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Almost everyone has heard of the so-called “tennis elbow,” an overuse injury that plagues tennis players and other athletes alike.

But serious tennis players know that the shoulder can be equally susceptible to injury, especially when subjected to the repeated strain of high intensity training.

Tennis players naturally gain a great deal of strength in specific movements simply by playing, but often they lack the antagonist and stability strength to go with it.

So what about the shoulder? What are the best shoulder exercises for tennis players, to increase mobility and antagonist strength, rebalance the body, promote health and decrease the risk of injury?

Whether you’ve struggled with shoulder problems in the past, or you’re looking to avoid them in the first place, keep reading to learn about the top shoulder exercises for tennis players.

Shoulder anatomy

The part of the skeletal system known as the shoulder girdle is made up of the scapula, the clavicle, the humerus, all centered around a ball-and-socket joint which is the most mobile joint in the body and therefore inherently the least stable.

For the movement of this area we rely on several muscles, including the deltoids of the outer shoulder, the pectoralis which extends from the chest into the bicep, the rhomboid muscles of the upper back which help with scapular movement, and the rotator cuff, a complex group of smaller muscles that give the shoulder stability and are instrumental in the shoulder’s wide range of motion.

For serious tennis players the health of the rotator cuff is especially crucial, as these muscles influence shoulder mobility and provide stability, which can prevent injury during strenuous movements generated by larger muscle groups.

The four muscles of the rotator cuff are the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis; they connect the scapula and the humerus, and in combination they perform functions relating to internal rotation, external rotation, and abduction (raising the arm) of the shoulder.

But importantly, the muscles of the rotator cuff are also responsible for something called concavity depression, which presses down on the humerus when the arm is raised overhead, helping to keep the end of the bone inside the joint.

A tennis player’s service motion (repeatedly performed with maximum power) can be especially demanding on the rotator cuff, and for this reason it’s extremely important for tennis players to incorporate exercises for strengthening the shoulder.

Best shoulder exercises for tennis players

If you’ve ever had problems with your rotator cuff you’ll know it’s a long-term nuisance and something to avoid at all costs.

If you have any serious injury (either a sudden trauma or from chronic use) we don’t recommend these exercises without first consulting a trained professional.

But if you don’t have an injury, or you’re just starting to feel discomfort, it would be a good idea to start on a routine of shoulder care and mobilizing.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled some exercises that every tennis player can do to maintain healthy and active shoulders:

In all of the following exercises quality is much more important than quantity; rather than number of reps or the intensity of resistance, focus on doing every rep with perfect form.

Stand with good posture, and keep the scapula retracted and depressed throughout, which will work the rotator cuff, rather than diverting the force to larger, more developed muscles.

Not only will cheating these exercises not help you, it may actually be counterproductive.

Stop short of fatigue, and aim for a resistance where you can do 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps at medium intensity.

Repeat the exercises 2-3 times per week. And if you feel pain, don’t ignore it.

The exercises should not be painful, and pushing through pain can also worsen the issue. 

Internal rotation

Mount a resistance band to a fixed object, and stand with your body perpendicular to the band.

Grasp the band with the arm closest to the wall, with your elbow at your side and your forearm at ninety degrees.

Without raising the elbow or lifting the scapula, rotate your shoulder so the forearm turns inward across your body, then slowly release through a full range of motion. Repeat for both sides.

External rotation

With the resistance band mounted as before, stand perpendicular to the band and grasp the band with the hand farthest from the wall.

With your elbow at your side and your forearm at ninety degrees, keep the shoulder blades squeezed together and rotate the shoulder so the forearm turns outward, then slowly release through a full range of motion.

Repeat the exercise for the other shoulder as well.

Abducted internal rotation

Facing in the direction of the band, hold the upper arm out to the side at 90 degrees, and bend the elbow to 90 degrees so that the hand faces forward.

Grasping the band, rotate the shoulder to raise the hand upward. Lower slowly to return the hand to perpendicular with the ground.

Abducted external rotation

The opposite of the previous exercise.

Face away from the band, and grasp the band overhead with the forearm in a vertical position and the upper arm out to the side at 90 degrees.

Slowly rotate down until the forearm is perpendicular to the ground and then release upward. 

YTWL

These exercises are all performed in a pronated position on the floor, and involve lifting the scapula and raising the arms in various positions.

The exercises strengthen muscles of the back and rotator cuff that contribute to stability and injury prevention.

For an explanation of how to perform these exercises, watch this demonstration.

Final thoughts

The above exercises are important supplements to every tennis player’s training routine.

They can reduce the risk of injury and increase shoulder health.

All of the exercises must be down slowly with good form and below the level of fatigue in order to be effective.

But with proper technique and consistency they can provide a huge benefit to tennis players of all levels.

Sources Consulted: