Powerful backhands and killer serves take a toll on your wrists. The delicate web of muscles, tendons and ligaments collected at the narrow point of the wrist channels the power of your larger arm and shoulder muscles, back, core and lower body into absorbing the shock of impact and redirecting the tennis ball. Put your whole body into that swing, but stay in the game for match point by toughening up your fragile wrists.
It's All in the Wrist
Strong wrists will help you avoid tennis elbow, an overuse injury that originates in your wrist extensors. A study published in "Canadian Family Physician" found that a program of simple flexing and extending exercises makes wrists stronger, lowering the risk for tennis elbow and speeding rehabilitation for an existing injury. Hold a heavy can or a light weight in one hand and stretch your arm straight across a bench or table without bending your elbow. Let the weighted hand hang over the edge of the table, palm down, and raise and lower the weigh 10 to 15 times. Improve range of motion by bending your wrist joint from side-to-side. Stand, grasping a light dumbbell by the back knob so most of it is in front of your hand. Bend only your wrist to raise and lower the front end of the weight. Shift the weight so most of it is to the back. Raise and lower the back end of the weight moving only your wrist. Clear any rehabilitation exercise with your health care provider first, if you are recovering from tennis elbow.
Wrist Curls for Dumbbells
Grab a set of dumbbells and a couple of classic moves to stretch and strengthen your wrists. The American Council on Exercise recommends wrist curls for flexion and extension. Start with light dumbbells and progress to heavier ones once you've mastered the moves and built up some strength. To increase flexibility in the forearm flexors, kneel, rest your elbows on a bench and let your wrists extend past the bench. Grasp a dumbbell in each upturned palm and hold the position as you let the weights move towards the floor and then bring them back to neutral, or start position. Target flexors and extensors by shifting your fists and the dumbbells you are holding to vertical, palms facing each other. Turn your forearms so your palms face the ceiling and the weights become horizontal and then revolve arms and hands back, with control, to your start position.
Mat to Match Point
Get a great game going from your yoga mat. Yoga's flexing and weight-bearing poses give your wrists a workout. "Yoga Journal" suggests starting with prayer position at heart level, palms pressed firmly together. Slowly move the compressed hands toward your navel without separating your palms, then return. Downward Dog rocks your wrists and you can put as much or as little weight on them as you can handle as you increase the bend. You'll be building strength in your arms and shoulders at the same time so you can attempt more challenging Planks, Handstands and even Crane pose with solid support. One trick to distribute the weight on your hands and stress on your wrists in yoga poses is to consciously press your knuckles as well as the heels of your hands into the floor or mat, and lengthen your fingers.
Total Tennis Yoga
A regular tennis practice can make you stiff as you use the same muscles over and over. Loss of suppleness actually weakens your wrists, the release point for all that activity driving the tennis ball. Back up your wrists with whole-body flexibility training so your moves are fluid and you stay injury-free. Elevate your game from the ground up with yoga Chair pose for your abs and Achilles tendons, Warrior 2 for lower body power and balance, and Bridge for a supple back. Go for the show-off moves like Upward Bow, in which your feet and palms are flat on the mat as you arch backward. Upward Bow focuses on your wrists as you strengthen your arms, legs, glutes, abs and spine while opening your chest and diaphragm.
- USTA: Wrist Management: Prevention of Wrist Injuries in Tennis Players
- NIH National LIbrary of Medicine: Tennis Elbow No More
- Idea Fit: Yoga for Sports Performance: Tennis
- Yoga Journal: Bearing Up Under Pressure
- American Council on Exercise: Dumbbell Wrist Curls
- Yoga Journal: Upward Bow or Wheel Pose
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .