Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE

November 2012 1






PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
How Pilates can enhance the forehand, backhand,
serves and overheads in tennis game.



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not be copied or otherwise used without express written permission from the author.

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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" #
1. BIOMECHANICS OF TENNIS & USE OF KINETIC CHAIN """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" #
A) INTRODUCTION TO THE KINETIC CHAIN CONCEPT """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" #
B) TENNIS BIOMECHANICS AND PERFORMANCE """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" $
C) RISKS OF A WEAK KINETIC CHAIN IN TENNIS """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" %
2. FOREHAND AND BACKHAND GROUNDSTROKES """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" $
A) KINETIC CHAIN """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" %
B) APPLIED PILATES """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" &
3. SERVES AND OVERHEADS """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" %
A) KINETIC CHAIN """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" '
B) APPLIED PILATES """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" (
CONCLUSION """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" &&
APPENDIX """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" &#
A) ROGER FEDERER: PILATES IN REAL """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" )#
B) REFERENCES & BIBLIOGRAPHY """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" )$


Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 2
INTRODUCTION

Good tennis coaches can teach you to improve your technique. Proper technique, however, can be
obtained only if you can produce all necessary movements throughout the range of motion required for
optimal positioning and stroke execution. Tennis requires strength, power, endurance and speed but
mobility, flexibility, control and balance are equally important. Each of these components should be
considered when designing a conditioning programme for tennis players. Tennis is a lifelong sport and
the challenge both for amateur and elite professional players is to enhance performance while remaining
injury free over the years. Avoiding injuries is all the more difficult as tennis is a sided sport and without
a proper physical conditioning programme working muscles both concentrically and eccentrically, players
can easily develop strong muscular imbalances.

This essay presents how the Pilates method can be integrated to a dedicated conditioning programme
for tennis players to improve performance and reduce risks of injuries. To do so we start by studying the
biomechanics of tennis and the kinetic chain theory. We categorise tennis strokes in two groups that
share similar muscular work and challenges: (1) the forehand and backhand, (2) the serve and overhead.
In each of these categories, we first describe the specific kinetic chain that allows the proper force to
be transferred to the racket and the ball during stroke. This allows us to highlight the key associated
muscular and skeletal challenges for the body and suggest examples of Pilates recruitment, strength and
mobility exercises from the classical and modern matwork repertoire targeting each consideration of
tennis performance.

1. BIOMECHANICS OF TENNIS & USE OF KINETIC CHAIN
a) INTRODUCTION TO THE KINETIC CHAIN CONCEPT

All body segments are linked to the rest of the body, meaning what happens in one part of the body
impacts the forces and loads experienced by the rest of the body because joints, muscles and fascia
provide trails to transfer energy throughout the body. This principle has been called the kinetic chain,
where actions in one part of the body are transferred through a linked system to other segments.
Optimal use of the kinetic chains in tennis requires less muscle activation, less load on the body
structures, and less energy expenditure to achieve the desired result.

Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 3
A kinetic chain can be decomposed as a succession of momentum (or energy) transferred along the
chain from one segment to the other through static points. In mechanics, the principle of momentum
conservation (or energy conservation), famously illustrated by Newton’s cradle
1
, implied two simple
crucial facts for biomechanics studies:
1. If resistance is reduced to nothing, then momentum remains constant and there is no loss of
energy. Joint mobility (e.g. shoulders, hips) and fibre flexibility (e.g. hamstrings, trapezius) are
therefore crucial to allow the energy to travel through the body without any power loss.
2. If a momentum meets a static point, it is instantaneously transferred to this static point that then
gets in motion. Stability of certain parts of the body (e.g. pelvis, shoulder girdle) allows the
energy to be transferred efficiently from one segment to the next.



b) TENNIS BIOMECHANICS AND PERFORMANCE

The optimal coordination of kinetic chains in high speed movement activities like tennis uses
coordinated sequential movements of body segments to build force from the ground through the hips
and trunk to the shoulder and into the arm, hand and racquet. The United States Tennis Association
(USTA) finds that “approximately 50% of the energy needed to hit a forehand is generated from the legs
and trunk and transferred through the kinetic chain to the racket”
2
(Kibler et al, 2004:11). For maximal
power when the racket hits the ball, players must be able to:
! Generate energy to initiate the chain: pushing against the floor makes the floor push against the
player
3
and the energy is transferred up through the legs,

1
Named after Sir Isaac Newton, the Newton’s cradle is a device that demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy via
a series of swinging spheres. When one on the end is lifted and released, the resulting force travels through the line and
pushes the last one upward.
2
Tennis technique and injury prevention, USTA Sport science committee, Aug 2004
3
Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal opposite reaction
Figure 1: Illustration of a 2-sphere Newton’s cradle. The moving blue sphere shocks the static
red sphere and transfers all its energy to it so that the blue sphere becomes static and the red gets
in motion
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 4
! Maintain energy constant through each segment of the chain whether the energy is transferred
through a linear (along the spine from lumbar to upper thoracic during serve) or angular movement
(rotating the arm up and around the shoulder socket),
! Transfer the energy effectively through stable connection points: e.g. stable hips will allow energy
to be passed on from the legs to the upper trunk, and
! Add energy at each level of the chain to increase the total momentum: the arm is active when
rotating around the shoulder socket and increases the velocity of the chain to maximise speed when
hitting the ball.

c) RISKS OF A WEAK KINETIC CHAIN IN TENNIS

When the characteristics of the chain are not present, or the sequential timing incorrect, the transfer
of energy in the kinetic chain is said to be “broken”. In a broken kinetic chain the energy that is
normally generated and accumulated by many segments is altered or even not transferred at all to the
next segment, hence other body parts must compensate to create the same performance. The USTA
states that “if the trunk does not rotate to provide force to the shoulder, it requires a 34% increase in the shoulder velocity
to achieve the same ball velocity”
1
(Kibler et al, 2004:12).

2. FOREHAND AND BACKHAND GROUNDSTROKES
a) KINETIC CHAIN

The open-stance forehand (the most commonly used in today’s game – see figure 2) can be
decomposed into the backswing or preparation phase, the forward swing where the racket hits the ball
and the follow-through that directs the ball and decelerate the arm.

During a backswing (figure 2), the player loads some energy pushing into the floor. Rotation
of the hips and of the trunk allows the body to load additional energy into the kinetic chain. Abduction
and external rotation of the arm and extension of the wrist build the last layer of energy and the body is
in maximum external rotation.


1
Tennis technique and injury prevention, USTA Sport science committee, Aug 2004
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 5







To initiate the forward swing (figure 3), the player extends his legs pushing into the floor to
release the loaded energy and transfer it up through a linear momentum. The hips then release their
rotation, followed by the trunk, adding angular momentum onto the kinetic chain. Throughout the
trunk rotation phase, the extended arm maintains the same angle in relation to the trunk. When rotation
stops, the arm is released in full extension and rotates around the shoulder girdle. When the racket
finally hits the ball, most of the accumulated energy is sent into the racket and the ball - the wrist acting
as a directional system to place the ball on the court with precision.


Figure 3: Roger Federer during the acceleration phase of an open-stance forehand showing a long aligned spine,
trunk rotation with a stable levelled pelvis, a right arm and wrist in full extension with the shoulder down and well
stabilised in order to use the momentum accumulated during the loading phase. Source (left): Kevin C.
Cox/Getty Images North America. August 19, 2010, Cincinnati, Ohio. Source (right): n.d., [online}
http://readplatform.com/federer-as-a-religious-experience/

The follow-through is a deceleration phase that contracts muscles eccentrically to absorb the
energy that has not gone into the ball and remains into the body kinetic chain.
Figure 2: Carlos Moya in preparation for an open-stance forehand
showing trunk rotation, arm and wrist extended and shoulder in external
rotation to load energy and prepare for the forward swing of the
acceleration phase. Source: n.d. [online] at http://kb-
tennis.com/khamps-corner/carlos-moya-open-stance-forehand/
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
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The kinetic chain of the backhand groundstroke (figure 4) is similar to that of a forehand
although it generally requires less trunk rotation (although two-handed and open-stance backhands
require more than single-handed or close-stance backhands) and more rotational work of the shoulder
(in particular in one-handed backhands).


