Category Archives: Body Mechanics

I used to hear my mother’s voice in my head all day long. Each time I did something stupid or even barely avoided doing something stupid, I’d hear her say, “There you go again, always doing something wrong.” It’s not her fault. My mother is 92 years old. She can barely get out of her chair let alone follow me around as I get into road rage incidents and embarrassing displays of anger. Worse than that, when I finally exorcised her voice, it was only to be replaced by the voice of an in-law or my partner’s friends. I am single, I don’t have a partner. Full proof that I have sole ownership of this voice.

Lately I’ve been trying something different. Every time I do something I’d rather not have done or imagine doing something worse, my imagination is good at disaster scenarios, I replay the situation with a different outcome. If I almost run into a cyclist and I’m so upset that I angrily yell at him, “You’re not supposed to ride on the sidewalk anyway!”, my voices will have me in jail and out of a few million dollars before I’m halfway home. Instead, I imagine that I got out of the car, asked the cyclist if he was o.k. and then earnestly explained that I can’t see him coming if he’s on the sidewalk in front of a tall building made of cement and would he please consider that next time he rides into an intersection from the sidewalk. I then reminded myself to stop at the beginning of the crosswalk before making a right turn next time and went on my way.

Same thing on a tennis court. I just hit the ball down the line and it hit the net cord. I double faulted for the third time. I mishit an overhead or swung at it and missed completely. If I fume about those bad shots then I’m consumed with the idea of hitting bad shots and I’m likely to keep producing them. That’s why it can be hard to turn the game around once we make a few errors. If, instead, I replay the shot in my mind as a perfectly hit ball sailing over the net and landing at the baseline, then I can go onto the next shot and get my mind back into the game at hand. I’ve not only resolved the past but I’ve presented myself with an image to aim for the next time I try that shot.

I’m telling you, where else can you resolve the past and learn to live in the present without paying thousands of dollars for psychotherapy or suffering through hours of boring meditation?

Practice and Competition Report: The rain has finally stopped in Southern California! After two months of injury and too many weeks of rain, I ran out to the tennis court only to forget my sports bra. It’s been that long.

Before each serve, I mentally rehearse my service stroke and I see the ball land exactly where I want it to land. As my toss kept sailing over my head and behind me, I realized that I have been leaving the service toss placement out of my mental rehearsal. I get maximum extension if I toss the ball in line with my head so I toss it above my head and a racket length in front of the baseline. To practice my service toss, I place a ball on the court one racket length in front of the my serving position. Then I serve and let the ball drop to see if I can hit the ball lying on the court.

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Yesterday I drove to Santa Barbara and back for a tantra class and went to another class in the evening. After the class I packed my bags for a trip. Around midnight I went to a local motel to sleep because I had a severe headache from the new paint on my house. I got up at 5:30am to drive to San Francisco because my travel partner wanted to arrive by 1pm.

During the drive I played tennis. I moved the seatback back and down, put a pillow under my head and mentally rehearsed my practice routine. Lanny Bassham is a world champion and Olympic gold medalist pistol shooter. He was once stationed on a military base nowhere near a firing range. He practiced dry firing – firing without bullets – five hours a day, five days a week for two years with only a handful of visits to a shooting range and managed to win a World Cup.

I’m on the injured list. Still. I have a sprained ligament in my thumb and my achilles tendon is sore. But no one is paying me five million dollars a year to play tennis or giving me 24/7 access to a trainer or flying me off to see the top orthopedic doctor in the country. So what should I do when I get an injury? Here are two examples:

I ran into a fellow player in my league at the gym. He noticed my thumb splint and started pointing to all of his injuries. They included chronic pain in his hand and shoulder. Like many, many people in this country, he doesn’t have health insurance.

I recently stopped off to visit a friend in Simi Valley who plays tennis after reluctantly and dutifully taking my sisters to see the Ronald Reagan Presidential library. My friend told me that as soon as he feels pain anywhere, he stops playing tennis until the pain goes away.

I see people make two mistakes when they get an injury: they don’t get the appropriate help for their injury and they don’t take time off from tennis to let the injury heal. And even if they do, they start up playing again as if they never stopped and injure themselves all over again.

There are two types of injuries. I sprained a ligament in my thumb because I decided that I could practice return of serve with a semi-pro tennis player. One of his serves kicked up and bent my thumb backwards. That’s an accident and I could have avoided it if I was more realistic about my tennis playing abilities. Tennis elbow is an example of the second kind of injury. It’s usually the result of a structural problem in your body or your playing technique. I got tennis elbow because my forearm is weak and because I was swinging the racket with all arm and no body.

If you have an injury, get treatment. If you don’t have health insurance or your health insurance doesn’t cover tennis injuries, make a deal with a physical therapist to pay them privately. You can probably find a physical therapist who’ll treat you for $50 or less for a half hour session. If you have inflammation and especially if you have scar tissue, a physical therapist can treat it with ultrasound. If you have tennis elbow you might well have scar tissue and the pain is not going anywhere unless you get treatment. The therapist will also give you strength and stretching exercises to strengthen the area and help the scar tissue heal.

You’re not done yet. Consider that the alternative is not playing tennis or playing with chronic injury and possibly ending up with arthritis. I like tennis but not that much. Much of the time people get tennis elbow because they think you hit the ball with your arm. Granted it’s hard to swing a racket without your arm but most of the strength comes from your leg, butt and trunk muscles. Watch most recreational players, they swing their arm and that’s it. No step into the ball, knee bend or trunk twist and not a lot of follow through.

To get help with your strokes, take tennis lessons from someone who understands body mechanics. If that doesn’t work don’t despair. It just means you need more help to get your body structure working properly. Find a trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine or take Alexander Technique lessons.

There’s still more. You can play tennis. Not on the court but you can play in your living room or backyard. If the injury is in your upper body, play tennis without a racket – let’s call it shadow tennis. Practice all your strokes and footwork as if you were in a practice session. This is a great opportunity to pay attention to your strokes without worrying about a ball flying at you. If you usually play tennis twice a week, play shadow tennis twice a week. You have no excuse that I can think of. Again, look at the alternative. Lets say it takes a month for your injury to heal then you go out and play your usual best of three sets Saturday morning tennis match without so much as swinging a racket over your head. That’s a great recipe for further injury.

If you have a knee or anke injury, you can still play tennis. Lie back on the couch and imagine practicing your strokes and playing a set of tennis against a regular opponent. Virtual tennis let’s call it, a tennis video game in your mind and you get to win every point if you like. This might be difficult to begin with. I often fall asleep or slide off into a fantasy world of slash fiction. But you will get much better at it and you’ll develop your ability to mentally focus. Let’s say you win a set of tennis at love and win every point in every game. That’s a minimum of 24 points. If you can’t mentally focus for that long, how good is your mental focus when you actually play a game of tennis?

This, then, is one way to deal with injury:
1. stop playing until your injury heals
2. get appropriate help for your injury – see a physical therapist and get alignment and structural help for your body
3. play shadow tennis as often as you usually play tennis each week
4. play virtual tennis

There are lots of retired athletes who have trouble walking up the stairs and are on their second set of replacement knees. You don’t need to do that. It’s quite likely that you’ll benefit from an injury – your strokes will be better, your body will be stronger and your ability to mentally focus will improve.

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This morning I was reading about memes on the web – ideas that rapidly spread to all parts of the internet. The originator of the term meme, Richard Dawkins, described the meme as an idea that is passed from generation to generation. The idea of God for example and the perfect meme of all time: the bible. Any behavior can be supported or refuted if you search the bible long enough. It answers all possible questions you could possibly have about life and even encourages you to recruit more Christians, built-in meme generation behavior. Memes on the web are mostly short-lived, they have a short life in the meme pool Dawkins would say, but some memes make a big splash.

For instance, the curse of the Bambino. The Red Sox (as of today mind you) have not won a World Series since they traded Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees. Every year the media writes nonstop about the curse and television cameras scan Fenway Park with images of Red Sox fans wringing their hands and praying for an end to the the curse, recursive behavior you could call it because the mythical idea of the curse is reinforced every time it is mentioned.

Here is yet another reason I am pushing for Curt Schilling as a write-in candidate for president. In a recent Time magazine article Schilling intelligently explained that any baseball player who thinks that games are won or lost because of a curse instead of superior play is not likely to taste success any time soon.

