Why Does My Arm Hurt After Throwing A Football Biomechanics: Can Table Tennis Skills Be Transferred to Other Racket Sports?

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Biomechanics: Can Table Tennis Skills Be Transferred to Other Racket Sports?

Can tennis help me learn to play tennis? Will a racquetball hurt my tennis game? Can badminton help me play better table tennis? These kinds of questions about skill transfer between racquet sports come up all the time. The author has some unique credentials to answer these questions. We will look at some mechanical similarities and differences between racquet sports to answer some of these questions.

Some basic kinesiology is required to best compare the mechanics of tennis, table tennis, or other racquet sports. If you are standing comfortably with your arms at your sides, palms facing forward, you are in what is called the “Anatomical Position.” If you move the tips of your fingers away from your thighs, the maximum is about 45 degrees, this movement is called “Hand Day”. Bringing it back is a small movement called “ADDuction Wrist”. Kinesiology students remember the difference by imagining that this body part is “Added” to the midline or long axis of the body and like to capitalize the first three letters for clarity.

Hand position is a very important difference between table tennis, tennis, racquetball, squash, badminton and even fencing. Imagine a fencer holding a sword or a foil swinging at an opponent. The arm should be fully extended so that the tip of the foil is as accessible as possible. The hand position for table tennis is almost the same, but it is used for other purposes than just to extend the reach.

In table tennis, the arm is added to allow it to express the whip as it moves forward during contact. The legs, torso, shoulders, and arms initiate the movement and transmit the momentum in what is called the “kinetic chain.” This chain of motion whips the table tennis racket into the ball like a whip. This kinetic chain of momentum from the ground, through the body, and then culminating in contact is actually common to most contact/collision sports, such as football and baseball. Unlike table tennis, the arm in tennis is usually “ABDucted”.

With the brief exception of reaching a defensive path to reach the ball or reaching up to serve or hit, the hand position in tennis is more like holding the hammer, more like “ABDucted.” This position does several things for a tennis player. First, it makes it easier to carry the extra weight and length of the tennis racket because it is vertical over the arm.

Second, the “ABDucted” wrist is a stronger and more manageable wrist position. It can withstand the high impact forces of the tennis ball as well as the high rotational forces of off-center shots. Obviously, such impact forces do not exist in table tennis, and learning this position requires a lot of practice and discipline. Unfortunately, as the author points out, the same discipline of “ABDucted” hands that is hard-learned to play better tennis is difficult when trying to play ping pong with your “ADDucted” hands.

This is the main complaint of table tennis coaches who, when teaching tennis newcomers, have to constantly remind them to “drop” or “ADDuct” the hand. The author’s own coaches just smile and point now! Based on the theoretical and practical opinion of the authors, it seems that tennis requires the most discipline in terms of hand “ABDuction” among racket sports. Tennis, and perhaps table tennis too, may require more discipline in the overall strokes. Again, some additional basic kinesiology is helpful.

From the “Anatomical Position” described above, if you bend your arms so that your palms are facing up, you will UNLOCK your wrists. When you return your arms to a position where your fingers point to the floor, you are extending your arms. When you rotate your arms so that your fingers are next to your thighs and your palms are behind you, you PRONAT your hands. The opposite movement is called SUPINATION. Both PRONATION and SUPINATION are defined by the two bones of the forearm rotating around each other, movements that have distinct motions but are often confused with wrist flexion.

Because the target in badminton, squash and racquetball is so large, racket acceleration and contact speed are usually the first priority. To do this, both flexion and pronation are used in the arm to achieve maximum speed. The target in tennis and table tennis is smaller than in other sports, and maximum racket speed is less desirable. The notable exceptions to tennis are the serve and the break, but even these shots generate racquet speed by almost exclusively using PRONATION, not arm FLEXION. Pronation is also the dominant arm motion in throwing a fastball.

What does this tell us about skill transfer from one sport to another? Does it make one racquet sport easier if you’re already familiar with another? These are obviously difficult and complex questions, even for a specialist in biomechanics in racquet sports, but if we simply isolate the differences discussed here, a way to answer them can be found.

When it comes to the discipline of the hand and arm described above, we can assume that it is more difficult to achieve the discipline than to stop it. For this reason, it seems that it is easier to learn tennis or table tennis than to learn racquetball, badminton and squash. Conversely, after learning other sports that emphasize the slowness of both arm movements described here, it is more difficult to achieve the forehand discipline needed in tennis and table tennis.

Apart from its biomechanical logic, this principle was born out of the author’s personal experience in racket sports and more than 30 years of coaching. His competition experience in racquetball followed that of tennis, and it always seemed easy to relax the discipline of tennis and “change” with maximum speed in racquetball. During these years, many students struggled to master the additional subject of tennis after other sports. In short, the author recommends learning tennis and/or table tennis before entering other sports that are dominated by hand shots.

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