full range of motion and alter your running and walking gait, which in long term can cause problems and overuse injuries. There are two kinds of musculature in your feet, extrinsic and intrinsic:
1) Extrinsic foot muscles have one attachment in the foot and the other one somewhere up in the leg. These muscles move your foot relative to the lower leg. The three muscles of the calves are all extrinsic.
2) Intrinsic foot muscles have both ends inside the foot. Intrinsic motions move one portion of the foot relative to other foot joints. One example is the muscle (abductor digiti minimi) that moves your pinkie toe out and away from the other toes.
For the feet muscles, wearing shoes is like putting a cast on your arm after a bone break: without regular use, the muscles atrophy quickly. When the smaller intrinsic muscles with fine motor skills atrophy, the larger extrinsic muscles start to compensate. Slowly, they are overused, developing trigger points and tension that will further cause more problems.
Training Your Feet
The muscle groups of your two feet make up 25% of the body’s muscles. If you ignore the strength and function of your feet muscle, it is like eliminating upper-body exercises from your routine. That doesn’t sound too good, does it? Yet, it is very common that we don’t pay enough attention to our feet.
Exercises that innervate the intrinsic foot muscles and restore the length of lower leg muscles are extremely important. Foot strength has the key role in proper foot mechanics, gait patterns, ankle stabilization, and whole-body balance.
Your toes are designed to have as much dexterity as your fingers — each toe joint can flex and extend, abduct and adduct. These are basic, simple motions, but when you try it yourself, you realize how difficult it is to lift one toe without lifting the other toes. That’s why you need to start a strengthening program for your feet, and work on it until your movements are fluid and the motor skills are visibly improved.
Lift your big toe on its own, without the other toes lifting. Keep working on it until you are capable of doing it smoothly.
Process to lifting each toe one at a time, until they are all in the air. Then, reverse and place them down again, starting with the 5th (smallest) toe, until you get your big toe.
Our feet are always smashed and compressed inside our shoes, often too narrow for the toes to move. The narrow toe space in footwear creates weak toe abductors and tight adductors, which prevents your toes from spreading wide naturally.
Stand up barefoot, with the weight on your heels so you can lift your toes. Now spread your toes away from each other without lifting them off the ground.
If you wear flip-flops as footwear of your choice when you are not in the tennis shoes, you need to know that flip-flops force your toes to increase the gripping action, which can cause chronic tension in the flexed position and eventually alter your balance.
Stretching the Toe Flexors
Stand up and reach one leg behind, placing the top of the foot on the ground. Relax and stretch your ankle. If you experience cramping in your toes, take a break and return to the stretch. Work yourself up to holding 1 minute on each side.
Strengthen Bottom of your Feet
In this exercise, you can either use small pebbles that you will pick up with your toes, one by one, from the ground. You can also use a towel that you will scrunch with your toes. Try to feel the muscles in the bottom of your feet. If you would prefer a simple, yet very effective tool for exercising your feet muscles, get yourself the Elgin’s Arch Exerciser that will make it simple to strengthen the muscles and also helps to prevent plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. You can find the exerciser on many websites or stores, but I often find Amazon’s prices the most affordable.
Foot Circles and Points with Therabands
Many foot problems happen because of the limited range of motion or flexibility in the ankle and surrounding muscles. The simple, restorative Foot Points and Circles as described in one of my previous articles will create more movement in your ankles and bigger range of motion. To bring this exercise a bit further and work with some resistance, take a Theraband (or any resistance band of your choice) and loop it around your foot. Pull on the band to create enough challenging tension, and do 20 points and flexes, followed by 20 circles clockwise, and 20 circles counter clockwise. You will definitely feel the muscles working. Then repeat for the other foot. If you find one foot much weaker, repeat on the weaker side one more time, until you get both sides evenly strong.
Occasionally, you may want to walk around barefoot or in minimalist footwear, so you would exercise the muscles in your feet during body movement. You will feel the ground differently; you will create a new sense of balance and develop a light foot strike, which will help you to move lighter on the tennis court.
Rehab of your Feet
Give your tired and beat-up feet more love. Besides strengthening and stretching, massage them occasionally, give them a hot bath, and soak them in good lotion or shea butter. If you suffer from hammertoes or other toe issues, or if you are in your tennis shows for many hours each day, you could use this simple device “Pampered Toes” to give your toes a little bit extra room. You can use it just for a few minutes a day, yet it will make big difference in your feet’s well-being. You can also roll your feet on a golf ball or other small massage balls.
After only a few weeks of strengthening your feet muscles, you will notice a better movement on the tennis court, and if you have been experiencing aches in your knees, or tightness in your calves or glutes, you may be surprised that these will go away. Make sure to give your calves a good stretch and myofascial release regularly!
Keep your feet fit and happy, and your tennis game will blossom too!
PART 2 to Strong Feet: stretch your hip flexors to improve the mobility in your ankles.
Strong and beautiful glutes are pleasure for the eye. More so, functional glutes are crucial for proper function and maximum athletic performance. Many injuries and pains are attributed to dysfunction or even atrophy of the glutes. If a reduced activation or complete inhibition of the glutes happens, other muscle groups compensate and get overused. Over time, many problems such as lower back issues, knee pain or ankle sprains may happen.
