Ask the Lab: Pilates for Tennis

April 21, 2011 11:41 AM
Picture 1 Pilates Modified Side Plank
Picture 2 Pilates Modified Side Plank
Picture 3 Pilates Side Plank Start (2)
Picture 4 Pilates Side Plank Finish (2)
Picture 5 Pilates Articulating Bridge Finish
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Question: Will Pilates help me improve my tennis and reduce my chance of getting injured? Sally, Charlotte, N.C.
Dr. Ben Reuter: Pilates as part of your conditioning for tennis can certainly improve your game, and may also help make you more resistant to injury. The best option would be to find an instructor who is well trained, and take a few private sessions to learn more about correct positioning and technique. This would enable you to learn multiple Pilates exercises that would potentially benefit your tennis game as well as reduce your risk of injury. The Pilates Method Alliance website has a page that lists certified instructors throughout the Unites States.
Think of Pilates as a form of exercise that will allow you to improve the strength and flexibility of the supportive muscles that are used to help you maintain a stable core as you play tennis. When correctly performed Pilates exercises can improve the control of your body and make you more resilient from injury by helping to increase your muscular control and endurance.
Two excellent Pilates exercises to start with are side plank and articulating bridge. The side plank is an excellent choice to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder girdle, which is very important for all tennis strokes. It will also help strengthen some of the core muscles that are active to stabilize your body and to help with torso rotation.
The second exercise I recommend is the articulating bridge. This exercise will help promote back flexibility, control of your core muscles and also help you learn to better glute (butt) muscles during hip extension.
Pictures 1 and 2 for the side plank show a modification of the exercise. Pilates, like tennis, places a great deal of emphasis on correct technique. The side plank is a challenging exercise, and it is better to start with a modified version to become familiar the exercise. Pictures 3 and 4 show the start and end of the side plank, without modification.
Make sure to do the articulation bridge without a pillow under the head and to tighten the glute (butt) muscles as you articulate up from the ground. The goal is to articulate up until the bumps on the front of the hips are in line with the angle of the ribs (picture 5).
For both the side plank and the articulating bridge I would suggest starting with 4-5 repetitions and working up to a total of 8 repetitions for each exercise. If you are able to consistently perform these exercises 3-4 days a week you can begin to see the benefits of regular Pilates exercise.
About the Author
Ben Reuter, Ph.D, CSCS, *D, ATC is an Associate Professor in the Exercise Science and Sport Studies Department at California University of Pennsylvania in California, PA. He is a Pilates Method Alliance Certified Pilates Teacher, and a master teacher for PHI Pilates, a Pilates Education company based in Monongahela, Pa.