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Monday, March 9, 2009

Return to the burn

It occurred to me this past weekend–my first trip to the court since the frigid winter of Southern New Jersey took a rest with some warmer weather–that returning to the forehands, backhands, and volleys of tennis after a layoff are not the scary venture they were in my earlier years. Foundations that are built in the Spring, Summer, and Fall do not disappear. They do hibernate, and my timing was not quite as sharp as it will be in the coming months. But the strokes themselves are still solid. My understanding of the court is still available in my mind like a heads-up display. And my movement around the baseline and the net are still natural and seemingly unrehearsed.

I will say that the big difference lies in the cardio fitness level. When my hitting was poor, it was usually due to lazy legs or feet and fatigue. The mind was on it, but the lower extremities were burning with defiance. So let me give you some advice if you find yourself just returning to the court:
  • Stretch, stretch, and stretch. Do this in front of the TV or computer screen when off the court, and do a little warm-up stretching before playing. Make these slow, static stretches and not bouncing ones which can rip muscles.

  • Upper body weight training and abdominal work, again off the court, will help speed up your transition to better play.

  • Any "wind-building" work you can do before the season would be beneficial. Take more steps during the day and stay longer on your feet, walk further in the parking lot, ride your bike, or get really serious and run slowly with quicker sprints mixed in.

  • Be realistic. Everything will not come back immediately, but it will come back eventually.

With enough tennis foundation built beneath you, there is no reason to lose all you worked for last season. Be safe, be smart, don't overdo it all at the beginning of the season, and choose wisely between those shots worthy to run down and those you should let go until you can reach them more easily.

And for those of you who play all year round, I'm truly jealous! Actually, I use this off season for my body to repair itself. I think this time off each year has helped me to continue my pursuit of this sport for over three decades.

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