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Tennis really is a lifetime sport, but conditioning matters

"Tennis, the Sport for a Lifetime.” The United States Tennis Association coined that phrase for an ad promoting tennis.

It's true: Tennis remains a game that can be played or enjoyed as a spectator for a lifetime.

Years ago, tennis was considered too vigorous a sport for anyone older than 45. Today, many people play competitive singles in the 85 and over age group.

My father was one of those 80-plus tennis players. He retained a passion for tennis throughout his life, and when his eyesight was failing, switched roles from playing tennis to coaching others in the joy of the game.

Just the other day I heard about a man who is 96 and plays tennis three times a week. (By the way, he plays golf twice a week.)

The USTA has tournaments for all ages, including men in the 90 and over category and for women 85 and over. Because the level of play is controlled by the person playing, not only can you play tennis at any age, but it is a sport that can be enjoyed at all playing levels.

You can compete in organized tennis tournaments at almost any skill level, from beginner to advanced.

Wheelchair tennis is one of the fastest growing and most challenging of all wheelchair sports. The only difference in rules between a wheelchair player and a standing player is wheelchair players are allowed two bounces of the ball instead of one.

As you become more advanced, planning a strategy against your opponent will stimulate your concentration and mental skills.

According to Dr. Joan Finn and colleagues at Southern Connecticut State University, tennis players scored higher in vigor, optimism and self-esteem, and lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension, than other athletes and nonathletes.

Hans Gallauer, director of tennis at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg, says the game does a body good.

"Tennis can be a sport for life if you maintain good physical condi tioning. The average person plays tennis to get in condition, but truly, you need to be in good condition to play tennis well."

Physical conditioning

A tennis-conditioning workout should include a warmup, agility drills, balance, cardio, strength and flexibility exercises.

Warmup: This will loosen tight muscles and make movement easier to perform. "Cold" stretching is not recommended in a warmup. It is better to practice a modified version of your specific activity. Many players warm up with about eight to 10 minutes of hitting practice shots.

Agility drills and balance: requires many sudden changes in direction and balance while maintaining speed.

It helps to practice agility drills, such as the side shuffle: Place two cones or a similar marker about 12 feet apart. Standing in the middle of the markers, do a side shuffle to the left marker for about 10 seconds; then do the shuffle step to the right marker.

Studies tell us that within any given point, there can be four to six directional changes.

Cardio exercise: Any aerobic activity performed at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes will improve your endurance base, needed for playing on the courts. Playing time generally will vary from 30 minutes to three or more hours.

Strength conditioning: Most of the body's major muscles are put into motion when you are driving the ball over the net.

The major upper-body muscles that need to be strengthened for putting power into your strokes are the pectoralis major (largest chest muscle), latissimi dorsi (sides of the back) deltoids (shoulders), biceps (front of upper arms) and triceps (back of upper arms).

The lower-body muscles that need to be strong to deal with the many repeated stop and go movements and to generate the power for ground strokes are calf muscles, quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs) and the inner and outer thighs.

All swinging motions such as ground strokes and serves require the internal and external obliques (on both sides of the abdominals) to be strong.

"Because rotator cuff injuries occur frequently in tennis players and typically require a long recovery period, a well-designed strength-training program should include at least one workout per week for the shoulder rotator muscles," Wayne L. Westcott and Thomas R. Baechle wrote in Strength Training Past 50.

Flexibility, which increases the range of motion around a joint, will help you to move more spontaneously on the court. It will enable you to reach for a wide forehand shot, lunge from side to side, and reach high for overheads. The areas that need to be particularly stretched are the shoulders, hamstrings and lower back.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Write to Sally Anderson, a trainer, in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Both Ruth Ann and Norm Ott have worked with the USTA for five years. Recently they organized and managed the Florida State Invitational Tournament for men and women over 70. They have four granddaughters, ages 1 to 11.

Shoulder stretches: Ruth Ann and Norm Ott with Han Gallauer, director of tennis at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, demonstrate three shoulder stretches: a front, over the head and a back position. Hold each position for 10 to 12 counts and repeat each stretch twice.

Medicine ball with side lunge: Improves lower body strength, core stability and balance. A coach tosses the ball to the right side of the player. The player quickly rotates his body and lunges to the right side to catch the ball. The player uses his legs and hips to return to standing position to toss the ball back to the coach. Repeat exercise 10 to 12 times, then repeat the exercises to the left side.

Rotator cuff strengthener (external rotation): Attach tubing to something secure and begin by bending the arm 90 degrees, with upper arm close to the side of the body. Hold tubing, palm facing inward, allowing a slight tension in the tubing. Keeping elbow touching your side, pull tubing by taking the hand away from the body. You will be externally rotating the upper arm. Return to starting position and repeat 15 to 20 times. Change sides and repeat.

Straight arm row: Strengthens upper back muscles. Secure tubing with a stationary object about hip level. Move back until you feel tension in the tubing. Hold tubing with both hands, palms facing down. Pull arms back toward the hips while keeping arms straight. You should feel the shoulder blades squeezing together. Return to original position, keeping tension on tubing; repeat one to two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.

Tennis tips

1. Watch the ball: Focusing on the seams of the ball will increase your concentration. You never want to take your eyes off the ball.

2. Be light on your feet: Keep feet moving, taking short, quick steps to get to the ball.

3. Bend knees: You never want to play stiff-legged; maintain a slight crouch position by bending knees. Maintaining flexed knees will help you to step into the ball with more power.

4. Hit against a wall: Using a ball machine or hitting against a backboard or wall will help you develop stamina and smooth strokes.

5. Try mini-tennis: Good for beginners. You and your partner practice hitting the ball from the service line instead of the baseline.

Tennis really is a lifetime sport, but conditioning matters 03/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 10:20am]
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