Power Tennis, the ‘Grunt’ and your Core

After a thrilling day at Wimbledon on Friday, my own little tennis ‘victory’ and some pretty tender ribs for the last week, I have been inspired to think about why my ribs hurt, why we ‘Grunt’ under pressure and how we can get more power in our tennis shots.

I myself can be guilty of the ‘Grunt’.  It comes at two stages for me.  Firstly when I am completely overstretched for a shot, the ‘Grunt’  makes an appearance – the result of me digging deep to get the power to return the ball with at least some pace when in this weak, lengthened position.  Secondly, it seems to appear on even the tamest of shots when I am in the third set and feeling weary.  So it’s clear that for me at least the ‘Grunt’  helps me to find power where there is none.  So why do so many women tennis professionals grunt on almost every shot?   Am I missing a trick?

Continue reading Power Tennis, the ‘Grunt’ and your Core

Dynamic Stretching: Miguel Angel Jimenez, Mad Man or Genius?

After a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of golf watching, I thought I would take inspiration from The Masters for this week’s blog.  The subject of this tale I hear you ask?  Miguel Angel Jimenez or “The Mechanic” as he is fondly known.  Whether it is his tumbling red curly hair or the cigar smoking he is undoubtedly one of the most lovable characters on tour, but for me it is warm up routine that shows me there is more to this man than his caricatured outer persona.

Miguels Magic Warm Up
Watch Miguels Warm Up Tips here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGiGEDnU6Tg  

It may elect laughter from some of the tour pro’s and spectators on the warm up range but what they may not know is that Miguel’s stretching routine is dynamically releasing muscle after muscle, fascial layer after layer to allow him to start his round with optimal power and flexibility.  Is this why at 50 years of age he is still able to win on tour and finish 4th at Augusta this week?
So what is Dynamic Stretching?  We are all used to getting a muscle into a stretched position and holding it for 20-30 seconds.  This is called ‘static stretching’ and is what most people have been doing as part of their warm up for a long time.  Over the last few years there has been a real movement towards stretching by moving into a position, moving some more, then returning to the start.  The difference here is that yes the muscle is getting a stretch but because you are moving the tendons, ligaments and muscles have to contract and work while you do this which has the added benefit of giving greater levels of functional ability and strength in doing so.  It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this must lead to a better warm up as not only are you stretched but your muscles are fired up and ready to go!
And finally there is the Fascia.  So what is it and why is it important?  Our body consists of many organs, muscles, circulatory systems and nerves that work together to make us human.  What holds them all together and ensures they work together harmoniously so we move as one strong being is Fascia.  A connective collagenous tissue that is multi-directional allowing movement in all planes while keeping everything connected but free to move.  Now imagine your muscles are loosened up and ready to go but your fascia is stuck, adhered, knotted.  How freely can the muscles move if they are pinned down by this restriction?  And what is more if this fascia connects everything so that our muscles work together as opposed to independently if we have not stretched the fascia itself how can the whole body work freely to deliver power and movement? 
A closer look shows the genius of Miguels warm up.

First it starts with the wrists, twisting from right to left, left to right golf club in hand, loosening up the wrist flexors, extensors, supinators, pronators, right up to the upper arm and into the shoulder.  Right side, then left side. The use of the golf club adding some overpressure to stretch the muscles further than with movement alone.

Next he moves into the stretching the superficial back line, using the golf clubs as a stretching pole to reach the arms out and away from the body stretching the muscles of the shoulders, neck and spine.  Flexing forward, stretching the hamstrings, bending the knees and squatting down into the ankles releasing the calves.  Every part of the back line opening up and releasing

Moving on Miguel opens up the Superficial front line, reaching the clubs over his head, opening his chest, extending the body upwards and backwards opening the neck flexors, abdominals and hip flexors.

Next, comes the spiral lines, the most important lines for golf.  From the ankles to the knees up to hips, he rotates them in, rotates them out.  Briefly moving up to the triceps and the chest again, the harder parts to stretch to ensure that nothing remains untouched.

The lateral line comes next, side-bending right, opening up the hip abductors, the QL, the obliques, then mirroring these moves to the left. Again the use of the clubs to add overpressure and additional stretch while challenging the muscles to work, contract to fire.

And finally the swing.  With everything in place its time to stretch into the movement itself, preparing the body to fire and move for the sport in hand.  Again the genius flows through, Miguel swings right to left, right to left, but power comes from movement and if we cannot move from left to right our power is diminished…. so of course he repeats the movement left to right, left to right.

What part of the body remains unstretched? Unmoved?  Unworked? Nothing.  The perfect dynamic warm up. Genius.
So now you know the science behind the madness why don’t you give ‘The Mechanics’ warm up a go before your next round and just feel the power you release?

Related Links:
Interested in Fascia? Watch this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FtSP-tkSug&noredirect=1

The Experiment: Goodbye and Hello

I am sorry to hear that Carl Watts has decided to step down from the Experiment.  On the positive side though I am very glad to hear that he has decided to do so to spend more time with his family.  I completely believe in balance – in body and in life so this was the right thing to do.

‘ Apologies for the delay in this post
Carl spoke to me after Christmas and said that whilst he was striking the ball better than ever, he had been thinking over the Christmas period that he no longer felt he could commit to the experiment as he didn’t want to spend the time away from his children that competing again could lead to. As a father myself, I had brought this up at the start of our work together and always felt that this would be a problem and so we have brought to an end his experiment. Carl and myself remain good friends which is important to me.

As an aside to this I will continue blogging the progress of a couple of my other golf professional students and look forward to sharing this with you.’
Andy Traynor, Chingford Golf Club, PGA Professional

On another note, Andy has asked me to work with himself and a young golfer a view to getting him on Tour in 2 years time.  I am very excited to be part of this team and look forward to documenting our progress in the coming months.
You can follow Andy’s blog at http://www.andytraynor.co.uk/ and I will blog on the biomechanical aspects here.
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Carl Watts – The Experient Session 2

It had been a week since I saw Carl and I was keen to get a little deeper in this session so we can start making headway in his realignment.    Our priority in today’s session is to continue work on correcting the upper and lower cross syndrome we identified but firstly I will start with reassessing Carl to get a clear picture of where his body is following a week of rehabilitation.  In addition to reassessment there were a couple of other tests I wanted to perform:

1)      Glute Firing Pattern

Given the degree of anterior tilt in Carl’s pelvis and also the fact that it is likely to have been in this position for a long time there is a risk that the Glute muscles have been inhibited – in simpler terms ‘turned off’.  This is due to the process within the body which involves the muscles working in antagonistic pairs i.e. when the muscles on one side of joint contract, the muscles on the opposite side relax to allow ease of movement.  Given Carl’s hip flexors have been contracting hard for so long it is possible that the Glutes have been constantly receiving messages to relax which over a sustained period of time have left them lethargic and lazy letting the hamstrings do all the work.

      2)      Thoracic Rotation

This is a key movement in the golf swing.  In order to get the amount of torso rotation required in the golf swing it is not enough to simply rotate at the lumbar spine as this only gives you about 40 degrees on average.  The thoracic spine can rotate up to 30 degrees so it is vital that we have good range of motion in this part of the spine to get maximum rotation and therefore power into the golf swing.  Given Carl’s lack of movement in the thoracic region in our tests last week I am keen to test the rotational aspect today.               

Firstly I started with reassessment of Carl’s hips which showed a real change, both hips are now aligned relative to each other, i.e. no rotation and in addition the degree of anterior tilt has reduced by about 30%.  On discussion with Carl he described how he can physically feel this change, his abs feel like they are ‘on’ and he feels them engaging in his day to day activities where he had not felt them before.     I then moved on to test Carl’s Glute firing pattern.  On both the right and left side it was evident that the Glutes are not acting as the main hip extensor – something we need to correct as soon as possible.

Next we moved on to the upper body where on assessment of Carl’s cervical spine/neck there is still a level of restriction and his head is still sitting slightly forward although Carl has reported some improvement in his neck stiffness which is a start.

Carl’s shoulder girdle is still of concern and this is something I plan to work more deeply on today. In addition to his Pectoralis (Pec) Major and Minor being overly short and tight his Biceps are so contracted that his elbows are slightly flexed when in a relaxed position.  Although not a primary function of the Biceps Brachii muscle, it can impact on the Shoulders range of movement given its attachment to the scapula.  In Carl’s case I see this as an additional layer of dysfunction causing the rounding of his shoulders and the lack of scapula control we have seen so this is something we need to address to fully balance out his upper body.

Finally, I move on to assess the amount of rotation in Carl’s Thoracic Spine.  What I see is that Carl’s does appear to rotate to quite a degree, but on closer inspection what I see is that his shoulder blades are responsible for most of this rotation, by bringing his shoulders forward on the side he is rotating it appears he has rotated fully, but while focusing on the thoracic vertebrae themselves you can see that the movement is quite restricted.  I found a simple but interesting article on why stiffness in this region may cause lower back and neck pain both of which Carl experiences:

Treatment Plan Session 2
Today I will continue to work on releasing Carl’s Hip flexors & lower back using a variety of soft tissue and neuromuscular techniques.  In addition I have also included some proprioceptive/retraining  work on the Glute muscle group to help kick start Carl’s training and homecare to get more stability in his hips.

Moving on to the upper body we will open up Carl’s chest and release his neck to restore normal range of motion.  Today we will also focus on some retraining techniques on his lower and mid trapezius to start getting more control into his scapula.  Thoracic rotation is something we will address in a later session as until we get more balance through the chest, neck and back I think we will make little headway.

Finally I ended today’s session by applying a functional Kinesio taping to Carl’s shoulder to bring it into a neutral position.  This is not a therapeutic taping but will give Carl a sense of where his shoulders should be, and will also help over the next 3-4 days as he starts his homecare.  I don’t want Carl to rely on this taping but I think it will be interesting to see how it feels to him and also how it felt while hitting balls given he is going straight to a coaching session today.

Home Care
I want Carl to continue with his three exercises from session 1 as they are clearly yielding good results.  In addition there are three aspects to work on over the next 4 weeks until our next session:

·         New Exercises:
  •         Glute strengthening/hip stabilisation exercises
  •        Rhomboid & mid/lower Trapezius strengthening
  •        Pectoral & Bicep stretching

·         Previous Exercises to Continue:
  •        Hip flexor stretching, in particular Rectus Femoris
  •        Lower back stretching
  •        Breathing rehabilitation exercises

Training Considerations
Given Carl can already feel physical changes within his body we discussed what this means for his golf game.  It is important that Carl continues to train through these changes as there is a risk that his game will appear to get worse as his body starts to react to these changes.  The compensating actions that he has been doing to make his swing work we will no longer be required but he will have to relearn how to hit the ball with his more balanced, stronger body. Carl agreed that he would be continuing to work on his swing with Andy Traynor through our period of body work.

Our next session is in January, in the meantime Carl is going to continue to progress with the homecare and I am hoping to see a marked difference in the new year.

Read Andy and Carls Blogs here:


Golf – A Story of Balance

Many sports while keeping us fit and active also cause imbalance in our body.  In many of the clients I see it appears none more so than golf.  Maybe it’s that the typical golfer tends to be a little obsessive with the game or is it simply that the golf swing requires every muscle in the body to work together to achieve the power and accuracy of driving that little ball down the fairway?   I call to mind what a physio said to me at the age of 13 with my first golf back injury – ‘The golf swing is the most unnatural swing you will ever do, so it’s no wonder people get injured.’.   I am not sure how natural any swing is… was hitting a tennis ball ever part of evolutions plan?
With 53% of male golfers and 45% of female golfers experiencing back pain it is something that most of us golf enthusiasts are going to experience, but it’s certainly not something we have to live with.  By understanding the impact of golf on our body we can train to improve our performance while at the same time preventing injuring.  Step 1 – let’s understand what happens when we hit the golf ball.
The Biomechanics

For simplicity I will break this down into three key positions or movements and describe at a high level the primary muscles involved in each to help give you an understanding on the impact on your body.
Although not a power player, golfers spend more time in this position than they do hitting the ball.  Think of all the times you stand over the ball thinking about the swing.  Yet the swing is over in a blink of an eye.  Hips Flexed, Knees Flexed, Neck Flexed.  Shoulders flexed and Adducted, everything bringing your limbs in towards the body.  This curling effect lasts long after the game of golf resulting in an anterior tilted pelvis and ‘forward head’ posture.  Jandas Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome is a good explanation of what is happening to your body here. Glutes no longer firing, Abs that no longer need to be engaged, stiffness in the lower back, taut hamstrings, chronically tight hip flexors, neck pain and even headaches can be attributed to this.
I am afraid it doesn’t end there as it is the layering of the muscle imbalances caused by the swing itself that can make golfers posture more complicated and requiring more specific action to address.
The Backswing
Slow, controlled, the winding of a spring. The greater torque created in this movement the more power that can be produced on the downswing as the coil is released.  There are two factors to consider here, one – the muscles involved in this action, but secondly the muscles that are hindering this movement. The opposing muscles, where if short and tight prevent you from getting enough rotation in the backswing and therefore enough power into the downswing.
This rotation of the upper body is actually made up of a 40 degree side bend to the left (in a right handed player), a 40 degree hip extension in the left side of the pelvis and 90 degrees of torso rotation to the right.  This rotation is made up of 20 degrees lumbar rotation, 50 degrees or thoracic rotation with the final element coming from the shoulders.  So not quite a straight forward turn and a lot of places where restriction in a muscle can cause you a problem!  Everything from the Hamstrings to the pecs need to be flexible to allow this motion to happen.
The Downswing
At a simple level we can consider this action the complete opposite of the backswing.  Once at the top of the swing we need to return to neutral and then mirror the movement up into the finishing posture by swinging through the ball mirroring the backswing but in the opposite direction.  Let’s consider this, if indeed it was a case of simply being the opposite movement we would in theory think that golf is the perfectly balanced game working each side of the body equally but the BIG differentiator here is power!  Although the backswing winds up the coil, the downswing is an explosive powerful contraction to unwind the coil.  What this results in is a set of muscles that are stronger and perhaps shorter than their opposite number. Imbalance.
The Repercussions

What we end up with a golfer is a blend of Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome issues coupled with rotational & spiral restrictions and imbalances running through their entire body.  It is not uncommon for me to see golfers who stand in ‘neutral’ looking twisted back and forth between ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and head.
This can lead to knee problems, back pain, neck pain, shoulder stiffness and of course elbow issues when the arms end up doing the work the shoulders should be doing, but are simply too tight to do it themselves.  In addition, even if you remain injury and pain free postural imbalances can weaken your golf swing and could be the reason why you are not getting the distances you crave.
The Action Plan

To ensure a balanced body and to get the most of out your golf game there are three core areas you need to work on when off the golf course.
Get in the Gym!  You need to put some time in to build strength in a balanced away across your body.  Strength will give you more power but more importantly if you have an awareness of your personal imbalances you can also do specific exercises to offset any biomechanical issues present in your body.  It is worth having a biomechanical assessment to see what is going on with you.  Not everyone swings the golf club by the book so it’s more than likely that you will have your own personal set of issues to work through.
So you have the power sorted but if you do not have the flexibility in your body to be able to get full range of motion on the backswing you will be seriously dwindling your power.  In addition it is key that you work on releasing the pent up power movers of your downswing so that they do not start to cause you postural issues, injury and pain.   Soft tissue therapy is a must, releasing all your tension and getting your body aligned but you also need to find a routine that you can perform when training to ensure that you are not relying solely on your massage therapist to achieve your goals.
Yoga is phenomenal when it comes to flexibility!  It progressively addresses and stretches each part of the body to get you back in alignment with ease.  How often do you spend an hour stretching?  If you struggle to focus on a stretch routine it is worth considering other ways to achieve this flexibility.  My local Golf Pro is now the biggest advocate for Bikram Yoga, coming from a place where he had no intention of ever being a Yogi.
You are now flexible and strong but can you keep your performance up over a tough, windy and possibly very wet round of golf?  On bad days it can take over 4 hours to get round the course so it is important that you have the endurance to do so.  Working on your cardio fitness is key and not to be forgotten when working on a well rounded training plan.
Testament to a reduction in pain, muscles stiffness and at the same time increased golf performance is Andy Traynor, PGA Fellow Professional:
Just a quick note to say that since you “balanced” my body no more pain – can side bend so much easier and have added 15 yards to my iron distance. As a PGA Professional I will be putting all my students with body alignment issues in touch with you.’

Why don’t you get in touch today and start making a difference to your game.
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Getting More ‘Pop’ in the Park

Today I walked through the first frost in Epping Forest, the sun was shining and the skies were blue.  I love when the weather turns as it means the ski season is nearly upon us!

It is also the time that the keen skiers and snowboarders get stuck in to their pre season training to ensure they get the most out of their time on the snow.  I have been posed a very interesting problem to solve by one of my clients – Mr Keen Snowboarder (lets call him Mr KS).  He snowboards for 4-6 weeks a year but is frustrated by the lack of progress he is making in the park.  He simply cannot get the height or ‘Pop’ he desires which means his jumps lack the ‘air’ you hear everyone rave about.

Keen to start a specific training plan that will help him on his his four week tour to Jackson Hole this Christmas he has asked my advice on what he needs to work on to make sure his body is in the best shape to get that much lusted after ‘POP’.  A keen snowboarder myself I have never been much of a park monkey so the mechanics of freestyle boarding is not something I have analysed in depth – but I do love a challenge so have embraced this request head on and am determined to get Mr KS lots of ‘air’ this winter.  I am going to diarise the treatment and training plan, and hopefully report back with some improvement by the time Mr KS hits the park.

