Try These Shoulder Exercises For Tennis Players

Try These Shoulder Exercises For Tennis Players

shoulder exercises for tennis players

Fall may arguably be one of the best times to play tennis. With crisp temps that make for a more pleasant (and much cooler) game, now just may be the ideal time to pack up your UA Undeniable Signature Duffle Bag ($45) and meet a friend for a match or two. But, even the casual tennis player can benefit from training outside of hitting the ball back and forth.

Although you may be tempted to think dozens of bicep curls may be the answer to stronger arms for tennis, there’s actually a lot more to it. In fact, pay extra attention to shoulder-strengthening exercises is key.

“To optimize power and performance and to reduce the risk of injury, you should build strength and stability throughout the entire range of motion,” explained Nick Hassell, a NASM-certified ortho-kinetics specialist trainer and therapist at Life Time. “This is especially true for your shoulders, which are prone to instability due to range capabilities.”

Hassell, who also is the personal training manager at Life Time Tennis, explained, “While it is important to work all the muscles of the arms, the ones that tend to get neglected are the groups that encourage good posture and shoulder stability.” Thus, focusing on exercises that target the scapula depressors, retractors, and the rotator cuff muscles are essential.

For all those tennis players looking to up their game and get stronger for their next weekend match, Hassell shared these five exercises that increase shoulder strength and stability, improve posture, and integrate spinal and hip mechanics all at the same time.

Standing Shoulder Extensions (with bands or cables)

  1. Stand in a slight squat with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Facing the cable or holding the bands at shoulder level, grab the handles with your palms facing up, thumbs out, and arms straight making sure not to lock your elbows.
  3. Pull your hands down to your side being sure to exhale while pulling.
  4. As you pull, squeeze your scapula (shoulder) down and together while keeping your chest out and tailbone tucked.
  5. Focus on rotating your arms and wrist out as you pull, being sure to emphasize the rotation of the wrist can minimize the chance of getting tennis elbow.
  6. As you pull, make sure you are feeling the load in the hips as opposed to the lower back.
  7. Repeat for three sets of 12 to 15 controlled reps.

Pro tip: “Do not shrug your shoulders, round your upper spine, or excessively arch your lower back as you pull. Keep your arms straight.”

Shoulder Press (with dumbbells)

  1. Perform either seated or standing. Start with dumbbells over your elbows and elbows in front of your shoulders instead of to the side to minimize shoulder impingement aka soreness like swimmer’s shoulder.
  2. Press the dumbbells over your shoulders, driving your shoulder blades as high as possible as if reaching for the ceiling, so you get an active stretch in your shoulder blades.
  3. Keep your core engaged and tailbone tucked throughout the motion. Exhale as you press.
  4. Repeat for three sets of 12 to 15 controlled reps.

Pro tip: “Do not arch your lower back or shift your head forward as you press up.”

Standing Single-Arm Chest Press With Rotation (with bands or cables)

  1. Stand in a slight squat with feet shoulder width apart facing away from the cables.
  2. Line your elbow up with the cable on the arm you’re working first. Keep in mind your elbow should almost be at shoulder height.
  3. Press the cable handle forward and exhale.
  4. Begin to rotate your upper body as you press without moving your pelvis and maintaining good posture throughout motion.
  5. Rotate your upper body back to its original position as your arm comes back.
  6. Repeat for two sets of 12 to 15 controlled reps per arm.

Pro tip: “Keep your spine stacked over your pelvis and your head facing forward as you rotate. Do not shrug your shoulders. Do not allow your pelvis to rotate.”

Prone Y’s on the Stability Ball (with dumbbells)

  1. Lay face down with your abdomen at the center of a stability ball.
  2. Keep your arms straight at a “Y” angle in relation to your body. Make sure your thumbs are facing up with dumbbells in your hands on the ground.
  3. Stick your chest out and engage your core to minimize low back activation.
  4. Raise your arms up maintaining the “Y” alignment. Do not allow your shoulders to shrug or tilt your head back as you raise your hands.
  5. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down as you raise your hands to shoulder level, making sure to feel the contraction in the middle and lower part of your shoulder blades.

Pro tip: “This exercise can potentially reduce tension in the neck and the need for massages.”

Rotator Cuff – External Rotation (with bands or cables)

  1. Begin by grabbing the cable in front of you with your right hand and turning your body to the right, so that the cable is perpendicular to you.
  2. Depress and retract both shoulders. Start with your elbow directly under your shoulder, your hand in front of your abdomen and your thumb facing up.
  3. Rotate your shoulder to where your hand moves out to your side, so you feel the contraction in your shoulder blade. Be sure to maintain elbow and wrist alignment and do not turn your body as you rotate your shoulder.
  4. Repeat for two sets of 12 to 15 controlled reps per arm.

Pro tip: “Instead of increasing resistance, abduct your shoulder 30 degrees to the side. As you continue to develop strength, add an additional 15 degrees of abduction for each new phase of strength development.”

Although Hassell says tennis players can benefit from strength training for one set once a week, performing more sets two to three days a week would help solidify results even more. “Doing one set of a few of these exercises before you play is a great way to prepare your body for the upcoming challenges of tennis,” he noted.

Just keep in mind that the arms aren’t the only muscle groups tennis players should work. The core and hips are also vital for tennis players, as that’s where most of the power comes from, explained Hassell. Adding in core movements with rotational and side bending exercises as well as emphasizing hip and glute engagement during your leg exercises too will help reduce the unnecessary stress from low back tightness caused by playing.


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