Category Archives: Fitness

What In the World Is Foam Rolling?

IMG_1899Foam rollers have swept the nation and are all over gyms and fitness centers.  In what I have seen the majority of the population has no idea how to effectively use them and that is a shame because the benefits are emourmous.  Foam rolling, self-massage or scientifically appropriate Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) have become a go to for elite athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are serious about taking care of their bodies.  In this post I want to explain what response using SMR elicits and then I’ll provide a video of my own daily routine because a picture is worth 1,000 words.

To be pretty blunt, the first couple of times you use a foam roller correctly it can be downright uncomfortable, but do not let that be a deterrent to all its benefits.  All the discomfort just shows you how tense and tight your soft tissues really are.  When looking at the big picture your muscles need to be both strong and pliable at the same time.  Strong muscles without pliability leads to limited mobility.  On the other side of the coin pliable muscles with no strength leads to a whole host of other joint integrity problems.  Lets assume you are like the majority of the population and have strong muscles but are lacking pliability.  Training or sitting in the same postures all day cause your muscles to always be turned on and hold tension which leads to stiff tissues.  Now traditionally people have gone out and stretched to improve tissue quality and this can certainly help but stretching is mainly focused on the length of the tissue.  SMR methods are after something very different, they are after improved muscle tone.

How Does SMR Improve Muscle Tone?

IMG_1897Foam rollers, tennis balls, and lacrosse balls all allow you to turn down muscle tone by a nerdy term called, autogenic inhibition.  Even more nerdy is that inside your muscle you have receptors called Golgi Tendon Organs.  To over simplify, the Golgi Tendon Organ tells the body how much tension is in a given muscle at any given time.  When the tension inside a muscle becomes too great, to the point of possible injury like rupturing a tendon, the Golgi send a message to the Muscle Spindles to relax the muscle to prevent injury.  The process that protects the muscles and tendons from injury is autogenic inhibition.

So when you put a muscle with high tone on something with a focal point of pressure like a foam roller or lacrosse ball you create autogenic inhibition and the Golgi Tendon Organ sends a message to the muscle spindles to relax the muscle.  If you perform these techniques regularly over time the overall tone of the muscle is lowered and you end up with more pliable tissue.  In addition, if you do SMR regularly you also get the benefits of breaking down accumulated soft-tissue adhesions, scar tissue, and increasing blood flow to muscles but those topics could be a whole other blog post!

Now you can get the similar results with treatments such as deep tissue message or active release treatments but honestly who gets these done on a regular basis besides professional athletes?  So doing some SMR work regularly gives you an effective, convenient and inexpensive method to improve the quality of your soft tissues.  I like to think of it as a poor man’s massage.

This literally is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic and the interrelationship with mobility and posture.  However, for your viewing pleasure below is a video of my SMR routine.  The routine is pretty comprehensive but you may want to spend more time on certain areas where you have greater tension than me.  Also realize that I have been doing this for a long time and my tissue quality is pretty good so this is mainly a maintenance program for me.  If you are new stick with it and over time you will see amazing differences in your tissue quality.

To wrap this post up here are some instances when you would NOT want to do SMR techniques.  Those would include performing it on recently injured areas, over boney areas/joints, over areas with circulatory problems or areas of chronic pain caused by something like fibromyalgia.  For the youth reading this blog, I typically begin using these methods around the age of 14-15.  This is not the magic age where tissue quality starts to decline but instead I like to introduce the methods so they get to practice them and make them a part of their training routine as it becomes more and more important with age.

If you are interested in buying one I have been impressed with the quality of this Foam Roller by OPTP.


Top 3 Reasons to Incorporate Strength & Conditioning in Tennis Training

If you are not incorporating strength & conditioning into tennis player development you are leaving a lot on the table.

  1. Athleticism is an Enormous Part of Today’s Game
  2. Strength & Conditioning is the Key to Injury Prevention
  3. Strength & Conditioning Provides a Rich Proprioceptive Environment

Check out the video below where I go into a little more depth.  On the other end of the spectrum poorly designed strength & conditioning programs can actually cause injury and diminish performance on the court.  For example, strength and conditioning for a 12 year-old is a whole lot different than it is for a 16 year-old.  But I’ll save that topic for a whole other blog post…

Explosive First Step Training

Speed and Agility are terms commonly used interchangeably but they mean very different things.  Linear speed refers to the top speed a person can achieve (think track sprinting events).  Agility refers to how quickly someone can accelerate, decelerate and re-accelerate off in a new direction (think making a cut in football).

Tennis definitely falls into the category of being a sport where agility is more important than linear speed. Players need to be able to be changing directions often and quickly to reach higher levels.  The most important aspect to being quick is the first step a player takes.  The first step absolutely has to be explosive and aggressive.  I use this analogy to teach kids about the importance of the first acceleration step:

Imagine have a race against someone for 10 yards.  Who wins the person with the highest top speed or the person who gets off the starting line fastest?  It is always the one who gets off the line faster.  Tennis is the same way, a player is in a short distance race with the ball.  If they beat the ball there they are in good shape, if they get there at the same time as the ball it is much harder, and if the ball beats them there the point is over.