The Basics

Where better to start then at the beginning and the ‘Pop’ is probably the base of most freestyle moves.  Given the variety of stances and how these affect the muscles used to achieve the movements we will start by looking at the mechanics of the ‘Pop’ using a flat stance as this is the closest stance to anatomical neutral, in other words in the position your joints should be in when in neutral.  This involves your bindings being at 0⁰ i.e. pointing straight forward, we need your hips slightly wider than hip width for balance so they are slightly abducted to shoulder width.  Now lets get started!

Being a dynamic action I have broken the ‘Pop’ down into 4 key positions Neutral (a), Prep (b), Power (c) and Finish (d).   We are going to look at the biomechanics of positions (b) – (d) to understand what muscles are involved and how to give us a better idea of how to train.

Prep  – Position (b)

This move prepares the body to generate the power needed to ‘Pop’.  It involves dropping your knees and hips deeper into flexion, adding dorsiflexion at the ankle to allow us to press through the board akin to the coiling in a spring, everything gets lower and tighter.  Below I have outlined the key muscles that contract in order to achieve this position (I am focusing largely on the hip and lower body at this point, but the core is key to all of these actions so its not to be ignored!):

Primary Muscles
Rectus Femoris, Iliacus, Psoas Major, Hamstrings (knee attachment), Tibalis Anterior.

Secondary Muscles
Gluteus Medius & Minimus,TFL, Adductors, Transverse and Rectus Abdominis (flexing the torso fowards).

In addition we need to consider the limiting factors to these movements as if we are to get deep into this position then we need to have a good range of motion in  the joints involved. Shortness in the opposing muscles e.g. tight hamstrings will restrict the depth of this position meaning we have less range to push through in the next move.

Power  – Position (c)

Now we are ready to unleash the coiled spring.  The main driver here is extension through the hip which in turn is followed by extension of the knees and plantar flexion of the ankle.    This is the point that the kinetic chain kicks in to lift the board off the ground and into the air, the more power we create the more air we get. Remembering that we are extending our hips from an abducted position Gluteus Maximus becomes a big player in this hip extension:

Primary Muscles
Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Soleus & Gastrocnemius.

Secondary Muscles
Gluteus Medius & Minimus,TFL, Adductors, Erector Spinae and Transverse Abdominus.

Again we must not forget any limiting factors and being aware of what our range of motion is for these key movements.  Is your Iliopsoas holding you back from extending upwards?

Finish  – Position (d)

So now we have the power and our body has lifted off the ground we pull the finishing move to maximise the air.  To do this we revert to the same actions as position (b) flex hips, flex knees and dorsiflex ankles drawing them towards the chest.  The same primary and secondary muscles but with more power as in this case we have gravity to contend with!

So what does this mean and how do we train to maximise height and power?  Well this is where we need to be specific and look at each person’s individual biomechanics. It is not as simple as saying, ‘strengthen your legs’ as maybe your legs are strong but inflexible preventing you from firing on all cylinders when entering the power move.  To illustrate this lets come back to my client – Mr Keen Snowboarder.

He has a lot of lower body strength, but he suffers from a severe posterior tilt of his pelvis.  This manifests itself in chronically tight hamstrings and calves along with other repercussions higher up the chain.  Is this the reason he is not getting the ‘Pop’ he chases year in year out?  If he cannot get sufficient differential between position b and position c then the amount of power he can achieve is greatly reduced.  In addition his glute maximus firing pattern is incorrect.  Glute max has been inhibited and the hamstrings are doing all the hard work. Finally there is evidence of hip instability. If the hips are not controlled, the knees fall inward reducing the power of the extension action needed to pop you off the ground.

To get my client moving we are going to start on the following plan of action as I like work on a no regrets basis and addressing these postural imbalances will help regardless of the specifics of this move:

   o Improving proprioception of the glutes
   o Strengthening the  erector spinae group and the hip flexors
   o Releasing the hamstrings, abdominals and calves with hands on treatment and stretching
   o Adding some functional exercises to work on performing the kinetic chain required e.g. the jump squat

Next I am going to start looking at whether or not your stance affects your power in the park given how varied these can be, but we will have to also weigh that up with everything else you want to achieve when you are out riding the snow.   Stay posted!

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