You spend all that time and effort to improve your groundstrokes, but if you put a little extra time increasing your speed getting to the ball, that could make all the difference in beating your nemesis. If you could only get to that ball in time to set up and hit that winner down the line, boy would that be great! Properly preparing the lower limb muscles, by stretching the important muscle groups, should optimize the body’s power output.
Recapping from the previous article that appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of New York Tennis Magazine, the muscles are the body’s main producers of force. Enhancing your speed and power is the way to optimize your game. For enhancing your sporting ability, muscles undergo a pre-load phase, where the muscle is stretched like a rubber band, then reaches its apex or peak followed by the shortening. In physiology lingo, this muscle loading is called eccentric-isometric-concentric muscle activity. You do this automatically as you run and play, but if you can get the most out of those muscles, you can get there sooner.
Properly stretching muscles and tendons before playing, is not only for injury prevention, but also enhances power and speed. In a study of power lifters doing bench presses, a pre-stretch allowed weight lifters to not only lift six percent more weight, but also reach their peak lift 33 percent faster. So, if you want more power and speed, properly stretching will get more out of your muscles fibers.
Now for the lower limbs, we propel forward using not only the calf/foot muscles, but the hip muscles. The calf muscles, known as the gastro-soleus (gastrocs may be the more familiar name) produce 40 percent of forward propulsion, but the hip muscles generate 60 percent. Studies show that the faster you run, the greater the hip extension. The hip can then be brought forward or flexed faster the greater the prior hip extension. Hip flexors undergo eccentric-isometric-concentric muscle activity. The hip flexors pair with the hip extensors (the three gluteus muscles) to get you there faster.
To recap the proper details of effective stretching you must:
1. Properly position;
2. Perform a hold-relax movement technique with coordination of the exhale with the gain in the stretch;
3. Stretch for 30 seconds;
4. Gentle, smooth motion; and
5. Repeat three times alternating sides.
The main hip flexors are: The iliopsoas and the rectus femoris (one of the quadriceps or quad muscles in the thigh). To properly stretch the iliopsoas (see Fig. 1 above), the target stretching sensation is perceived in the front of the hip. To properly stretch the rectus femoris (see Fig. 2 below), the target stretching sensation is perceived in the front mid-thigh.
To stretch the hip extensors, the three gluteus muscles, you need to work while lying on your back:
1. The knee-to-the chest (the vertical stretch);
2. The knee-across-the chest (the horizontal stretch); and
3. The knee diagonally across to the opposite shoulder.
The stretching sensation should be felt in different parts of the buttock and no pinching in the front of the hip or groin.
Finally, to stretch the calf muscles, stand and lean into the wall with the knees fully extended for the gastric stretch, and with the knee flexed for the posterior tibialis stretch. The technique is to gradually lean forward to appreciate a gentle stretching sensation in the upper calf for the gastrco muscle and the lower calf for the posterior tibialis muscle.
The entire process of lower extremity stretching takes at about 10 minutes but the time spent stretching could give you the speed to reach the ball hit down the baseline and raise your game to the next level.