Whether you’re a weekend warrior spending a few hours a week on court, or a top level junior looking to make it pro - a strength program may benefit your tennis performance. In this blog post we are going to discuss why and introduce a few basic strength training principles.
Tennis is a game that is constantly evolving, with rallies getting longer and hitting getting harder. As a result training methods have had to adapt, to produce players that can run faster, hit harder and last longer. No longer do players opt for quantity over quality with long grilling hours spent on court, 1000 ball serving practices and 12 mile runs to improve their game.
So how do we get stronger, faster, fitter and reduce our risk of injury? The answer is simple - strength training.
Just like any other athlete or sports person, a tennis player needs to have a strong physical base to perform at their peak. Natural skill and talent are not enough in todays game. Hard work and grind on court but also in the gym are necessary to succeed at any level.
What do we mean by a “strong physical base”? The ability to perform a 200kg squat? Be able to do 200 press ups in a minute? No, we have to be relevant and relative to the specific demands on court.
Unlike contact sports such as rugby or American football, a tennis player rarely has to move or resist a force larger than that of their own bodyweight. They rarely need to exert maximal force like that of a shot-putter or high jumper. Nor do they need to maintain pace like that of a marathon runner.
Instead a tennis player needs to be able to properly control their body’s linear, lateral and multi-directional movement for short sharp sprints <12m. Be able to produce sufficient force to make balls and win points but not over exert themselves or “peak too early”. They need to perform both these tasks over undetermined time frames ranging from 1-5hours.
These are the specifics we have to consider when producing a strength program for a tennis player.
How we transfer these needs into a gym situation can sometimes cause conflict between tennis coaches and physical trainers. One thing to remember is that when we say “strength training” we aren’t referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger style bodybuilding, or insta-fabulous resistance band workouts.
As previously discussed we have to be relevant and relative when it comes to building our strength program. For most intermediate gym goer’s we can start our program general, e.g. mixing strength exercises (back squat/bench press) with assistance exercise (walking lunges/dumbbell flies).
For example, Workout 1: A) Back Squat (5repsX4sets) B) Dumbbell Chest Press (8-12repsX3sets), Workout 2: A) Trapbar Deadlift (5repsX4sets) B) Dumbbell Single Arm Row (8-12repsX3sets). Then when you have earned it, you can progress by adding new stimulus and training methods, e.g. contrast training - Workout 1: A) Bench Press B) Medicine ball Chest Throw, Workout 2: A) Weighted Lateral Lunge, B) Lateral Jump.
Be mindful of rep and set range. Yes tennis is both an aerobic and anaerobic sport, but when it comes to our strength sessions this doesn’t always apply. 20 reps of a resistance banded squat at 40% effort with 10 seconds rest in-between is unlikely to improve you basic strength.
3-6 sets of 3-6 good quality reps at 70-85% effort will challenge the respective muscle groups, resulting in increased muscle strength. The same applies to rest time. Yes you do only get short recoveries in a match, but adequate rest time between sets when it comes to strength training is imperative. Between 2-5minutes is usually recommended.
To sum up we have come up with 5 do’s and don’t of strength training for tennis:
DO! Ignore the “fluff”: don’t waste precious time with insta-fabulous exercises.. that bosu ball squat burpie ab crunch is going to do little for your on court performance.
DO! Build a strong athletic base before you specialise your exercises. For example work on your trunk strength before jumping straight into medicine ball power drills.
DO! Program. Have a structured program for each 4-6 week block. It will keep you focused, and allow you to track progress.
DON’T! Overtrain. 2-3 good quality strength sessions per week is plenty. Listen to your body, it will tell you when your pushing too hard - and when your not!
DON’T! Mistake conditioning with strength training. Be educated with your exercise choice and rep/set range and rest times.
Stay tuned for our next post, where we will look in more depth at the different training phases and how you can apply them to your gym routines.
If you would like any more info or advice on the above topic, please don't hesitate to contact us here at TennisFIT. We are more than happy to help and can make individualised training programs that suit your needs.
Foundations of Fitness Programming, NSCA - https://www.nsca.com/uploadedFiles/NSCA/Resources/PDF/Education/Tools_and_Resources/FoundationsofFitnessProgramming_201508.pdf
Applied physiology of tennis performance, M S Kovacs - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2653871/#!po=16.0256
Basic principle of strength training and conditioning, John M. Cissik - http://myweb.facstaff.wwu.edu/chalmers/PDFs/Basic%20principles%20of%20strength%20training%20and%20conditioning.pdf
Tennis anatomy, E. Paul Roetert, Mark S. Kovacs
How the Tennis Gods Move, Daniel McCain