I do all kinds of explosive first step and agility drills during on court training.  Here is a video of two kids who were training together just the other day.  I put them in red bands at their hips.  This created an overload where they had to explode through the band on the first step to overcome the resistance.  We then would take off the resistance and go back to the court for drilling.  I can tell you the first step was quick in this lesson! Video Series

I recently just finished up a video series available on  The series of videos is aimed at teaching paddle players how to take better care of their joint mobility and avoid those nagging low back, knee, and shoulder issues.  However they work for any and everyone.  You can watch them all right here.

To Serve a Bigger Purpose

I am going to be completely honest in this post, very early in my tennis coaching career I was focused on things that simply were not very important in the bigger scheme of things.  As I have grown older and wiser I have been fortunate to have learned the real value in coaching.  The real value lies in using tennis to serve others, developing the person first and the tennis player second.

What I mean by using tennis to serve others is simple.  In my humble but biased opinion tennis is the greatest sport in the world.  The life lessons and character that a child can learn and develop by pursuing tennis is truly priceless.  Here is a link to a previous blog about the Life Lessons Tennis Teaches.  I feel very fortunate to have learned through my experiences lessons such as developing a strong work ethic, dreaming big and goal setting, and I pass these and so many more on to young athletes.  Instead of focusing on self-serving aspects like how I can benefit from coaching tennis, I focus simply on how I can use tennis to better each player as a person first and tennis player second.  I find that in the process I am much more fulfilled and many of these young athletes happen to turn into champions of life and pretty good tennis players as well.  It has been amazing for my coaching because it gives me such a wonderful sense of purpose and fulfillment.

This way of thinking about my coaching has allowed me over time to develop some very powerful mentoring relationships with young athletes.  I have a system or curriculum I use to develop tennis players.  I teach things in a progression and have a methodology that I follow.  However, what I have found is that it is not the system or specifics about technique that makes instruction great.  Instead, what makes instruction great is the relationship between athlete and coach.  When athletes truly respect their coach and learn deeply from them this is what makes instruction great.  It takes time to earn trust and respect, as it should, but I have found that when a coach cares about the person first and tennis second it makes it much easier to develop a player to their fullest potential.  It is only when you have that relationship built on trust and respect that the real magic with the tennis starts to happen.  They say, “No one cares what you know, until they know you care.”  I think that quote sums up what I whole heartedly believe in as one of the foundational pillars in my coaching.

Med Ball Rotational Throws

I can attempt to “coach up” a young athlete on the correct forehand technique with all kinds of words but I have found it is much easier to get them to feel coordinated movements than to try and explain it to them.  I always say “you cannot see yourself hitting, you can only feel yourself hitting.”  I recently gave an athlete homework to do rotational medicine ball throws against a cinder block wall and I thought what I explained to him would make a great blog post.

Rotational sports like tennis and baseball are all about creating power.  This power ideally is created from the ground up meaning it is generated in the lower half of the body and then transferred through a stable core into the upper body where it is directed out into the arms.  This is what happens when you swing a tennis racket or baseball bat.

For youth the very first step is that they must experiment with coordinating this ground up power movement pattern.  I could explain it all I want but it is so much more effective just to allow them to feel it.  Young athletes often do not know what it feels like to fire their muscles in the sequence needed to efficiently create the movement pattern, it just takes some time and practice.  You see the brain does not work in isolated muscles it works in whole movement patterns.  An athlete can work on leg, core and upper body strength in isolated exercises but all that new found strength does not transfer over into an explosive rotational movement unless that pattern is already coordinated.  Once they can coordinate the pattern it becomes very easy to get real world transfer into a rotational sport like tennis or baseball.

I use all kinds of foam balls and light medicine ball rotational throwing movements to let young athletes feel the movement pattern.  I use foam balls with young children and a lighter med ball with others because too much load will stress their systems, creating a compensated dysfunctional movement pattern.  Most of all I want a functional pattern because this is the foundation that everything will be built upon.  For that reason, I am more concerned with the movement pattern becoming coordinated than how much weight they are throwing.  Once they hit the right training age and own the movement pattern I’ll load them up to develop more power.

An added benefit to med ball throws compared to other rotational exercises is that there is a release at the end which leads to a young athlete being able to decelerate after the release.  This is incredibly important to injury prevention.  There are other exercises that can help in creating rotational power but without the release athletes do not learn how to decelerate their flailing limbs.  Just think you can hit a tennis ball really hard and the harder you hit it the better you need to be at decelerating all that momentum or you are bound for an injury.

Finally, this is fun to do and a great stress reliever.  Give a young athlete a med ball and tell them to throw it in a rotational pattern as hard as they can off the wall.  They get coordinated without even knowing it because the body loves efficiency and with enough practice finds that most efficient ground up coordinated movement pattern.  All the athlete needs to know is that slamming a ball as hard as they can off the wall is pretty fun because you cannot do it at home.

