NO GUTS, NO GLORY
- BY PETER BRUNO, M.D
When people say it takes guts to play well, the claim
is more literal than they know.
Most tennis players know they , must develop the muscles
in their upper and lower bodies if they want to become
stronger and increase their aerobic capacity on the
court. But these same athletes often neglect another
set of muscles that are just as important-the abdominal,
or stomach, muscles.
The abdominals consist of several Muscles, including
the rectus abdominus, which is the main
abdominal muscle, and the internal and external obliques,
which run along the sides of the abdomen. The top area
of these muscles attaches to, the rib cage, while the
bottom area attaches to the pelvis. In connecting, the
upper and lower body, the abdominal muscles serve as
a center, for power.
The abdominals are often neglected because they are
not much ; used in the activities of our daily life.
Other muscles, such as the triceps or the hamstrings,
are used : and strengthened every time a person lifts
his arm or walks across the street. But the abdominals
are strengthened only if one concentrates on specific
exercises geared for that area of the body.
Even an athlete who is in reasonable shape may have
very weak abdominal muscles unless he includes such
exercises in his regular training regime. It is important
to train all the muscles in the body-not just some of
them-in order to avoid any kind of muscular or strength
imbalance. The muscles in the body work together, and
every muscle has a counter muscle. When lifting a weight
in a curl motion, for example, the bicep muscle pulls
the arm into the body. But a separate muscle, the tricep,
works when taking the curl back down again. And when
one muscle becomes - much stronger than its counter
muscle, there is greater chance for injury. The same
is true for the back. The spine is held in place by
two different muscle groups. One group is the paraspinous
muscles, which stretch up and down the spine. For most
people, and especially for tennis players, these muscles
tend to strengthen during normal daily activity. If
the counter muscles in this case are the abdominals.
If the paraspinous muscles become much stronger than
the abdominals, they may begin pulling the spine, causing
it to curve abnormally. Strengthening the abdominals
will not only counteract the strength of the paraspinous
muscles, it will hold the back in proper alignment as
well. This is I especially important for people who
I are overweight.
Extra weight, in combination with weak abdominal muscles,
puts excessive pressure on the spine. This can result
in back strains, or worse-disc problems. Those who play
tennis seriously are also prone to back injuries. In
many cases, such people have stronger paraspinous muscles
than non-players do, simply because the game calls for
so much running and upper body movement. Tennis players,
however, won't necessarily strengthen their abdominals
through these motions.
The abdominal muscles, which serve as the body's center,
are used in nearly every tennis stroke. The internal
and external obliques, for example, are the primary
muscles used for driving groundstrokes, and players
can get more power in this part of their game by strengthening
these muscles. Stronger muscles will also help deter
any tears or pulls
that may result when hitting a shot too hard or off-balance.
A player who wants to strengthen his abdominals should
lie on his back, on a hard surface, with his knees bent.
When lifting his shoulder blades off the floor-and also
when lowering them-he should make sure that his back
remains parallel to the floor. To train the obliques,
he can lie on his back and cross his left foot over
his right knee. After lifting his shoulder blades, he
should turn his upper body at an angle and point his
right elbow at his left knee. If this
exercise is done correctly, he will feel tension along
the side of his body. But remember, strong abdominal
muscles are only beneficial when the back muscles are
already strong. To be in the best L shape, a player
must train every muscle in his body.