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TEACHING TENNIS BIOMECHANICS

This article is about the essence of Balance, Timing, Energy and Movement as applied in tennis.

Some scientific terms are utilized which increases the definitive focus of this article. Comments and Questions are always appreciated.

By Richard Wigley
 

TENNIS BIOMECHANICS - 1

It is of great importance to discuss biomechanics in the proper development of a tennis player. There are few fully competent teachers in the field who have a sense for the technical sides of tennis in relationship to the full spectrum of biomechanical movements and the fundamental physics of tennis. This is in no way an attempt to be the fulfillment of such a requirement but it will be a platform to at least begin the investigation.

To begin this compendium we need to provide the nature of the inquiry and the limits of the discussion. What I would like to do is discuss the most basic elements of balance, footwork and the mechanics in achieving a properly tennis stroke. Of course there are tremedous variations in this sport and each stroke has different fundamentals yet we must begin at some point.

From the stanpoint of a player the first objective is to hit the ball with the racquet. Sounds simple enough but even more primary to this situation is to release the need for the racquet to determine the essential bodily movements.

I have enjoyed teaching beginners without a racquet to establish a sense of correctness in footwork, balance and proper rotations and swings. There is no substitute for understanding of these fundamentals.

1. Always begin from Balance from a point of nothingness where there is no sense of tension. This is the way proponents of Tai Chi and other Asian Martial Arts begin. From a sense of pure relaxation. I like to begin especially with beginners to let their arms fall to their sides and knees slightly buckle. This is very effective to establish the need for hip rotation. Position is ineffective and useless without proper balance which includes the ability to transfer weight appropriately.

2. From Balance teach Timing. Tennis is a game that is one versus one where each opponent attempts to at every instance take time away from the other. Whether it is through hitting the ball faster or putting it at a larger distance from his opponent the results are the same. The lack of ability to reach the ball causes errors. Readiness errors are a very high percentage of errors for players with basic to advanced skills. The absolute necessity in tennis is the need to be able to recover and be in position to effectively hit the next shot. The concept of Economy of Movement is essential in this respect.

3. From Timing the player must be taught Energy. Now this concept is about numerous factors and forces and their utilization in proper sequences. Having the good balance is crucial along with accurate timing to fulfill the activation of a kinnetic progression and weight transfer into and through the stroke. Power is one element, as there are variations such as touch, spin, angle, quickness, disguise and more which all require a adjustments.

4. From Energy a skilled player develops Recognition. What this allows is for one Anticipation and the ability to make decisions based on experience and understanding of the physics of the game. Effective Recognition of opportunities and or problems allows for quick anticipation and effective recourse. Biomechanics is the fundamental physical effects of proper linkage. These four basic skill sets are the platform from which the body operates. So as we discuss the fundamentals of BioMechanics we should always refer back to Balance, Timing, Energy and Recognition to determine how this is effectively represented in perfect movement.

BioMechanics

This section is about the physics of tennis and the biomechanics the sport is based upon. Tennis requires flexiblity and sequential movement to perform in an optimal range. In perfection there is always a fully tempered pattern that is connected throughout in a timed and measured pattern of balance and force moving tennis ball with the racquet towards a prespecified target. This continues in a give and take pattern until one of the players is unable to produce an effective shot and thus produces an error. In general level play most points are lost through errors rather than won with an effective shot.

BioMechanically speaking the natural predisposition is to shorten or truncate the linkages and thus create a wide assortment of errors. The lack of proper timing will generally result in a chaotic formation of movements resulting in errors of disposition rather than position. To specify this there is a rupture of the proper linkage designed to release energy and so is the fundamental flaw. Through practice and training the timing and release of energy through the links is achieved in more and more cases which results in a higher level player.

When there is a biomechanical accuracy aligned with proper balance and timing to achieve a accurate recognition or a return then the player achieves a synergistic fulfillment and the ball is hit well. BioMechanics is the term used to determine the appropriate release of energy through the physique so there can be a full usage of power, quickness in perfectly timed sequence.

