Why does a tennis player grunt, and is it to do with their breathing?

It’s that time of year when our attention turns to Wimbledon and our hearing can’t help but tune into the grunting noise made by tennis players. So we thought we’d look at why tennis players may grunt. Is it simply a distraction tactic employed to put off an opponent or something more physiological and maybe to do with breathing?

Most fitness instructors and personal trainers recommend breathing out during the exertion or effort of an exercise, for instance when you’re curling up during an ab crunch. So is this the same for tennis, and is the grunt a more vocal way of breathing out on the effort?

You may even have noticed yourself that you inhale just before you do something physical, like lifting the shopping out of the car boot, or maybe even groan as you lift it. We do this instinctively and this inhalation helps to stabilise the trunk. So the same could be true when swinging a tennis racquet to hit a ball.

"Maximising the power of a tennis shot is created by transferring muscular force to the racquet head efficiently. A strong core and trunk is vital for this process because the force transmission starts below the players’ waist. The muscles in the trunk also contribute to racquet head speed by providing a rotational force between the hips and shoulders," says Professor McConnell, Professor of Applied Physiology at the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University, London.

So does this effort cause a tennis player to grunt? Professor McConnell says it all comes down to breathing technique,

"Efficient breathing is an incredibly important contributor to performance in all sports, but especially in a high-intensity, skill-based game like tennis. Any coach will tell you that the heart of a good stroke is a relaxed rhythm, part of achieving this rhythm is getting your breathing and stroke in tune." If the player were to exhale as soon as they hit the ball, they would lose the stability and control in their core which could throw them off balance. The solution, it seems, is to control a forceful exhalation.

"Narrowing the opening of your lungs will slow down the rate of airflow from them, while maintaining stiffness in the trunk and control over the breathing rhythm. It is in using this technique that some players feel the need to grunt. Of course this braking action doesn't actually need to result in audible grunting but it is easier to coach the controlled exhalation if you can hear it. As a result some younger players may well be taught to grunt as a means of breath control," says Professor McConnell.

So, because playing tennis does involve using the breathing muscles in the torso to brace and twist during a tennis stroke, strengthening those muscles with POWERbreathe will help with postural control and movement as well as the controlling release of air for optimising the transmission of force to the racquet.

Read more about why you should include POWERbreathe inspiratory muscle training as part of your tennis training, or if you’re already using POWERbreathe then please leave a comment here or on the POWERbreathe Forum as we’d love to hear about how you’ve benefited from this breathing training. You can also read more about POWERbreathe for endurance training on our blog.

You can also read more here about Breathing to Improve Your Game in this article by David Ranney.

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