Diving in With Dr Giljum
by Dr. Brendan Giljum
The past year has meant greatly limited access to racquetball, and as courts begin to re-open, it’s important to focus on the conditioning required to begin playing once again. The purpose of this month’s topic is to help players find appropriate, healthy, injury-free ways to transition back to racquetball.
Proper maintenance is required for most things, and this is particularly true of the body. Deconditioning occurs when people are more sedentary or absent from an active lifestyle, leading to a loss of strength, flexibility, mobility, and balance. Stronger muscles provide more support and stave off fatigue better than weaker ones. Flexible joints resist strain and ache less if you keep them moving. Make an effort to avoid deconditioning. For example, try taking a walk at lunch, stretching in the morning, parking a little further away, or taking the steps rather than the elevator. Striving to improve every day will make returning to racquetball less daunting…and less painful!
A proper warm-up is the next area to focus on, and it is often overlooked. Racquetball is an explosive, dynamic sport that requires an equally intentional period of physical preparation before ever swinging a racquet.
Here are a few exercises to try:
- Arm swings - Swing arms back and forth across the body, starting with large movements and working to smaller, sprinter-like arm swings.
- Leg swings - Stand facing the wall and brace against it with hands. Stand on 1 leg and slowly swing non-stance leg side to side, gradually increasing range of motion. Repeat on other leg. Next, stand perpendicular to the wall and swing non-stance leg forward and back, again gradually increasing range of motion. Repeat on other leg.
- High knee march - Perform an exaggerated high knee lift and arm action. Try to get up on front of foot and balance momentarily before the next step. Up and back length of court.
- Shuffle - Sideways shuffle up and back length of court. Emphasize staying low, balanced, and not crossing feet.
- Backpedal - Backpedal up and back length of court. Focus on balance, but take fast, aggressive steps.
- Walking lunge - Forward lunge length of court. Emphasize taking a long step, maintaining upright posture, proper balance, and rear knee almost touching floor.
This is just an example of a warm-up routine for healthy individuals. Depending on experience, age and fitness level, it may be modified. Follow this routine with normal warm-up stroke patterns. One does not simply walk on to the court and begin play without a proper warm-up! Keep in mind that a full stretching and cool-down routine after the match is just as important for recovery.
Minimizing the risk of injury as well as improving performance long-term requires focusing on your fitness and strength. Core strength and stability helps transfer forces from the ground up during a racquetball swing as well as stabilizes your spine and extremities.
Some core/extremity racquetball exercises for injury prevention and strength/stability are:
- Forearm Plank - Assume a push-up position but bend arms at the elbows so the weight rests on your forearms. Tighten abs, glutes, and keep the body straight from head to heels. Hold this position.
- Plank with Hip Twists - Begin in plank position from before. Keeping body rigid, twist your right hip toward the floor. Return to the plank position then twist to the left. Focus on keeping tension in the core to avoid putting strain on the lower back.
- Side Plank - Lie on the right side with legs straight and feet stacked on top of each other. Place the right elbow under the right shoulder with forearm pointing away and hand balled into a fist. The pinky side of the hand should be in contact with the ground. Lift hips off the mat so that body weight is supported on the elbow and side of the right foot. Keep your body in a straight line. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Bird Dog - Begin on all fours in the tabletop position. Engage abs to create a neutral spine. Raise the right arm and left leg, keeping shoulders and hips parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds, switch to the opposite leg and arm. Repeat.
- Dead Bug - Lying on back, raise arms so the elbows are above the shoulders and lift legs with knees bent so your knees are directly over your hips. Slowly lower your right arm and left leg until they’re just above the floor. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Reverse Crunch - Start lying down with arms at sides. Raise both legs so the thighs are perpendicular to the floor (knees can be bent or not). Contract abs to bring knees up towards the chest and raise your hips off the floor. Hold slightly in this position, then slowly lower legs back to the starting position.
- Windshield Wiper - Lie on back with arms straight out to the sides. Lift legs and bend the knees at a 90-degree angle. Rotate hips to one side, without letting the legs touch the floor, and repeat on the opposite side.
- Internal/External Arm Rotation (weighted/banded or not) - Keep elbow at side and bent to 90 degrees, and slowly rotate hand inwards(internally) towards stomach. Keeping elbow at side and bent to 90 degrees, slowly rotate the hand outwards(externally) to a comfortable distance. This can be performed with a weight, any weighted object, a band, or nothing.
- Superman - Lie face down on stomach with arms and legs extended. Keep your neck in a neutral position. Keeping arms and legs straight (but not locked) and torso stationary, simultaneously lift arms and legs up toward the ceiling to form an elongated "u" shape with the body (back arches and arms and legs lift several inches off the floor). Hold for two to five seconds and lower back down.
All the exercises in this article should be performed slowly and within a relatively comfortable range. Maintain good posture and breathe naturally. Do not hold your breath. Stop any exercises that cause pain or radiating symptoms. Make sure to rest between repetitions.
Remember, when resuming racquetball or exercise again after a few months or a year off, it is important to start slow. Many muscle strains or joint and ligament sprains as well as more serious injuries occur when returning after significant time off.
I hope you found this information helpful! I look forward to helping contribute more going forward. For more information on how to take control of your health, follow me on all social media @giljumchiro.
This article is for informational purposes only. This information does not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions regarding your condition or are experiencing pain, always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health professional. Developments in medical research may impact this information. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.