Biomechanics: Can Racket Sports Skills Be Transferred?

Can ping pong help me learn tennis? Will racquetball hurt my tennis game? Can badminton help me play better table tennis? These kinds of questions about the transference of skills between racket sports come up all the time. The author has some unique credentials to help answer these questions. We will examine some of the mechanical similarities and differences between racket sports to help answer some of these questions.

To best compare the mechanics of tennis, table tennis, or other racket sports requires a bit of basic kinesiology. If you are standing relaxed with your hands at your sides, palms facing forward, you are in what is called the “Anatomic Position”. If you angle your fingertips away from your thighs, the max being about 45 degrees, that movement is called “Wrist Abduction”. Reversing that small movement is called “Wrist ADDuction”. Kinesiology students remember the difference by visualizing that this body part is being “ADDed” toward the midline, or long axis of the body and like to capitalize the first three letters for clarity.

Wrist posture is one very important difference between table tennis, tennis, racquetball, squash, badminton, and even fencing. Picture a fencer with a sabre or foil in their hand thrusting toward the opponent. In order to make the foil tip reach as far as possible, the wrist must be fully adducted. The wrist posture for table tennis is nearly the same but used for another purpose, not just for extending the reach.

In table tennis, the wrist is adducted to allow it to express whip during forward motion at contact. The legs, torso, shoulder, and arm start the movement and transmit momentum in what is called a “Kinetic Chain”. That chain of movement snaps the table tennis racket like a bullwhip at the ball. This kinetic chain of momentum from the ground, up through the body, then culminating at contact is actually common to most, if not all, contact/collision sports such as football and baseball. In contrast to table tennis, the wrist in tennis is usually “ABDucted”.

With the brief exceptions of reaching defensively to get to a ball or reaching upward for a serve or smash, the wrist posture in tennis is more like holding a hammer, much more “ABDucted”. This posture does several things for a tennis player. First, it makes bearing the extra weight and length of a tennis racket easier by it being above the hand vertically.

Second, an “ABDucted” wrist is a stronger, more controllable wrist posture. It is more able to resist the high impact forces of a tennis ball and also more able to resist the high twisting forces of off center impacts. Obviously, these kinds of impact forces do not exist in table tennis and learning this posture requires a great deal of practice and discipline. Unfortunately, as the author has found, that same “ABDucted” wrist discipline painstakingly learned to play better tennis is difficult to set aside when one tries to play ping pong with its “ADDucted” wrist.

This is THE main complaint of table tennis coaches, when teaching those who have come from tennis, that they must constantly remind them to “drop” or “ADDuct” the wrist. The author’s own ping pong coaches just smile and point now! In the authors theoretical and practical opinion, It appears that among racket sports, tennis requires the most discipline in terms of wrist “ABDuction”. Tennis, and perhaps ping pong, may also require more discipline in its strokes in general. Again, some additional basic kinesiology is useful.

From the “Anatomic Position” described above, if you bend your wrists so that your palms face upward, you are FLEXING your wrists. When you return your hands to the position in which your fingers point toward the floor, you are EXTENDING your wrists. When you rotate your forearms so that your thumbs are next to your thighs and your palms face behind you, you are PRONATING your forearms. The opposite movement is called SUPINATION. Both PRONATION and SUPINATION are defined by the two bones in the forearm rotating around each other, movements which are distinct but often confused with flexing the wrist.

Because the target for badminton, squash, and racquetball is so large, acceleration of the racket and contact speed is usually top priority. To do that, both flexion and pronation is used in the forearm to obtain the highest velocity. The target in tennis and table tennis is smaller than the other sports and maximum racket velocity is less often desired. The notable exceptions are the tennis serve and smash, but even those strokes generate racket velocity by almost exclusively using PRONATION, not FLEXION of the wrist. Pronation is also the dominant forearm movement in throwing a fast baseball.

What does this tell us about transferring skills from one sport to another? Does this make one racket sport easier to learn if you are already familiar with another? These are obviously difficult and complex questions even for a biomechanical specialist in racket sports, but if we isolate just the differences discussed here, one path to the answers can be found.
When it comes to the wrist and forearm discipline described above, we can assume that it is more difficult to acquire discipline than to suspend it. For that reason it follows that it is easier to learn racquetball, badminton, and squash AFTER learning tennis or table tennis. Conversely, it is more difficult to acquire the forearm discipline required in tennis and table tennis, AFTER learning the other sports which emphasize laxity of both forearm motions described here.

Beyond its biomechanical logic, this principle is born out in the author?s personal experience in racket sports and over 30 years of coaching. His tournament experience in racquetball followed that of tennis and it always seemed easy to relax the discipline of tennis to “snap” at maximum velocity at a racquetball. Over these years many students struggled to learn the additional discipline of tennis after the other sports. In short, the author recommends learning tennis and/or table tennis BEFORE branching out into the other sports that are dominated by whipping arm swings.

Exercise for Your Heart: Determine Your Target Heart Rate (THR) Without Gadgets

Ever wonder how to make tennis your exact cardiovascular workout? How fast should my heart beat during exercise? How long should my workout be and how many times per week? These are great questions and ones that more Americans should ask. This article will provide the basic answers to these questions and you don’t need expensive gizmos and gadgets.

THR is the optimum speed your heart should beat for maximum cardiovascular effect. Too fast and the duration of your exercise session suffers and injury risk rises. Too slow and the cardiovascular system is insufficiently taxed. Staying within a couple beats a minute of THR controls intensity properly.

Many exercise machines and gym posters come with a “zone” for your exercise session, but here are more exact calculations you do for yourself without gadgets. WARNING–it’s important that before starting a new exercise program that you CONSULT A PHYSICIAN. Assuming you are clear to start, there are three main elements to design your cardio workout–Intensity, Duration, and Frequency. Let’s begin with the principle of intensity, which is best controlled at THR.

Intensity of your exercise can be measure by how fast your heart is beating and you don’t need an expensive heart rate monitor of fancy wristwatch, just two fingers. There is a good chance that some time in your life you will need to find out if someone’s heart is beating, so this is a useful skill to practice on yourself. To find your heart rate, gently push two fingers into the soft area to the side of your windpipe or on the palm side of your other wrist below your thumb.

Press lightly until you feel the blood pulsing beneath your fingers or adjust your position until you do. Count the number of beats in 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to get your pulse or beats per minute. Taking your pulse before you get out of bed is called Resting Heart Rate (RHR). Knowing your minimum and maximum pulse is essential to finding your Target Heart Rate (THR) during exercise.

Calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR), the fastest your heart can physically beat, by simply subtracting your age from 220. CAUTION–YOU SHOULD NEVER INTENTIONALLY EXERCISE AT THIS HEART RATE. Now that you know your resting (RHR) and maximum (MHR), you now know the range your heart can beat or Heart Rate Range (HRR) by simply subtracting the slowest (RHR) from the maximum (MHR) your heart can beat. Now you are ready to find your personal and accurate THR.

Sedentary individuals, those that do not exercise regularly, should begin an exercise program at 60% of their range. So, THR = (HRR x 0.6) + RHR. Active individuals, those that regularly exercise at least 3 times a week, should exercise at 65% of their range. For them, THR = (HRR x 0.65) + RHR. Elite athletes, or those with a background of endurance training, can exercise at 70-75% of HRR. Now for duration and frequency.

The duration of exercise at THR should be at least 20 minutes with 5 minutes of warm-up and 5 minutes of cool down. A good warm-up would include stretching of major muscle groups and gradually ramping up heart rate toward THR with the reverse for cool down.

The frequency of exercise at your THR should be 3-5 times a week for improvement and at least 2 times a week for maintenance of your present level of fitness. IMPORTANT–research shows that even lower intensity exercise can still have significant beneficial effects like longer lifespan, enhanced mood, and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Controlling the intensity, duration, and frequency of exercise is the key to getting the quickest and most profound benefit.

Regular exercise and cardiovascular fitness have been shown to help prevent degenerative diseases like stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. It has also proved to help improve allergies, asthma, digestion, stress management, and sleeping disorders.

Interestingly, it is also at least as important to weight control as good nutrition. Plan two or more different ways, or modes, of exercise to promote THR. Whether you choose bicycling, yoga, table tennis, gardening, or even boogie boarding, regular exercise is easier to stick with when it’s fun. Good luck and have fun with your new exercise program!

Back Pain Relief: A Revolution in Chiropractic Care

Racket sports are asymetric. That means they yank and twist on the spine due to forces expressed on the body unevenly. What is a symetric sport you ask? Weight lifting is symetric as both sides of the body are active in a mirror image.

All this means that racket sports players get “pulled out of wack”! Well, our ship has come in.

You’ve heard of the revolutions in the Middle East and Wisconsin right? Well, there is a quiet technology revolution starting in Chiropractic, which allows soothing, potent treatment of chronic pain with no twisting, popping, or cracking of joints. Plus, the patient can now actually see documented progress and an end to treatment. That deserves a WOW!

If you are an athlete, especially those playing an asymmetric sport like baseball, tennis, table tennis, golf, or racquetball this is big news. This is also big news obviously for non-athletes with chronic pain, coaches, and personal injury lawyers!

Several of my clients told me that I must go see the new pain treatment machines at Dr. Mel Bahri’s Westwood Clinic (westwood-clinic.com) in Los Angeles. His reputation among my clients was swelling (he he).
Once there, I tested two new technologies (ProAdjuster and Myopulse) that can help eliminate the infamous stigma that has kept new patients away from Chiropractic treatment for many years. The two main complaints are the “cracking” of joints and the indeterminate “end of treatment”.

Over several sessions I tested the ProAdjuster (by Pulstar) and the Myopulse (by Advanced Biomedical Technologies). Both machines have been cleared by the FDA for treatment of chronic pain conditions. This article will describe the ProAdjuster treatments.

With this technology, the patient sits comfortably in a massage chair in an upright position without the need to turn the head or neck or even remove their shirt. The ProAdjuster applicator, called a Fras, contains a sensor (piezoelectric), which first sends a light tapping (percussion), into the spine at each backbone segment or vertebrae as a test force.

This force is reflected back from the body, like sonar from a submarine in water, to tell the computer about the position of the bone and stiffness of nearby muscle. The software takes the results of each percussion test from each vertebrae in the spine and INSTANTLY creates a complete and detailed picture of the spine on a large monitor.

That picture reveals the whole spine, its curves (or lack of curves) which gives the doctor and computer specific locations for treatment–the pre treatment data. The computer program then highlights the five most displaced vertebrae and tells the doctor, with a pleasant female voice, where to place the soft fingers of the Fras to administer the treatment phase for each displaced bone.

The body’s natural defenses cause muscles around displaced vertebrae to spasm or rigidly prevent greater misaligned bone from moving further from its proper position. Metered and specific GENTLE percussion is now administered by the computer through the Fras in a series of oscillating taps. These taps coax the vertebra into proper position which also relaxes the nearby muscles, enhancing range of motion, and relieving pressure on the adjacent nerves.

The treatment phase actually feels GREAT. For Chiropractors and patients alike, this is a revolution!

Post treatment re-analysis by the Fras allows objective measurement of changes in spinal position, which can be compared to other sessions and the pre treatment testing down the spine. The patient can actually see and understand the treatment with the doctor standing next to them. That, by itself, is a valuable physical medicine concept that is hard to understate.
The results are instant and easy for a patient to read. No delays, no specialist interpretations, no x-rays, no huge CT Scanners, scary MRI machines, or Sonogram Studies, etc. The software displays the percentage of improvement on the screen for both patient and doctor to objectively assess overall progress allowing BOTH to plan further treatments if needed. The patient, doctor, and computer as a instantly well informed healing team. What a concept!

Incredibly, it actually feels great the whole time. If the days of flinching and tensing up for Chiropractic cracks and pops are numbered, I can adjust to that!

Sharapova’s Wimbledon Results

It’s good to see Sharapova’s return to a more complete, larger, fluid movement. Because of its “flatness”, timing will continue to be an issue but at least it is easier on the shoulder joint.

I believe two factors play a role in her ultimate success and did so at Wimbledon:

1) Her game is one of the flattest around, especially her serve. I believe, had she had a slice and kick serve, she would be holding the winners trophy instead of that of a runner up.

2) A second factor in that particular championship match jumped out at me. It may be true that Kvitova makes more errors from her forehand ground stroke, but I don’t believe that was good enough reason to serve to that side.

When playing a lefty, it is important to exploit the Deuce court wide serve as often as they exploit the Ad court wide serve. Sharapova chose to hit to the forehand with her serve and ground strokes way too much and the statistics I’m sure would support that. Time and again she found herself on the defensive after choosing to hit an “optional” shot to the forehand.

What do you think?

Sincerely,
TennisDr

Line Calls, Friendships, & The Human Eye

A couple courts away, I heard “friends” in a heated discussion about a line call.
When they emailed me about the USTA rule that applies I wrote this in response:

For over 20 years now we have known from research in sports medicine and orthoptics that the brain is only piecing together images of a tennis ball during its travels. Essentially, above about 30 mph, the human brain is guessing at what it sees of the path of a tennis ball. Please see the section called “Biomechanics” at TennisDr.com for citations/details.

Still many players, even some of my students who know these facts, have difficulty conceding such frailty in the human visual system. They are convinced that their opinion is the correct opinion. Often, their off court business affairs hinge on one minor point to gain the advantage or maintain a successful campaign or account. These sensibilities can be difficult to leave at the office.

To maintain friendships, my job as their coach is to teach them how to be generous with points, respect that others views are scientifically PROVEN to be as valid, or more valid than our own, and maintain the spirit of camaraderie that is the reason for “playing” together in the first place.

In short, line calling rule number this or that, SHOULD only matter to those making a living playing competitive tennis, IF anyone!

What matters for the rest of us, is that the widest variety of people will enjoy “playing” with us in the future AND that the strength of our character is above wanting this or that particular point, which never really matters in the outcome of a match anyway.

This is not work. Humans play to have fun.

Sincerely,
TennisDr

2 Against 1 Drills: The Davis/Fed Cup Tradition

A student called me, who’s fourth couldn’t make it, desperate to find a player to fill in. My response was that 3 people could be even better than 4, if you pay attention to tennis tradition.

Here are 3 drills for 3 people. They actually provide more focused practice than 4 people on the court!

3 player drills are a tradition that comes from the international competition of David Cup and Federation Cup in which one country plays against another. The captain of BOTH the Russian Davis Cup & Federation Cup Teams (a VERY rare responsibility), Shamil Tarpishchev, would approve these drills for all men and women as he has won 3 Fed Cup and 2 Davis Cup championships for Russia in the last 8 years. With that credential, he is one of the best (though unrecognized) coaches in tennis history.

In my view, if you have limited time, it is more important to complete a rotation using the Ad court before using the Deuce court. My students are more comfortable directing their shots to where a game is usually won/lost than other players.

1) “2 Against 1 Practice Drill”– Two players drop/hit a feed from the net to a single player in the receivers position on the baseline in the AD court. Net players must volley into the half court WITH the alley.

The single player must hit from one net player to the other. 10 minutes for each formation, then rotate. Then rotate. 30 minutes

Then put the receiver in the Deuce side for 10 minutes. Then rotate. Then rotate.
Keep a “bucket” of balls at the center strap of the net.

2) “Half Court Singles Competition”–divide the tennis court lengthwise down the middle (imaginary line extends the center line to the center mark on the baseline) and compete with a ball being served to either the ad side only (with the alley) during each point.

Servers are a team (one player remains the server) and play one point at a time against the receiver until either team reaches 10, by a margin of 2. Then rotate. Servers start each point by serving to the Ad side first, then players rotate, then players rotate. 30 minutes

After that cycle, servers start each point by serving to the Deuce side. Then rotate. Then rotate. Keep the bucket at the back fence behind servers.

3) “Bailin Canadian Doubles Competition”–a two player team plays regular doubles but must hit all their shots into the half doubles court (see #2) Ad side, until either side gets 10 points. Then rotate. Then rotate. 30 minutes

Then the doubles team plays to the Deuce side. Then rotate. Then rotate. Keep the bucket at the back fence behind servers. 30 minutes

These are all great for singles and doubles skills. They are part of the lost traditions of great coaches. The best coaching skills, player improvements, and most audience excitement, come from team competition.

Go watch a University match or a Davis/Fed Cup match as soon as possible!

Poaching & Serve/Volley Biomechanics

I feel that intermediate players should serve/volley and poach more often in doubles to help translate that into a team option, as well as, their singles game.

Tactically, I feel you should serve and volley more often as it adds perhaps 15% more power when you move forward through a serve. I would encourage you all to do so for that reason and, as a counter strategy to short, drop angle returns.

All of you have concerns about the difficulty of a first volley after serving–one
reason for this note. In my classes, we isolating the appropriate footwork
and balance to make a strong first volley.

1) Servers: for your homework, serve and volley more often on first serves and focus your attention on the receivers ANTICIPATED body posture at contact.

Poachers and Servers should ask yourself, “Are they about to hit hard or soft?” and, “What is the center of the body doing before contact?”.

Receiver contact with a laterally, extended posture or backward steps results in soft shots 90% of the time! They are offensive opportunities for the serving team.

This will tell you whether split stepping to stretch/move laterally will be necessary.
The educated guess to these questions tells poachers WHEN to go. Go ahead and make
mistakes Poachers as it’s only an educated guess, but a fun one!

This is the study of Basic, Belt Buckle, Biomechanics! 🙂

The Bryan Brothers get passed up the line trying to poach often….but not often enough
to be the second best team in history. Take some chances on what you see!

2) Servers: don’t worry about running forward as fast as you can. Being in balance
when the second shot arrives is WAY more important then WHERE that
happens!

3) Since it takes longer to get there, a spinning serve is actually a better way to give yourself more time to get in balance for the first volley than a flat serve.

“I see!”, said the blind man.

If you pay attention to #1, #2, and #3 a new offensive frontier will open to you for both singles and doubles.

Sincerely,
TennisDr

The Academy Style of Coaching & Our Great Delusion

On Jul 14, 2010, at 3:18 PM, Cesar wrote:

Good to hear from you. By the way, I would like to resume class, but I do not feel I can improve my skills if I am teamed up with beginners like (Frank, nothing personal about Frank). If there is a chance that you could team me up with one of your 4.0 players, I am interested in resuming class. Otherwise, I am playing regularly at USTA Flex 4.0 and I am rallying with my tennis partner here at BH, Monday thru Friday in the morning.

Best regards,
Cesar
============================
The Academy Style of Coaching

Hey Cesar:

I’m glad to hear that your days are now filled with challenging 4.0 players and plenty of events to test yourself. You have obviously improved tremendously since taking your first lessons with me. Congratulations!

On the other hand, I’m sorry to hear that you FEEL you can’t improve your skills with a particular member of your former class attending. I will consider your request and see what can be done, however, as a long time student of mine who has a better than passive understanding of the sport, you should keep in mind that…

The “Academy Style” of coaching tennis is used at practically every major tennis facility for professional preparation in the world and Division 1 university campus. It’s based on isolating each skill every player needs to improve and does not discriminate by level of ability. Even more so when a ball machine is employed.

For example, on one court the coach works on serve, on another approach shots, on still another angled volleys, etc. When the whistle blows, all students regardless of age or skill, change courts. At an Academy, REAL beginners are usually taught privately to prepare for that rotation that isolates each skill set. At some point, even in football, a scrimmage is held in which the players practice those exact skills under a bit more competitive circumstances, but rarely is a scrimmage “full contact”. For me, the Academy Style, and tennis, the “scrimmage” is a 10 point game.

When it comes to your subjective feelings about your level of ability, BE CAREFUL! The 3.5 and 4.0 levels are notorious for providing delusions about tennis skills. The fact is that Steve W is more skilled and a better athlete than you. Michael O has very similar skills and is a better athlete, and Frank L is SLIGHTLY below your level of tennis skills but also a better athlete in that he is faster around the court.

The question is, does this matter when it comes to playing points at the end of a session in which we have isolated the skills you need to improve for over an hour? NO! In a 10 point game you cannot beat Frank 10-0 and Steve cannot beat you 10-0, but even if that did happen, there are PLENTY of skills that you need to improve during a point that still elude you.

BEWARE: This is the great delusion of ego in our sport! This tennis delusion is much more difficult to observe than in golf in which the conflict is so clearly “the player vs. the course”. The best coaches in our sport have realized something critical for the industry when it comes to helping people improve in tennis…

It’s the ball not the player!

Sincerely,
TennisDr.com

Non-Dominant Arm Mechanics in the Serve

Q: What are some of the important considerations for the non-
dominant arm during tennis?

A: This is a topic that comes up frequently during biomechanics
discussions in all sports. In tennis, the role of the non-dominant
arm/hand is more important than one might think. Here’s one great
example illustrated in an email I just sent to London:
————–
July 2, 2010 (Nadal/Murray Wimbledon Semifinals)

To: Miles Maclagan, Head Coach Andy Murray
C/O Lawn Tennis Association
National Tennis Centre
100 Priory Lane
Roehampton, London SW15 5JQ

Dear Mr. Miles Maclagan & Other Coaches:

Andy Murray is one of the only elite players I’ve ever seen
who throws the tossing arm away and back during the follow
through of his serve and I can prove, in mechanical terms, that
it is a significant disadvantage.

In the vast majority of sports movements leading to asymmetric
impact or acceleration of one body part, the concept of “breaking”
is universally employed. What is “breaking”?

Breaking is easy to notice. In place kicking the non kicking foot plants
abruptly so it can pass its momentum to the kicking leg. In loose or wet
turf, that is why kicks cannot go as far.

In throwing, the kinetic chain passes momentum all the way up the
body starting from the ground. For a one armed throwing motion and
tennis serve, the kinetic chain transfers momentum from the ground,
through the legs, to the torso, then into the arm, hand, and racket.
Each passing its momentum, like a whip, in a snapping acceleration
toward the hand. To pass its full momentum onward, each segment
stops, like a billiard ball hitting a row of others which are touching.

In most serves, and right handed throws, the left arm comes across
the torso to help counter or stop the trunk rotation, thereby sending
more momentum into the arm.

Murray’s left arm does not. It goes away and behind without helping
to stop the trunk rotation. It does not supply any “breaking”, or opposing
motion, to the torso. Mechanically, less momentum passes into the arm.

Andy Murray’s serve is certainly a great one. But at this level of expertise
in any sport, one percent improvement can make a huge difference!

Good luck with all your players.

Sincerely,
TennisDr

Jonathan Bailin, Ph.D., USPTA
Exercise Physiology~Biomechanics~Ergonomics
Sports Medicine & Ergonomics Associates