Avoid Burnout…

Every time I get a chance to learn from a world-class tennis coach like Vesa Ponkka from the Junior Tennis Champions Center I jump at the opportunity.  Burnout can happen in the career of a tennis player and really to anyone in anything.  Think about it, adults burnout in their careers all the time just like kids burnout in sports.

Vesa has a theory about burning out.  He believes that people burnout when they stop learning new things.  As long as they never stop learning they are engaged in their work no matter how many hours or years they have been doing it.  I would say that I personally agree with that idea.  I have never burned out in my coaching because I have an improvement mindset.  I do not just go through the motions.  I am constantly seeking to learn more from other people, reading books, and inventing new things on my own.  I have been coaching tennis for 10+ years and not once have I truly felt like I was burnt out from doing it.  I attribute that to always learning new things.  It keeps me excited to train players and put in the long hours doing so.

I think it is critical to impart that mindset into players from a very young age.  Children in the sport of tennis need to have an inquisitive mind about the game.  They should be focused less on winning and losing and more about improving each time they step on the court.  Vesa says, “Children should know they have lots of time, but no time to waste.”  I think that is a profoundly wise statement.  Coaches should be imparting that message to their kids, presenting new information and ways to think about the game.  I know that after all the years of playing and coaching I am still learning new things, there is defiantly no shortage of things to teach and learn.  The game is so complex from the unique scoring system, stroke development, fitness, aspects of competition and the mental/emotional skills.

Avoiding burnout is easy, all you have to do is focus on improvement and constantly seeking to learn new things.  It is when you stop learning new things that you start burning out.

Outcome vs. Form-Based Coaching

Coaching youth tennis or any sport for that matter is such a complicated process.  Honestly, I only feel like I am only getting very good in my coaching after doing it for a long time, making tons of mistakes, and making a conscious effort to continually improve my craft.  This is what makes good coaches so hard to find because most are not simply willing to put in the work required to be excellent.

Today, I want to talk about the difference between Outcome and Form-Based Coaching in regards to skill development in tennis.  If you understand the difference between the two and how children develop skills it becomes very clear which to use and when during the development of your player.

Acute Knee Injuries

There are all kinds of acute injuries the knee can sustain while playing tennis like ligament and meniscus tears.  These types of injuries typically occur due to shearing rotational forces placed on the joint during deceleration.  In my humble opinion,I believe acute knee injuries are closely connected to the lack of reactive trunk stability.  So if you are interested in trying to prevent these injuries squats and leg presses will not get the job done.  Get the job done by spending time reactively training the trunk.

Take a look at the video below to see what I mean along with some really simple band exercises designed to get the trunk on board and prevent these types of injuries.

STOP Sport Specific Training?!

The concept behind sport-specific training seems to make perfect sense…If I want my son or daughter to be really good at tennis they should mimic movements similar to the sport for enhanced performance.  The truth is if you know a little about long-term athletic development and how the body of a young athlete functions it makes perfect sense how BAD sport-specific training really is for your child’s tennis career.

There are two main points for my argument…

First, children who are really good at tennis have to put in the time with repetition after repetition after repetition to become unconsciously-competent at their skills so they will not break down under pressure.  Think about how often the muscles, connective tissues, and joints get used in sport specific movements in the tennis training alone.  They get used so often children actually can develop muscle imbalances and asymmetries.  Now think about sport-specific training where a coach slaps some bands onto a racket and repeats the movement some more with an increased load.  Training like this is basically asking for an OVERUSE INJURY.  Instead, training should be designed to  develop overall strength on both sides of the joints and maintain symmetry and balance in the body.  Not only does this greatly minimize the chances of overuse injury but it also improves overall systemic strength, joint stability and coordination.

Second, children are still in the process of developing their athletic ability.  They are still learning how to coordinate athletic movements and muscles.  Their overall athletic ability, things like agility, power, and speed, are still developing and the best way to develop them is with a variety of training methods.  When you pigeon hole training to movements specifically found in the sport of tennis you are going to stifle their overall long-term athletic development.  The result is having young tennis athletes who are really good at tennis specific footwork patterns but cannot even coordinate a skill like skipping.  This is going to hurt their development in the long-term because when they have to make improvisations during points and just make outright athletic moves they will not be able to because their overall athletic skill has been limited to a few tennis specific movements patterns in their training.  This lack of overall athletic skill development also leave them susceptible to acute injuries like sprained ankles and ACL tears when they do try to make sudden athletic moves that their nervous system just cannot coordinate and handle.

If you want to improve your child’s tennis game with off court training shy away from sport-specific training and get them into an appropriate developmental program with a good coach who aims for balance to prevent injury and enhancing the development of athletic skills.  It might not be as flashy as all the sport-specific training but sticking with it will produce the best results long-term and reduce the risk of injury.  You cannot cook a great steak in the microwave, it takes time to slowly simmer on the grill.  The same is true for your child’s athletic development.