Figure 4: Closed-stance backhand by Roger Federer decomposed into the loading phase (1-4), the
acceleration phase (5-8) and the deceleration or follow-through (9-12). Source: n.d. [online]
http://news.tennis365.net/lesson/img/pro_gif/federer_backhand_01_0407.gif

Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 7
b) APPLIED PILATES

Power in backhand and forehand groundstrokes is transferred up the body mainly through
rotation of the hip, trunk, shoulder and wrist. Therefore a targeted Pilates programme should focus
specifically on recruitment and strength of the deep and superficial muscles responsible for
stabilising pivot points (pelvis and shoulders) and accelerating rotation velocity (spine, arm and
wrist). Exercises must be performed with attention to control in particular during isometric and
eccentric contractions as they support preparation and acceleration phases and restore balance in a
typically one-sided game.
Joint mobility is equally important to allow energy transfer from the hip through the spine
and shoulder.
The table below provides examples of recruitment (GREEN), strength (BLUE) and mobility
(PINK) exercises to target each segment of the optimal kinetic chain.

KEY OBJECTIVES & EMPHASIS SUGGESTED PILATES EXERCISES

Hip mobility and stability focusing on
gluteal recruitment and strength to transfer
energy from the legs into hip rotation
- LONG LUNGE HIP
EXTENSION
1

- AB PREP 1
- CLAMS
- DOUBLE LEG KICK
- SWIMMING

Pelvic stability focusing on transversus
abdominis and internal oblique to provide an
anchor point for the trunk rotation
- PELVIC STABILITY
- SINGLE LEG CIRCLES
- LUMBAR STABILISER
2


Centre and alignment focusing on deep
stabilising trunk muscles to provide a stable
axis for rotation
- AB PREP 2 (in neutral)
- DEAD BUGS

- 4 POINT GLIDING
3

- 4 POINT SUPERMAN

Trunk rotation combining concentric and
eccentric work of internal and external oblique
and transversospinalis to assist acceleration and
deceleration phases
- OBLIQUE PREP
- RIBBON
4

- HIP ROLL
- SAW
- CRISS CROSS
- SIDE BEND & TWIST
- CORKSCREW


)
Front knee bent, back knee extended, squeezing the glut of the extended leg to open the hip
#
Ab Prep 1 knee pick-up open and close maintaining the pelvis level
$
Shift body weight forward and backward maintaining the spine in neutral
%
In semi-supine, circling parallel arms behind the head, curl into Oblique Prep and bring the arms across keeping the
shoulder blades off the floor. Change direction.
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 8
KEY OBJECTIVES & EMPHASIS SUGGESTED PILATES EXERCISES

Thoracic extension and spinal rotation
focusing on erector spinae and spinal mobility
- OPEN BOOK
- DIAMOND PRESS
- SPINE TWIST
- FLYING FISH
1

- SWAN DIVE

Shoulder girdle stability focusing on the
serratus anterior and rotator cuffs
- DUM WAITER
2

- 4 POINT GLIDING
- 4 POINT SUPERMAN

- THREAD THE NEEDLE
- LEG PULL
- LEG PULL FRONT


Shoulder mobility releasing the pectoralis
major and upper trapezius
- PUPPET ARMS (standing and in semi-supine)
- ARM CIRCLES (standing and in semi-supine)

Wrist mobility and strength
3
- WRIST CIRCLES
- LEG PULL FRONT
- WRIST PRONATION &
SUPINATION
4


3. SERVES AND OVERHEADS
a) KINETIC CHAIN

The serve and the overhead have very similar kinetic chains (in particular when overhead is
performed with feet on the ground) and can be simply decomposed into the loading phase, the
acceleration phase and the follow-through (figure 5). The general direction of these strokes is vertical
although rotation accompanies the energy transfer from the ground to the racket.

