To apply power in sports, you need the right range of motion. Without flexibility across (and just beyond) the entire movement range, you’ll fall short of your full potential for power output. In a joint interview we did, I recently heard my colleague Gwen Lawrence describe this beautifully with the analogy of a bow and arrow. If your bowstring is too tight to pull back very far, she says, your arrow plops to the ground. But if your bowstring is both strong and flexible, you can pull it back far enough to send your arrow flying.
Here are two stretches to help with the tennis serve, though they are useful for everyone and will help with any overhand throws. While they are shown with the right arm overhead, be sure to practice them until you feel even on both sides, which may mean you have to stay on your nondominant side for a considerably different length of time. I demonstrate two leg positions as well. You’ll get a bigger stretch for the back-leg hip by lunging the front leg, but having both legs straight is a good choice when your quadriceps are tired.
Parsva Virabhadrasana Arms
With a wide stance, front leg straight or bent toward 90 degrees at the knee, lift the front-side arm overhead. Begin with your thumb facing back and your palm facing toward your head, then experiment with various orientations of the arm to find what gives you a pleasant release. Your back arm rests lightly on your back hip or leg. You can also play with a light twist from the mid- to upper spine, as well as a side bend toward the back leg. Notice how your breath and body respond as you explore these variations.
From the first position, bend the elbow of the raised arm and cradle your head as you point your elbow skyward. Bend the elbow of the lowered arm and rest the back of your palm on your low back, or nestle it toward the front-leg hip crease. Lift your chest, release your head into your hand, and enjoy your stay.