WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
The bungee cord is a common training tool we see in tennis (and other sports), whether for forehand, backhand or approach, with or without a racket, with or without hitting. In the name of functional resistance, and perhaps assuming this option is the best available, many coaches and trainers have applied this kind of sheer (lateral) resistance bungee to tennis training on the court and in the gym. But what, exactly, is it training, or perhaps better stated, programming the athlete to do?
Functional resistance training has been proven to be beneficial in improving an athlete’s ability to increase sport-specific functional strength, speed, agility and endurance. However, how the resistance is applied, and what movements you are trying to train, are crucial to the effectiveness of functional resistance application. And if applied incorrectly, functional resistance can actually be counterproductive.
Functional resistance trains the neuromuscular system to perform sport-specific movements more efficiently. You are, in effect, programming the athlete to move better by subjecting the neuromuscular system to an external force (resistance) while they move in a sport-specific manner. The body adapts to the forces being placed upon it, improving those movements.
However, if the force being placed upon the athlete while performing sport-specific movements is not consistent with the forces the athlete actually experiences while making those movements during a game, then you may be programming the athlete to make those movement less, not more, efficiently.
In the photo above, you see an example of just this. Tennis players do not move around the court constantly fighting a sheer/lateral force pulling them from behind or the side. The photos above illustrate what the player is being programmed to do (or not to do) by this force, and for the most part, is counter to what you would like to be training to make the player make these movements as efficiently as possible.
LATERAL MOVEMENT TO THE SHOT
The sheer force is actually pulling the player upright and back, rather than down and forward, as she turns and moves laterally towards the ball.
This more upright posture affects the entire kinetic chain, taking the athlete out of proper position running to the ball, and causing her feet and legs to apply force into the ground in a different way to overcome this lateral resistance. When taken out of the band and asked to make the same movements, she will actually have to retrain her body to overcome the incorrect movement patterns she trained under the misapplied resistance.
FOOT PLANT PRE-SHOT
Likewise, when the player gets to the shot and must plant her right foot to stop her forward momentum, the sheer resistance is pulling her back to a sub-optimal upright position.
The resistance absorbed by the lower kinetic chain, which would normally be needed to stop the player's forward momentum, is reduced by the sheer resistance going in the opposite direction, reducing the training effect to less than the same movement with bodyweight only. Furthermore, the player is being forced to hit the ball while resisting the lateral force, again, counter to what would typically be more of a force neutral movement. Training the body to balance against this resistance will negatively impact the player's balance when hitting without resistance.
CHANGE OF DIRECTION POST-SHOT
As the player completes the shot and pushes off the ground to change direction and return to the center of the court, again, the sheer resistance is alleviating the force the player would typically use to push off her right foot, because the resistance is pulling on her. There is again less functional resistance applied than if she had made the same movement with bodyweight only. From a functional movement standpoint, there is a negative training effect from the resistance, potentially reducing change of direction speed.
RETURN TO COURT CENTER
Things only get worse as the player shuffles back to the center of the court. As you can see in the photo, the player, reacting naturally to the sheer force pulling her back, is actually leaning in the opposite direction that she is moving. She is bracing herself against the resistance with both feet to maintain her balance as she is pulled in the direction of the resistance. This is the opposite training effect of real match movement, when she would be pushing off her right foot in a neutral stance and propelling herself back to the center of the court. The training effect of the sheer resistance pulling her is not only not helpful, it's harmful.
This example is not specific to tennis only. This type of lateral/sheer resistance is seen in the gym and on the fields for many sports. And if used for certain linear, single direction movements, can be beneficial if done with proper form. But for multi-directional training, and training involving change of direction, sheer resistance at the very least reduces the training effect of change of direction and can actually be counterproductive as athletes must brace themselves against the resistance when moving in the direction of the resistance. And there is no escaping the fact that the athlete’s posture will be affected by a sheer resistive force pulling them backwards or sideways, and the training effect will be programming their neuromuscular system to propel them against a force, which will not exist while playing their game. And if you are using a “functional” resistance tool to program an athlete’s neuromuscular system to adapt to a force that they will not experience on the field of play, is the resistance you are applying truly “functional?”
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