And yet we all have this behavior. Last week I played in my league playoffs. My opponent was winning every game with a rocket serve and a vacuum cleaner net game. He was eating me for lunch and I was fully cooperating. I should have tried something different, anything at all, because the alternative was losing and I was already doing that. I could have come to the net. Come to the net on his second serve, come to the net on my first serve, hell, come to the net on any serve. If I’m at the net, it’s harder for him to get there. I might have lost a lot of points but I probably would have won a lot more than I did. That’s what happens when we tell ourselves that we are baseline players. We perpetuate a mythical curse on our tennis game that prevents us from seeing opportunities that could lead to a win.

In some matches your opponent is in the zone and will win no matter what you do, in some matches you are in the zone and will win no matter what they do. Most of the time, though, there’s a way to win so if I think of myself as a tennis player who can find a way to win rather than repeatedly reinforce the idea that I am a only a baseline player, I’m gonna win a lot more of those matches.

Injury Report: my physical therapist, Andy Choi, suggests that I twist my shoulders before my trunk on my backswing. This increases my twist and therefore increases my power.

He also suggests that I shift my weight to my back leg before I hit the ball on my serve so that I can better keep my eyes on the ball.

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I once worked with a group of women who were trying to start a women only sex party. As part of my “research”, I spent an evening at LA Couples, a weekly downtown Los Angeles swingers club site. My job was to serve wine to the clubgoers. As the evening wore on, more than seventy or eighty couples and an assortment of unaccompanied women (unaccompanied men were not admitted) mingled in the cafe and moved together in different configurations on the dance floor – the women usually in the middle and the men outside of them making sure not to get too close to each other. Periodically, various couplings went off to the Arabian theme room or the doctor’s theme room or the Sultan’s tent theme room to have some fun. The man who was helping me serve wine disappeared now and then to chat up latino women to see if he could set them up with his wife. Now that is an accomodating husband!

I was thinking about this as I was doing my gym workout this morning. I do a lot of cable pull exercises with rubber bands that involve twisting my hips. The idea is that my arms don’t move the cables, the movement of my hips does all the work. I discovered this morning that if I move my hips slowly as I’m twisting, I can engage my hips better and build up more strength. It also feels kinda sensual. I’m telling you, there is no end to the benefits of tennis strokes.

We never were able to get the sex party started but we had fun trying.

Injury Report: the sprained ligament in my thumb is not healing. I have to stop playing tennis (oy!) until it heals. I hope to be back playing the week after Thanksgiving. Nobody pays me a million dollars to play tennis so I have to come up with my own rehab plan:
1. see the physical therapist once a week to get ultrasound on the thumb
2. go to the gym three times a week instead of two
3. go for hikes two days a week, sometimes substitute aerobic sessions at the gym
4. mentally rehearse my practice routine so I keep the feel of my strokes.
5. practice my serve without my racket so I can continue to increase the range of motion in my shoulder

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Did you ever watch Boris Becker serve? He didn’t move his feet all that much but he did stick his big butt out there before pushing off to unleash a brutally hard serve. Look at Andy Roddick also. Again, not much foot movement but he sticks his butt out, bends his knees and launches the fastest serve ever recorded. We all know we should bend our knees when we serve but many of us take our butt out of the serve.

I don’t know about you but my butt is one of my biggest attributes and I’m sure it’s good for something so try this instead. As you bend your knees during the serve, stick your butt out. In Alexander Technique we call this the monkey. You use the monkey position all day long, every time you sit down in a chair you get into the monkey position. The muscles in your butt and legs are some of the biggest and strongest in your body so use them to increase the power in your serve.

Do you actually see your racket hit the ball when you serve or do you move your head forward thus taking your eye off the ball and blindly wish it into the other court like most of us? One of the reasons this happens is that we think we should move forward in space and so we bend our head forward. The way it should work is that our head and spine should be moving up towards the ball to allow our spine to extend and give maximum freedom and power to our arms and legs. Think about your head moving up next time you serve and see if it helps you keep your eye on the ball.

Practice and Competition Report: played in the league today, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 6-1, 6-1.
Solutions Analysis: it helps a lot to aim for the baseline and beyond during practice and warmup – my groundstrokes are getting deeper.
Success Analysis: I beat someone I should beat.

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