Photo credit: Newsweek
I believe Roger Federer to be one of the most graceful tennis players of all time. He seems to move across the court with such effortless ease that I often feel he goes home and choreographs his matches. Besides having an outstanding team behind him that we all wish we had, it is his core strength and stability that gives him his dynamic court movement.
Where strength of the core was once thought of as having six pack abs, we now know this is far from the truth for core stability. Core stability, for an athlete, is about being strong enough to come back to their center of gravity. Imagine running for a wide forehand where you are reaching, almost off balance, to hit the ball. What allows you to not tip over and fall down let alone change directions to chase down the next ball? You need to be able to mobilize the mass (your body) away from the midline and bring it back to neutral as quickly as possible. In order to be able to achieve this, you want to be strong and stable yet have dynamic movement especially in the hip area. It is not about how hard you train the core, but how smart you train and the connection you make from the inside that creates this strength. The better trained these muscles are, the more efficient the transfer of energy will be throughout the whole body. The trunk needs to be trained all the way around — front, back and sides.
The core stability of the trunk focuses on five muscles:
Multifidus - It’s closest to the spinal column and provides stiffness and stability to the spinal column
Transverse Abdominis - Deepest muscles of the core — mostly slow twitch fibers — and built for endurance
Internal Obliques - Rotates the trunk and bends it sideways
External Obliques - Rotates the trunk
Rectus Abdominis -Important for strength in jumping and the six-pack look
We are conditioned to working the superficial muscles until we feel the burn. Crunches alone will not provide stability. Instead, learn how to activate or switch on your core muscles, especially the Transverse Abdominis. This helps you develop the strength needed to transfer weight and energy to the spine and from the spine to the legs which equates to more power generated. You will be able to jump higher, serve more powerfully and be able to maintain structural health both on and off the court.
Forearm or Straight Arm Plank is a common position for strengthening the muscles of the core. Utilizing the following technique will help you discover how to get the most out of your plank. Modifications will be provided at the end. Please read through technique before trying it.
Start on your hands and knees, in a tabletop position with a wall behind you. Inhale and extend your right leg back so your heel touches just above the baseboard or about six inches off the floor. Adjust your hands so your leg is straight when the heel is touching the wall. You have the option of being on extended arms or forearms, depending on the strength of your shoulders and core. Be sure your elbows or wrists are directly below your shoulders.
On your next inhale, extend your left leg back and lift both knees off the floor coming into plank. To visualize what your body should look like, imagine that a yard stick was placed on your back from your head to your rear end. The yard stick should be touching your rear end, your mid back and the back of your head with a space at your neck and lower back. You may need to lower or raise your rear end to see if the adjustment makes the difference.
Press down into your hands or forearms and push the ground away from you, keeping your shoulders steady and strong (do not round the upper back).
Begin to press your heels firmly against the wall creating dorsi flexion of your feet (toes towards your shins), sending the force of energy down to your feet. This helps to take some of the load off your shoulders as well.
Pressing your hands or forearms into the ground sends the force of energy down to the ground and back up through the arms and down to the feet creating a global stabilization throughout the body. You should feel challenged because you are creating more energy in the body, not because your body feels so heavy you can barely hold it up!
Be sure to incorporate your breath into this technique. Practice slow breaths.
When you become proficient in this technique you can try it without your feet against a wall and see if you can get activated!
If this is too challenging on the shoulders or due to other injuries, you can modify it by placing your hands on a chair or bench or your forearms on the wall for a standing plank.
It is not about the complexity of the technique you do, but the ability to activate the muscles of the core. Have fun and be strong!