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Racquet Sports - Optimizing Performance – Part 3

Updated: Apr 1

Woman Playing Tennis

Part 3 of our series, 'Optimizing Racquet Sports Performance,' focuses on the lower body's vital role. We'll examine the biomechanics of the hip, gluteal, hamstring, quadriceps, and calf muscles, essential for performance and injury prevention. Dr. Abelson presents a video demonstration of MSR techniques targeting these key areas.

The hip and gluteal muscles are crucial for lower body positioning and balance during racquet sports. The hamstrings and quadriceps coordinate knee movements, while the calf muscles enable swift footwork and adjustments.

Compromised function in any of these muscles can lead to decreased power, instability, discomfort, altered movements, and even injury. Join us as we unpack the function and importance of each muscle group in racquet sports.

Article Index:

Specific Muscles

Manual Therapy

Conclusion & References


Specific Muscles

Based on the research, some primary muscles activated during all three phases of racquet sports can be divided into upper body, core, and lower body structures. Knowing which structures are primarily involved can help us to both prevent injuries and improve performance in any racquet sport. Here the some of the primary structures involved in the lower body.

Hip Flexor Anatomy Image

Hip Flexors

The iliopsoas, comprising the psoas major and iliacus muscles, is pivotal for hip flexion in racquet sports, allowing players to lunge and power their strokes. Originating from the lower back and pelvis and attaching to the femur, this group is innervated by the femoral nerve.

Dysfunction in the iliopsoas can diminish hip movement and stroke power, causing hip or back pain, especially during active play. Such issues can also lead to compensatory injuries from altered biomechanics and a restricted range of motion, affecting the player's reach and power.

When assessing the iliopsoas group, key indicators can guide practitioners to understand their role in a player's hip flexion and overall racquet sports performance:

Palpatory Indicators:

  • Tension Asymmetry: Imbalanced muscle tone between the psoas major and iliacus may suggest overuse or compensation.

  • Tenderness on Palpation: Sensitivity or pain upon palpation of the muscle's origin or insertion points could indicate strain or the presence of trigger points.

  • Restricted Fascial Glide: The iliopsoas fascia should move smoothly; any resistance could impede muscle function.

Visual Indicators:

  • Altered Gait Patterns: Difficulty with normal walking or changes in stride could signal iliopsoas issues.

  • Limited Hip Flexion: Observing reduced range or control during the lunge phase in play may point to dysfunction.

  • Compensatory Postures: An anterior pelvic tilt or excessive lumbar lordosis during stance or movement can be indicative of iliopsoas imbalance or weakness.


Image of Gluteal Muscles

Gluteal Muscles

The gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus are key to racquet sports. The maximus, our largest muscle, drives hip extension and rotation for stroke power. The medius and minimus facilitate lateral stability and movement, crucial for balance and stroke positioning.

Problems with these muscles can compromise power, stability, and mobility. Discomfort in the buttocks, especially during hip movements or strokes, and altered biomechanics may signal gluteal issues, potentially leading to additional injuries and impairing the player's reach and stroke power.

To ensure optimal performance in racquet sports, observe these indicators for gluteal health:

Palpatory Indicators:

  • Muscle Tone Drepancy: Uneven firmness or tension between the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus could indicate imbalances.

  • Palpable Soreness: Tenderness or pain, especially during palpation of the muscular attachments, may reveal overuse or strain.

  • Fascial Resistance: A lack of smooth movement within the gluteal fascia upon palpation can suggest restrictioiscns impacting muscle function.

Visual Indicators:

  • Postural Alterations: An abnormal stance or walking pattern, such as excessive anterior pelvic tilt, may be related to gluteal dysfunction.

  • Movement Limitation: Difficulty with hip extension or rotation during play could indicate gluteal muscle issues.

  • Compensatory Movement: Over-reliance on other muscle groups, like the hamstrings or lower back, during strokes can signal underlying gluteal weaknesses or injuries.


Hamstring Image

Hamstring Muscles

The hamstrings, essential for knee flexion and hip extension, play a key role in racquet sports, aiding in quick changes, deceleration, and stability. They coordinate with quadriceps for knee control, vital in these sports. Hamstring issues can diminish power and stability, impacting mobility and stroke power. Posterior thigh pain during hip extension or knee flexion indicates potential problems.

Such issues can alter movement patterns, leading to inefficiency and increased injury risk due to biomechanical changes. Limited movement in the hips and knees might affect reach and stroke power, with compensatory strain possibly extending to the hip muscles and quadricep

For a detailed evaluation of hamstring muscle integrity in athletes, consider these nuanced palpatory and visual assessments:

Palpatory Indicators:

  • Myofascial Tone Disparity: Assess for asymmetrical tonicity across the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus, indicating possible neuromuscular imbalances or chronic myofascial overload.Trigger Point

  • Palpation: Localized hyperirritable spots within the hamstring muscle bellies or at their tendinous insertions on the ischial tuberosity may suggest myofascial trigger points.

  • Fascial Adhesions: Detect areas of increased fascial density or restricted glide, particularly in the interfascial planes between the hamstrings and adjacent structures.

Visual Indicators:

  • Biomechanical Gait Analysis: Observe for deviations in normal gait mechanics, such as reduced hip extension or knee flexion phase during stride, indicative of hamstring dysfunction.

  • Dynamic Movement Assessment: During sports-specific movements, note any limitations in active hip extension or knee flexion, and observe for compensatory lumbar hyperextension or pelvic anterior tilt.

  • Kinetic Chain Compensation: Look for altered lower extremity mechanics during functional activities, suggesting compensatory strategies secondary to hamstring insufficiency.


Quadriceps Image


The quadriceps, consisting of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius, are key for knee extension, crucial for maintaining stance in racquet sports. Originating from the pelvis and upper femur, they insert into the patella and tibial tuberosity. Quadriceps issues can affect power, stability, and mobility, influencing stroke effectiveness.

Anterior thigh pain during knee extension or hip flexion may signal a quadriceps injury. Such problems can lead to altered biomechanics, reduced movement efficiency, and increased injury risk. Compromised knee and hip mobility can impact a player's reach and power, potentially leading to compensatory strain on the hip and hamstring muscles."

For an in-depth evaluation of each component of the quadriceps focus on these specific palpatory and visual indicators:

Palpatory Indicators:

  • Muscle Specific Tension: Check each quadriceps muscle (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius) for individual tension disparities, indicating localized overuse or imbalance.

  • Rectus Femoris Trigger Points: Specifically palpate the rectus femoris for trigger points, given its dual role in hip flexion and knee extension, which can be a common site of overuse in racquet sports.

  • Inter-muscular Fascial Glide: Assess the glide and mobility of the fascia between the individual quadriceps muscles and the adjacent structures like the IT band and sartorius, to detect any fascial restrictions.

Visual Indicators:

  • Rectus Femoris Function during Gait: Closely observe the stride mechanics, focusing on the role of the rectus femoris during the swing and stance phases of the gait cycle.

  • Vasti Muscle Group during Squatting: Evaluate the vasti group (lateralis, medialis, and intermedius) during squatting motions, noting any asymmetry or delay in activation, which could indicate muscle weakness or imbalance.

  • Kinetic Chain Analysis: Monitor for any compensatory movement patterns in the lower back and pelvis during racquet sports activities, which might arise due to quadriceps insufficiency or imbalance.


Calf Muscle Image

Calf Muscles

The gastrocnemius and soleus, crucial for racquet sports, aid in quick foot movements and balance. The gastrocnemius, attached from the femur to the calcaneus, allows rapid foot plantar flexion and knee flexion. The soleus, originating from the fibula and tibia and also attaching to the calcaneus, enhances foot plantar flexion for balance and agility. Both muscles are tibial nerve-innervated.

Compromised calf muscles can diminish speed and power, affecting mobility and reaction times. Posterior lower leg pain during foot push-off or running suggests potential calf issues. Such dysfunction can lead to altered biomechanics, inefficient movements, and an increased injury risk. Limited foot mobility might impact reach and stroke power, and calf problems could cause compensatory strain in foot muscles or hamstrings.

For a comprehensive evaluation of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, utilize these specific palpatory and visual indicators:

Palpatory Indicators:

  • Muscle Specific Tension: Assess tension individually in the gastrocnemius (both medial and lateral heads) and soleus for disparities, indicating localized overuse or imbalances.

  • Gastrocnemius Trigger Points: Palpate for trigger points in the gastrocnemius, particularly at its origin on the femoral condyles and its insertion at the Achilles tendon, as these are common sites of strain.

  • Soleus Fascial Restrictions: Evaluate the fascial connectivity between the soleus and neighbouring structures like the Achilles tendon and deep posterior compartment, checking for restrictions or adhesions.

Visual Indicators:

  • Gastrocnemius Function during Dynamic Movements: Observe the gastrocnemius during jumping or sprinting actions, focusing on its role in explosive plantar flexion and transitional knee flexion.

  • Soleus Activation during Stance: Analyze the soleus muscle during prolonged stance phases or slow movements, noting any delay or weakness in activation, which could suggest dysfunction.

  • Kinetic Chain Integration: Monitor lower limb mechanics, particularly looking for compensatory patterns in the foot, ankle, and knee during racquet sports activities, which might arise from calf muscle insufficiency.


MSR Demonstration Video
Click Image to Watch Video

Motion-Specific Release

Applying targeted MSR procedures can significantly mitigate injuries and enhance performance in racquet sports. In the subsequent video, Dr. Abelson illustrates effective procedures for addressing restrictions in the key lower extremity muscles engaged during these activities.


Man Playing Tennis

Conclusion Racquet Sports Part 3

As we conclude our three-part series, 'Optimizing Racquet Sports Performance,' we've delved into the intricate biomechanics and muscular interactions of the lower body. This journey has taken us through the vital roles of the hip flexors, gluteal muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles. Each muscle group's unique contribution underlines the importance of balance, power, and efficiency in racquet sports.

We've explored not only the anatomy and biomechanics but also provided practical insights into palpatory and visual indicators of muscle health. These assessments are key in identifying and addressing potential issues that could impede an athlete's performance.

Through Dr. Abelson's demonstrations of Motion Specific Release (MSR) techniques, we've highlighted targeted methods to alleviate muscle restrictions and enhance lower extremity function. This comprehensive approach is crucial for athletes looking to maximize their performance, prevent injuries, and maintain optimal musculoskeletal health in the dynamic environment of racquet sports.

Thank you for joining us in this educational journey. We hope these insights empower you to approach racquet sports with a deeper understanding of biomechanics and a renewed focus on muscular health and balance.


Dr. Brian Ableson - The Author

Photo of Dr. Brian Abelson

Dr. Abelson's approach in musculoskeletal health care reflects a deep commitment to evidence-based practices and continuous learning. In his work at Kinetic Health in Calgary, Alberta, he focuses on integrating the latest research with a compassionate understanding of each patient's unique needs. As the developer of the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems, he views his role as both a practitioner and an educator, dedicated to sharing knowledge and techniques that can benefit the wider healthcare community. His ongoing efforts in teaching and practice aim to contribute positively to the field of musculoskeletal health, with a constant emphasis on patient-centered care and the collective advancement of treatment methods.


MSR Instructor Mike Burton Smiling

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  2. Pluim, B. M., Staal, J. B., Windler, G. E., & Jayanthi, N. (2006). Tennis injuries: occurrence, aetiology, and prevention. British journal of sports medicine, 40(5), 415-423.

  3. Abrams, G. D., Renstrom, P. A., & Safran, M. R. (2012). Epidemiology of musculoskeletal injury in the tennis player. British journal of sports medicine, 46(7), 492-498.

  4. Ellenbecker, T. S., & Roetert, E. P. (2003). Age specific isokinetic glenohumeral internal and external rotation strength in elite junior tennis players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 6(1), 63-70.

  5. Roetert, E. P., Ellenbecker, T. S., & Reid, M. (2009). Biomechanics of the tennis groundstrokes: implications for strength training. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 31(4), 41-49.

  6. Roetert, E. P., & Kovacs, M. (2011). World-class tennis technique. Human Kinetics.

  7. Reid, M., Schneiker, K. (2008). Strength and conditioning in tennis: Current research and practice. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 11(3), 248-256.

  8. Ellenbecker, T. S., & Roetert, E. P. (2004). An isokinetic profile of trunk rotation strength in elite tennis players. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(11), 1959-1963.

  9. Elliott, B. (2006). Biomechanics and tennis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(5), 392-396.

  10. Kibler, W. B., Chandler, T. J., Shapiro, R., & Conuel, M. (2007). Muscle activation in coupled scapulohumeral motions in the high performance tennis serve. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(11), 745-749.

  11. Martin, C., Bideau, B., Bideau, N., Nicolas, G., Delamarche, P., & Kulpa, R. (2014). Energy flow analysis during the tennis serve: comparison between injured and noninjured tennis players. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(11), 2751-2760.

  12. Roetert, E. P., Ellenbecker, T. S., & Brown, S. W. (2014). Biomechanics of advanced tennis. International Tennis Federation.

  13. Vasudevan, J. M., Logan, A. J., Shultz, R., Koval, J. J., Roh, E. Y., & Fredericson, M. (2016). Comparison of Muscle Onset Activation Sequences between a Golf or Tennis Swing and Common Training Exercises Using Surface Electromyography: A Pilot Study. Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016, 3987486.

  14. Elliott, B. (2006). Biomechanics and tennis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(5), 392–396.



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