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February 4, 2013 11:29 AM
Molly_McKinnon_1_(2)Cold weather, football games and Netflix have kept you from a tennis court since late December. You want to get out again, but only when it warms up. Molly McKinnon says you ought to do something off the court before you get back on. McKinnon, 33, you may recall, starred for the UNM women’s basketball team more than a decade ago.  She is not a tennis player, but she knows how to get tennis players stronger and in better condition, especially those who are worried about injuries. Scraping off the rust and maintaining strength and flexibility before the season starts is what McKinnon preaches. She holds a master’s degree in physiology from UNM and is the strength and conditioning coach for the Lobo women’s tennis team.
What can the recreational tennis player do to get fit after a layoff?
Molly_McKinnon2_(2)I suggest body-weight exercises.  Squats and lunges to loosen up the hips and to get mobility back. From there you can progress to using dumbbells or barbells with squats and lunges. Do three sets of 10 repetitions with light weights. A lot of reps can’t hurt, but stick to three sets.
What do the barbells and dumbbells do?
They help the glutes, quads and hamstrings.  These areas need to be stronger so a player can stretch wide for balls [See the incredibly limber Novak Djokovic].
What do these lunges and squats prevent?
Lateral lunges to the left or right prevent groin injuries. Linear lunges or a walking lunge are good too. The top three injuries I see the most in tennis players are groin injuries, shoulder injuries and lower back problems.
What do you suggest for the lower back?
Core exercises.  Research shows that the core is activated better with barbell squats rather than, say, sit-ups or leg lifts.  Your core does more work when you squat with a barbell and lift weights across your back.  Abdominal crunches alone are not going to get the job done. Also, your core needs strengthening for hitting serves. Abdominal injuries occur when a core isn’t strong.

When I watched the Australian Open on TV, I saw several players go down with ankle injuries. What is a preventative there? 
For ankles, knees and hips you can toss a medicine ball, using one foot forward and then the other. Do three sets of five repetitions with each leg.  Also, do a single leg squat, while holding a 10-pound weight.  The stronger the ankle, the less chance you will have to develop hip, knee and ACL trouble. The key is to develop unilateral strength in both feet. When you run in a tennis game, you run with both feet.
There is a myth about tennis players lifting weights, isn’t there?
Oh, yeah.  Tennis players think if they get in the weight room they’re going to lose mobility.  You know, get muscle-bound.  They’re not. The weight room is for injury prevention and quality of life.
On a personal level, what can I do for a bothersome shoulder? 
You need to work on your back muscles. The shoulder is dependent on the scapula, two large flat triangular bones, one on each side of the back part of the shoulder.  The rotator cuff resides in and around the scapula.  You want to do back work, but also internal and external on exercises.  I recommend three sets of 12 reps using cables or rubber bands.  This works the rotator cuff and helps keep the joint strong.  With weights attached, you can pull the cable across your chest and then in the opposite direction. Or, you can face the cable and raise weights in front of you.  You can use a cable, dumbbell or a rubber band.  You should also do internal-external abduction.  That’s where you hold the elbow at a 90-degree angle and pull down or move the arm up. Do it in one controlled motion. For a woman, five to 10 reps, but not with a lot of weight. For a man, five to 15 reps.  
What about cardio fitness? 
For an intermediate tennis player I would suggest a 30-second sprint on a treadmill as hard as you can, then a one-minute rest where you walk on the treadmill. Do repetitions. 
What about stretching?
Dynamic stretching is good. It’s working through the range of motion of a competitive movement similar to sport you are doing.  A static stretch you hold for 10-30 seconds.  For a serve, I like our tennis players to use a “toe sweep,” as if you’re grabbing gum off the bottoms of your soles. Alternate arms. This gets the hammies and calves loosened before going on the court. For shoulders, swing the arms up and down, alternately. Or a pendulum stretch in which you bend over and swing your arms in a circle with the elbow fixed. It gets the blood moving in your shoulder. If you don’t quite understand an exercise, ask a trainer  at the gym where you belong. Finally, make these exercises fun, not work. Tennis is a fun game after all. You’re not going to war when you play tennis, except perhaps at the very highest levels.
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