Local Tennis League players will soon be seeing a lot of Charlotte Mills. A competition co-ordinator at the LTA, she will be a key part of the LTL team over the coming weeks and months. She is also an ITEC Level 3 Sports Massage Therapist who has some excellent injury-avoiding advice for over-enthusiastic but under-exercised tennis players.
If you have been out running every day during the lockdown or trying to keep up with Joe Wicks with your kids, you might think you are fit enough to get straight out and play a match again. Think again!
“What I have noticed during the lockdown is that even if you might have tried really hard to up your training regime, you are unlikely to be as fit as you were and many people will have got a bit sedentary,” says Charlotte.
“When you are not moving as much you get tight in your hips and knees which you might not have noticed before. To go from working from home or not working at all, and not doing specific exercises, to playing a high-impact match on a hard, tarmac court, will be a shock to the system.”
Pilates for beginners
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Charlotte has seen a lot of sports-related injuries. "In my old job, I was a sports officer in the army, organising hockey and sailing tournaments in Aldershot which is the HQ for British Army Sport. It's where people who have just come out of Sandhurst train to be in the PT (Physical Trainers) Core, so they are the fittest of the fit until you get to the SAS." When her boss suggested she might like to do a sports massage therapy course, she jumped at the chance. "It was nice to have another part to my job, and I got to go to Chile with the hockey team, which I would never have had the opportunity to do otherwise." It also gave her a huge amount of experience.
So what does she suggest for tennis players? "Warm up! And warm up more than usual. Jog to the courts if you can so you get the blood flowing and get nutrients to the muscles. Muscles are naturally springy and warming up makes them springier so you can run quicker and jump higher - you are ready to go. If you are not warmed up, essentially the muscles are stuck and you can’t expect them to suddenly go and do this very strenuous activity for an hour and a half.”
Tennis involves a lot of twisting and if your hips are stiff or not quite aligned, playing tennis can make something click out of place. “Strong glutes are key for any athlete. They hold the hips in place." Get them fired up with glute bridges (see picture right) which will also help your core and your back.
Above, Charlotte applies the pressure
Other exercises Charlotte recommends for tennis players (unless your doctor or physio says otherwise) are the plank (hold for 30 seconds or longer), squats (if you don’t have knee problems) which are great for your quads, hamstrings and core, and 'superman', which involves lying flat on your front, and raising your arms and legs, like a bow (but no flying!). "Do 3 sets of 10 - it's really good for your lower back". The 'clam' will help pull your knee into place (lie on your side with your knees bent and raise and lower one knee while keeping the ankles together).
"If you can, be mindful of your movements. I try to visual my spine turning and moving in a way that feels right. It can be very hard when you are constantly reacting in a tennis match but it can make a big difference."
Don’t forget to wear proper tennis shoes which provide cushioning, keep up your fluid intake and post-match, stretch. “You don't have to stretch straightaway, but walk or jog home if you can and then stretch each area of your body. It doesn’t have to be a deep stretch, unless that particularly works for, but hold each stretch for 20 seconds or so. My parting message would be: hydrate, warmup and stretch.”