It works in reverse as well. For example, if you sprain your ankle, and don’t perform correct rehabilitation, you may alter your body movement, such as walking or running gait, your stance, or posture, and that will add to more to the imbalances and glute inhibition and thus losing even more function.
For a tennis player, correct posture and optimal alignment are crucial, because they absorb the shocks during running on the court, and help transfer the forces through kinetic chain during your shots.
Optimal posture makes your movement more fluid and efficient with less stress on your joints, you won’t fatigue as fast, and you will have less chance to sustain overuse injuries.
The glutes consist of 3 muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. They extend the hip and trunk and rotate the hip externally.
For your glutes to perform optimally when moving on the tennis court, all the surrounding muscles need to be functional, strong, and flexible. If your hamstrings, hip flexors, TFL (tensor fascia latae), adductors, and lower back erectors are too tight or weak, then different compensation will happen and possibly cause even further inhibition of your glutes, and therefore more compensation of surrounding muscles. This vicious circle needs to be broken with concentrated glute isolation training, and then gradually introducing movements that are more functional and tennis specific.
If you are a student or have a regular work besides playing tennis, you probably sit quite a lot. In a seated position, your torso remains in flexed position relative to the upper leg for extended periods, which can lead to increased tension and shortening of the hip flexor muscles. This will cause an anterior pelvic tilt, which impedes the powerful glute muscles and causes tension in your hamstrings. This fact of tight hip flexors inhibiting the glute muscles is called “reciprocal inhibition” and it is not a good thing even though it sounds cool.
The constant pressure and minimal use of your glutes will cause atrophy and surrounding muscles will compensate during the movements where glutes are called upon but cannot perform. Muscular imbalances and excessive stress on the joints will happen. During athletic performance, the lower back gets a lot of stress and beating because it also compensates for the lacking glutes, overuse injuries are more likely to happen, and performance will decrease tremendously.
This glute inhibition may just “sneak up” on you. One day you start experiencing lower back pains and other injuries and you don’t know why. Don’t wait until that day will come. Start taking a good care of your glutes today, and you will keep them strong and powerful forever.
Test Your Glutes
I simple test is to lie down on your stomach. Bend your left leg in your knee and then squeeze your left glute and raise your left knee off the ground. Hold the position for 60 seconds, without tilting your hips or pushing with your arms to the ground. Switch sides. Was one side harder to do? Or was it almost impossible? If so, the glutes on that side are getting inhibited.
Reconnect Your Glutes
Perform the above exercise contracting the glute for 10 seconds, relax briefly, and contract again. Repeat 10 times, then switch to the other side. Always start with the weaker side, then do the better side and return one more time to the weaker side.
One Legged Bridge
Lie down on your back; bring both heels as close to your glutes as possible, arms on the side of your body. Lift the left leg, straighten it and keep it above the ground. Push the hips up toward the sky by pushing with the right heel to the ground and contracting your right hamstrings and glutes. Hold the top position for 1 second and slowly return to the start position. Repeat 12-20 times for one side, then switch to the other side. If this is too difficult at first, you can do the bridge with both legs on the ground. As you get stronger, advance to one-legged bridge.
Get down on all your four, hands and knees. Keep your back straight and lift your left knee straight to the side as high as possible without tilting the hips. Imagine your hips are like a tabletop where drinks are served. Repeat 15-20 times, then switch sides.
The gluteus maximus strongly assists during backward walking. If it is weak or inhibited, you may experience lack of coordination or some level of awkwardness.
Single Leg Deadlift
Stand on your right leg, hold the weight or kettlebell in front of you. With a straight back, start lifting the left heel up toward the sky, and let the upper body is lower toward the ground. When you feel a stretch and tension in your right hamstring and glute, reverse the movement, and slowly stand up to starting position. Repeat 12-15 times for each leg. Video here.
When you have done all the isolation exercises and you feel that you have reconnected with your glutes, you can move on to perform squats, lunges, jumps, kettlebell swings, and other functional exercises.
Make sure that you always take a good care of your glutes. Don’t let them disconnect or atrophy. The more sedentary you are besides your tennis and fitness activities, the more careful and dedicated to your glutes you need to be. They will be not just perfectly functional, but also a candy for the eye. Your tennis performance will benefit as well.
And remember, if your hip flexors get too tight, you may enter the vicious circle of reciprocal inhibition. Stretch your hip flexors and quadriceps regularly, and even better perform self-myofascial release.
Books to Read:
If you want to understand what needs to be one to become a master, and what biology, economics, psychology, culture, genetics, race, and politics have to do with it. It is a VERY good book for every athlete!
Excellent reading with information and tips on how people living with cancer can fight it and how healthy people can prevent it, talks about nutrition, fitness, mental aspects, and it’s based on studies. Very educational.
Maybe I am a bit biased but you will find there all good information on stretching, myofascial release, injury prevention, strengthening and performance improvement. The winter months are great for working on your fitness!
Are you planning to shop health and fitness for Christmas?
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