When you find yourself running to your right, then forced to plant your right foot and stretch your legs to hit a forehand, you’ll be in much better shape if your hamstrings are strong. If they are, they’ll help stabilize your body and give you a solid base of support, giving you a chance to make a strong return. If your hamstrings are weak, your shot will likely be weak, or worse, you’ll overtax your muscles and pull a hamstring. To prepare for this situation and other shots in which you must lunge or stretch for the ball, do some exercises to build up those hammies.
Having strong hamstrings isn’t enough. Your hamstrings must also be stretched so you can attain, and maintain, as much range of motion as possible. Perform dynamic stretches before a workout or a match, and static stretches afterward. Dynamic stretches may include forward and backward leg kicks, plus front-to-back or side-to-side leg swings. Perform static stretches in a variety of positions. Typically you’ll extend your legs and bend your upper body toward your feet, then hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds. For example, sit on the floor with one leg extended forward and the other leg bent to the outside. Rotate the extended leg inward a bit before leaning forward until you feel the stretch beneath your thigh. You can also rotate the leg outward.
Standard hamstring exercises should help you in many situations on the court. You’ll have more potential power when you’re serving, or when you have time to set yourself before hitting a groundstroke. But what about that stretch forehand? Exercises that strengthen your hamstrings while simulating tennis moves should pay off when you hit from an awkward position. So instead of doing a standard lunge, for example, try a five-way session featuring 25 lunges with each leg. Grasp a pair of barbells and do five normal forward lunges. For your next five, step forward at a 45-degree angle instead of moving straight ahead. Then do five lateral lunges, in which you step directly to one side, then five rear lunges, then finish with five crossover lunges in which your lead foot crosses in front of your back leg.
Squats, deadlifts and step-ups are good, standard exercises to strengthen your hamstrings. Squats and deadlifts are commonly performed with barbells, but you can also do them with dumbbells. To perform step-ups -- which work all four of your hamstring muscles -- grasp a pair of dumbbells, stand erect and put one foot on a raised platform or step, at around knee- or mid-shin height. Lean forward and raise your back foot by pushing with the upper foot.
Use a weight machine with a low cable to perform hamstring curls. While this move doesn’t replicate a specific tennis position, you can perform the exercise in a variety of positions to give all of your hamstring muscles a solid workout. Do the exercise while standing erect, while bent forward or lying down. Some machines can also simulate deadlifts.
- Marathon Training Guide: What is Dynamic Stretching?
- Sports Injury Clinic: Stretching for Tight Hamstring Muscles
- Anatomy of Exercise; Pat Manocchia
- USTA: Ask the Lab: Leg Workouts and Stretching USTA: Ask the Lab: Leg Workouts and Stretching
- ShareCare: What Are Some Specific Leg Exercises for Tennis?
- ExRx.net: Hamstrings
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.