The loading phase is initiated by knee flexion, hip extension, trunk counter-rotation, upper
back extension, external rotation of the back shoulder (up to 170 degrees during the arm-cocking phase),

)
Thoracic extension in prone with arms extended along the body
#
Elbows bent squeezed against the sides of the ribcage, open and close the arms keeping shoulder blades down and
connected.
$
Weights may be used to strengthen the muscles of the forearm and wrist further. Positioning, timing and shoulder stability
remain key to avoid tennis elbow pathology and increase precision.
%
Elbows bent, hands forward, rotating palms up and down keeping elbows against the sides of the ribcage
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 9
lateral flexion of the front arm and wrist extension in order to load as much energy as possible. The
player presses into the floor to load energy in his legs.
The explosive acceleration phase is a sudden vertical linear release of this loaded energy from
the legs to the hips, the lower, middle and upper back, then into the shoulder, arm and ultimately the
wrist. As the momentum is transferred vertically up the body, the upper back releases its hyperextension


Figure 5: Roger Federer serve decomposed at Wimbledon final in 2009 showing the loading phase with upper
back extension without loading the lumbar spine, then full extension of the arm maintaining the shoulder down
and follow-through in rotated flexion. Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe. July 5, 2009

and the hips and trunk rotate to accelerate the movement. The entire body reaches a maximum length
so that the racket hit the ball as high as possible and with a maximum velocity. The pronated flexion of
the wrist creates the desired spine to the ball.

The follow-through decelerates the movement in trunk and arm flexion contracting muscles
eccentrically to absorb the energy that has not gone into the ball and remains into the body kinetic chain.

b) APPLIED PILATES

Power in serves and overheads is loaded, released and transferred vertically up the body through
sequential extension and flexion of the hips, back, shoulder and arm – with some component of rotation.
Therefore a targeted Pilates programme should focus specifically on recruitment and strength of the
deep and superficial muscles supporting a safe spinal extension and flexion and stabilising the
shoulder girdle for optimal arm flexion and extension.
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 10
Attention to inter-vertebral mobility and control of sequential spinal movements will also
contribute greatly to a smooth energy transfer along the spine.
The table below provides examples of recruitment (GREEN), strength (BLUE) and mobility (PINK)
exercises to target each segment of the optimal kinetic chain.

KEY OBJECTIVES & EMPHASIS SUGGESTED PILATES EXERCISES

Lower limbs muscular strength focusing on
quadriceps, hamstring, gluts and gastrocnemius
- SINGLE LEG KICK
- CLAMS
- BALANCE EXERCISES
IN STANDING
1

- SQUATS & LUNGES
- SHOULDER BRIDGE
- PELVIC PRESS


Hip Extension and Hamstring flexibility to
allow extension during the loading phase and
optimal energy transfer from the legs
- TRIANGLE LUNGE &
HINGE FORWARD
2

- LONG LUNGE HIP
EXTENSION
- DOWN FACING DOG
- PASSIVE HAMSTRING
STRETCH (in semi-supine)


Abdominal recruitment and strength both
in trunk extension and flexion to avoid lumbar
compression during the loading and
acceleration phases
- AB PREP 2 (in neutral)
- DEAD BUGS
- ROLL LIKE A BALL
- SPINE STRETCH
- SINGLE LEG STRETCH
- HUNDREDS
- TEASER


Sequential spinal mobility both in flexion
and extension to enhance energy transfer along
the spine
- ROLL DOWN
- AB PREP 1
- ROLL OVER
- CAT & DOG STRETCH
- SPINE STRETCH
- DRINKING LION

Lumbar decompression and Thoracic
extension focusing on erector spinae
recruitment and strength
- CAT & DOG STRETCH
- DIAMOND PRESS
- FLYING FISH
- JACK KNIFE
- SWAN DIVE
- LEG PULL
Shoulder girdle stability targeting the rotator
cuffs to support external rotation with
abduction (loading phase) and internal rotation
with adduction (acceleration phase)
- DUM WAITER
- 4 POINT GLIDING
- 4 POINT SUPERMAN

- THREAD THE NEEDLE
- DRINKING LION
- LEG PULL
- SIDE BEND & TWIST

)
For example Rise on toes feet parallel, Stand on one leg bend and extend
#
Both legs straight in parallel, hips facing forward, hinging trunk forward with a straight back to stretch the front hamstrings.
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 11
KEY OBJECTIVES & EMPHASIS SUGGESTED PILATES EXERCISES

Spiral and lateral myofascial lines
1
length to
reach maximum height at ball impact
- SPINE STRETCH
- ROUND THE WORLD
- SIDE STRETCH
STANDING
2

