How to succeed with young athletes
Brian Mackenzie explains how to work effectively with young athletes
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Brian Mackenzie provides some advice on how to prevent Tennis Elbow
If you play tennis, squash or racketball, chances are good that you will develop a problem called "tennis elbow". This inflammatory condition often accompanied by stiffness, soreness, and outright pain affects up to 45% of regular racket-sport participants.
Basically, tennis elbow is an overuse injury caused by repeated contractions of muscles connected to the elbow joint of the arm used to hit the ball. Stress on the elbow is inevitable, because some of the force created when the ball hits the racket automatically passes from the racket into the forearm and then to the elbow. This repeated impact produces trauma to the tissues surrounding the elbow, leading to inflammation and soreness. Unfortunately, continued play usually worsens the condition, heightens pain, and makes the elbow "stiff", the result of a thickening of the synovium, the lubricating membrane that surrounds the elbow joint. Routine activities such as turning a doorknob, holding an umbrella, or shaking hands can become insufferable nightmares.
Elbow problems can be classified as either "backhand tennis elbow" or "forehand tennis elbow". Backhand elbow is usually caused by lack of strength in the extensor muscles of the forearm (the muscles which attach on the outer side of the elbow) and or by poor technique. For example, if a player hits backhand shots by leading with the elbow, the head of the racket lags behind the elbow during the initial part of the stroke. Just before impact with the ball, the racket must accelerate dramatically, travelling much faster than the elbow. When the racket actually hits the ball, the impact forces the racket to slow down immediately, and the heavy force of impact is transmitted directly to the elbow. One remedy for this is to hit the backstroke with the entire arm, instead of "snapping" the forearm ahead at the elbow joint.
Forehand tennis elbow is less common among novice players, primarily because the average tennis participant's inside-elbow muscles are stronger than the outside-elbow ones. However, professional players are at high risk for the malady, because their attempts to put a spin on the ball (for topspin forehands and spin serves) lead to excessive action at the wrist, which in turn strains the elbow on the inside. Unfortunately, experience does not lead to a lessened risk. In fact, studies show that the frequency of tennis elbow increases with age and the number of years of play. Sadly, tennis elbow takes longer to correct in older players, too.
To limit your risk of tennis elbow, the following steps should be very helpful:
What if, despite these useful preventive steps, tennis elbow serves up a painful challenge to your game? The following measures should help you:
The final word? Tennis elbow does not have to "ace you out" of your favourite sport. By building elbow and wrist strength and making some slight changes in your game, you should be able to eliminate tennis elbow in straight sets.
Brian Mackenzie provides some advice on how to prevent muscle soreness
Muscle soreness is the bane of all athletes because it is connected with low muscular power outputs and an inability to carry out high-quality workouts and competitions.
The exact cause of the soreness is unknown, but there are three key ways to prevent it:
This does not mean asking your muscles to behave in a deviant manner. The eccentric activity involves shortening (contracting) your muscles while they are simultaneously being stretched. A classic example is running downhill; the force of gravity stretches your quadriceps muscles at the same time as they are contracting vigorously in an effort to stop you failing forward on your face.
Although eccentric contractions themselves can initially produce muscle soreness, a single bout of eccentric exercise will often inoculate muscles against pain for several weeks. It is not clear why eccentric training has this protective effect but it's possible that an eccentric workout 'teaches" the nervous system to redistribute potentially damaging forces over a larger number of fibres within a muscle, lessening the stress and strain on individual muscle cells. Alternatively, an eccentric workout may destroy the weakest fibres in a muscle, which are subsequently replaced by more resilient cells.
Fortunately, workouts which emphasise eccentric contractions are easy to carry out, and in addition to providing immunity to muscle soreness they usually improve an athlete's coordination and muscle power too. Good examples of eccentric workouts would be running downhill for 10 to 15 minutes (watch out! The first time you do this, you may get very sore), bounding up hills with exaggerated knee lifts, or the more traditional plyometric exercises, which include:
These exercises will reduce soreness and improve the coordination and power of runners, triathletes, skiers, football players, and tennis and squash players.
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About the Author
Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years' experience as an endurance athlete.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: