When it comes to your back, it’s a question of when, not if, it’s going to hurt. But that doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way ?rst: eight out of 10 adults in this country will suffer some form of back trouble in their lives. It may be just a few seconds of discomfort, or it might sideline us for weeks or months.
Unfortunately, when it comes to back problems, it can be dif? cult to pinpoint exactly what’s going on, says Dr. Stuart Weinstein, M.D., a clinical professor of rehabilitative medicine who specializes in spine injuries at the University of Washington in Seattle. In part that’s because the most common back problems—strains, sprains, and disc injuries—can have similar symptoms, affect the lumbar (lower) spine, and be caused by the same types of activities, particularly ones that involve twisting or sudden starts and stops. In a word: tennis. “There are so many rotational forces that come into play with a sport like tennis,” Weinstein says. “The back really isn’t designed to withstand them.” Indeed, the spine is basically a stack of bones with little bumpers, called intervertebral discs, in between. The beauty of this design is that it makes it possible for us to bend and twist, but it also means there isn’t one big bone acting as an anchor to hold it all together. For that the spine needs a corset of strong muscles surrounding it. “That’s why tennis players would be smart to spend more time improving athleticism—strength, coordination, and balance—instead of focusing solely on improving their court skills,” says John Rumpeltes, P.T., A.T.C., a physical therapist at Olympic Physical Therapy in Seattle and founder of Athletic Engineering, a post-rehab and performance center. Rumpeltes, who works with recreational, collegiate, and professional players, says that the clients who do the dynamic workout described here ? nd that it makes them stronger and improves their games. “When you train your body to transfer the ‘load’ that comes with acceleration and deceleration from the feet up through the legs, hips, and back to the end of your racquet, you become a better player,” Rumpeltes says.
Don’t resign yourself to becoming a statistic. This workout, which involves moves done in the three planes tennis demands—forward and backward, side to side, and rotational—will keep your back on track.Do this series every other day and you’ll feel a difference on and off court within eight weeks. Your back will thank you.
WHAT IT DOES: Improves balance and coordination, control, and core strength.
WHAT YOU DO: Place two cones or tennis-ball cans 4–5 feet apart. Hold a 3-pound dumbbell in each hand. Stand between the two points, knees slightly bent, arms at your sides. (1) Push off your left foot and hop your right leg sideways toward the right cone while pulling your left arm across your body. Land softly. (2) Jump to the left and pull your right arm across your body. To do this correctly, envision the way a speed skater moves down the ice. Go back and forth for one minute, rest one minute, and repeat twice more.
WHAT IT DOES: Strengthens the core and simulates the dynamic movement of serves and overheads.
WHAT YOU DO: Hold a 3-pound dumbbell in your left hand. (1) Stand on your right leg with your left knee bent and lifted so your thigh is parallel with the ground. Lift your left arm out to the side so that your biceps is parallel with the ground and your forearm is perpendicular. (2) Keeping your back straight, bend forward at the waist as you extend your left leg straight behind you. Reach your left arm about 18 inches in front of your right knee or toe (depending on your ? exibility) as you bend your right knee slightly. Return to the starting position and repeat for 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat. Do three 30-second intervals on each side.
WHAT IT DOES: Strengthens and stabilizes the core
WHAT YOU DO: Lie on your stomach and place your forearms ?at on the ground under your upper body. Your feet should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Push your body up so your elbows are below your shoulders and your weight is on your toes and forearms. Look down at the ground; don’t let your back arch. Keep your core tight and hold for 30 seconds. Rest 30 seconds and repeat twice more. As you get stronger, increase to 60 seconds or straighten your arms so your palms are ? at on the ? oor beneath your shoulders.
WHAT IT DOES: Strengthens and stabilizes the core.
WHAT YOU DO: Lie on your right side with your torso propped on your right forearm and hand, and your feet stacked. Push your hips off the ground so you’re supported on your forearm and your right foot. Hold for 30–60 seconds. Switch sides and repeat. Rest 30 seconds and repeat twice more. If this is too dif? cult, bend your knees and support yourself on the outside of your right knee as you lift your hips. As you get stronger, reach your free hand straight up.
WHAT IT DOES: Strengthens the core, hips, and glutes, and simulates the weight transfer and stops and starts of playing tennis.
WHAT YOU DO: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent. Hold a 3–5 pound dumbbell at your chest with one hand on each end. Imagine you’re in the middle of a clock. Step forward, putting your right foot on the 12 o’clock position and lunge down so your legs are bent at 90 degrees. Simultaneously thrust the weight out and down to waist height. Step back to the center and pull the weight back up to your chest. Facing forward, step to 1:30 (between 1 and 2, or about 45 degrees), leading with your toes. Next lunge to 3, then 4:30, and ? nally backwards to 6. Now switch legs and lunge with your left foot to the 7:30 position on the clock. Then go to 9, 10:30, and to 12. Make sure your core remains tight, your back is straight, and your chest is up. Repeat for one minute (you should be able to complete two rounds). Rest for one minute and repeat twice more.