Primarily, what is being said is the scientific application of biomechanics relates to the body moving in a particular manner. For instance during a throwing motion there is a need to define the terms of the science. The closer or primary areas are called (proximal) centers of energy and they move to more distant and secondary (distal) connective links which inturn become centers of energy for the next connecting link. Further, the shoulder is proximal to the elbow and the elbow is proximal to wrist and so on. So the elbow is distal from the shoulder and the wrist is distal to the elbow and of course the fingers which are called digits, are distal to the wrist. Consequently in an effective throwing motion there is a kinetic link system which enables the body to uncoil from the feet, to the knees, to the hips, to the waist, to the shoulders, to the elbow, to the wrist and complete a release through letting go or imparting spin with the fingers. When a racquet is added there is a final movement which extends the racquet to become the final connective link and is distal to the hand.

In response to questions of biomechanical applications in tennis there is a dynamic and continous activity between players except upon the serve wherein the player is a constant movement from disequilibrium to equilibrium or balance. Getting in this center of relaxed readiness or balance and in place to hit or swing from either side makes tennis an extremely complex game to develop. The additional variable of the racquet and grips plays an integral part in the manner in which the body will address the ball.

In coming articles we will dissect and diagnosis problems and solutions from scientific standards of biomechanical law and physical constraints of motion. There upon the coaches and players involved in this site will see how their feel for the game is backed by physical laws and mechanical principles which are unaltered by coincidental achievements of exceptional talents. In every application there is adjustments which can be made by superior athletes but the strain and complexity of movement will eventually produce injury or errors. Completed full motions following sound biomechanics will induce the opportunity for achievement without underestimating the mental and emotional nature of competition.

The Throwing Motion

Kinetic Link Principle in performance analysis.

Throw like skills are defined scientifically as those in which the primary mechanical purpose is to develop high linear velocity on the end of a segmental link system. These skills may or may not include the use of an implement such as a bat or a racket. If such an implement is used it serves as an additional link in the body's link system.

The specific links used and the motions of each link in the system depend on which skill is being performed. For example, major differences occur in the segmental movements used in performing a golf swing and baseball batting or between overarm throwing and a tennis backhand drive. Slight difference occur in more similar skills, those that belong to a common pattern. Specific skills within the overarm, sidearm, and underarm patterns are slightly different. In the relationship to tennis there are a variety of throwing motions using the full body to impart velocity, spin and direction upon the ball.

Six segments are in a position to be activated during the a throw. They are the pelvis, trunk, shoulder girdle, arm, forearm, and hand. Each has its own movements relative to its own proximal articulation. These articulations are the hip intervertebral, sternoclavicular, shoulder, elbow, radioulnar, and wrist joints. More than one movement could occur in several of these articulations, and exactly which ones are used depends primarily on which specific sport skill is being performed. In this case with tennis we must also include the lower body in the segments and add the knees, ankles and feet working in synchronicity.

Analysis of the throwing motion.

1. The greater the rotational inertia (mass times radius of gyration squared), the smaller the angular acceleration for a given muscle torque.
A. The base segmental torque must accelerate the mass of all the segments distal to its axis of rotation and therefore it must deal with a greater rotational inertia.
B. The distal segmental masses are located farther from the proximal axes of rotation being used, and therefore the radius of gyration for proximal segmental rotations is larger.

2. As the sequences of movements progress to the distal axis, the rotational inertial of the system formed by the remaining rotating segments becomes less.
A. The axis of rotation for each successive distal motion is located farther out on the link system hence it moves closer and closer to the end.
B. The mass of each successive segment is progressive smaller.
C. The radius of gyration for a segment moving in a wheel axle fashion around a longitudinal axis is smaller than that for a lever like movement of the same segment.

Consequently, the link system tends to move faster as the movements proceed to its distal end due to the continual reduction of its rotational inertia. A second variable in the system is the radius of rotation used in calculating the linear velocity of a point on a rotating system. Each axis of rotation is associated with a radius of rotation. The movements of segments distal to the axis of concern increase or decrease the radius of rotation for that axis. For example, the extension of the elbow during the overarm throwing skill increases the radius of rotation relative to the hip axis, the vertebral axis, and the sternoclavicular axis, but does not change the radius of rotation relative to the elbow axis itself.

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