- SAW
- TENSOR FASCIA LATAE
STRETCH
3


CONCLUSION

Incorporating Pilates exercises in Tennis conditioning programmes may significantly improve
game performance both in terms of power and precision and reduce risks of injuries. Although different
groundstrokes use different kinetic chains, Pilates fundamentals equally apply to all of them and benefit
tennis physical preparation in many ways. Recruiting deep stabilising muscles reduces the muscular work
required from superficial muscles to generate power and allow optimal conservation and transfer of
energy from the feet up to the racket. Working muscles in eccentric contraction prepares the player for
preparation and deceleration phases hence restoring balance in often one-sided bodies. Enhancing joint
mobility - in particular intervertebral mobility - creates a smooth pathway along the spine for linear or
angular momentum avoiding tension points to develop as they absorb the energy that cannot be
transferred further. Finally focus on length protects from joint compression, one of the major risks
associated with emergency runs and loading/extension phases in groundstrokes.





)
Myofascial lines are defined by Tom Myers in Anatomy Trains, 2009. Tension and limited mobility or flexibility may result
from tight fascia and not only from tight muscles.
#
One arm up, side bend keeping the lift from the waste
$
In supine, one leg extended along the floor, one leg extended to the ceiling, bring the top leg across the midline of the body
maintaining both hip on the floor. Flex the top foot.
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 12
APPENDIX
a) ROGER FEDERER: PILATES IN REAL
That Roger Federer among all top tennis players illustrates most of this essay should come as no
surprise. Put aside his bewildering tennis records, what strikes most tennis fans when watching him play
is certainly how effortless his game seems and how balanced, lean and almost normal his body looks – all
the more so when compared to Rafael Nadal who shows a quite bulky muscular structure. He is able to
master almost perfectly the kinetic chain as we have described it combining recruitment of deep
stabilising muscles, smooth transfer of energy through a mobile spine and a great range of rotation and
extension. His forehand is certainly the best example of that with an anchored shoulder that allows the
arm to rotate around it freely without “holding” the arm into an angle, letting the spinal rotation carry
the power to the end of the racket.
Although it is always challenging to use individual pictures to describe and analyse the game of a
player, Figure 6 is meant to shade some light on Federer’ impressive ability to optimise the forehand
kinetic chain when some other great champions like Andy Murray may find it challenging despite their
astonishing records.


Figure 6: Andy Murray’s right shoulder and right hip drop down and his right arm is not in line with his
shoulder: it actually creates a big angle with the shoulder line. Roger Federer creates an impressive line from
his left shoulder to his wrist and both hips are maintained at the same level. Source: Tennis.topbuzz.com,
Andy Murray at Roger’s Cup final (2010), Roger Federer: see Figure 3 (right)

In my opinion there is little doubt that Roger Federer’s physical conditioning programme
includes exercises focusing on recruitment of deep stabilising muscles as well as mobility in order to be
able to stabilise his trunk and shoulder so well while letting the trunk and arm rotation happen with little
resistance. Although I have not found any direction testimonial in sport literature from him, Roger
Federer is regularly cited among athletes that are said to practice Pilates and to me he is the best
illustration of what “Pilates in real life” can produce.
Alexandra Prigent for the Pilates Foundation PILATES & TENNIS PERFORMANCE
November 2012 13
b) REFERENCES & BIBLIOGRAPHY
Isacowitz R., Clippinger K. (2011) Pilates Anatomy, Human Kinetics
Ivancevic T., Jovanovic B., Jovanovic S., Djukic M., Djukic N., Lukman A., (20011) Paradigm Shift for
Future Tennis: The Art of Tennis Physiology, Biomechanics and Psychology. Springer
Roetert E.P., Kovacks M.S., (2011) Tennis Anatomy. Human Kinetics
USTA Sport Science Committee: Kibler W.B., Brody H., Knudson D., Stroia K. (2004) Tennis technique
and injury prevention, [online] Available at
assets.usta.com/assets/1/USTA_Import/USTA/.../doc_437_550.pdf [accessed Oct 4th 2012]
Zatsiorsky V. (2000) Biomechanics in Sport: Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention in Sport. Blackwell
publishing
Myers T. (2009), Anatomy Trains: Myofascial meridians for manual and movement therapists, 2
nd
Edition.
Churchill Livingstone

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