Tennis has evolved. From racquet technology to improved training methodologies and everything in between. We now see a different type of tennis being played. Overall, it’s faster, points are shorter and there’s no denying that it’s more power oriented. Because of this, players have had to adapt.
And adapt they have. It’s not uncommon to see players lifting weights to gain more strength & power…
Over the years, whenever I’ve been in the weight room with young male tennis players, the following question always seemed to come up - “when are we going to bench?”. No surprise here as most teen boys are eager to work on their ‘pecs’ (and in case you’re wondering, it’s not to improve tennis performance).
But is there a place for the bench press in the training programs of tennis players? There are many that believe it’s completely useless; some even take it to the point where programming push-ups for players is taboo (FYI, doing push-ups for tennis isn’t bad; doing poor push-ups, with incorrect technique, at the wrong times, and in excess, is bad...but more on that rant in another post). Others do bench 3x a week, trying to get that ‘pump’ feeling.
Many in tennis are fanatical about technique. Everything from a player’s grip, to their elbow placement on the forehand, to the degree of knee bend on the serve and everything in between. Some coaches take it to the point where you need a ruler, a protractor (and perhaps a PhD) just to analyze a basic groundstroke.
While I too believe that technique and mechanics play a vital role when it comes to playing high calibre tennis, we must respect the uniqueness of each individual. Take any 2 players on tour and compare them side by side, you’ll notice that variations exist - even when attempting to execute the same shot!
Specific tennis fitness tests that take into account technical efficiency, have been validated scientifically (part 1) and could be considered ‘gold standards’. But these tests are exclusively reserved for players in well-structured centres because of the detailed methodology necessary for successful execution.
For years, national federations have used the multistage fitness test (or 20m shuttle run test) to evaluate aerobic fitness due to its practical implementation and ease of use. However, though it involves change-of-direction (COD) movements, it’s still a continuous incremental test and does not represent the intermittent characteristics of tennis play.
A tennis match is characterized by intermittent exercise, alternating short (4–10 second) bouts of high intensity and short (10–20 second) recovery bouts, interrupted by several periods of longer duration rest (60–90 seconds). The running activities of players encompass high accelerations and decelerations but low velocities reflecting the intermittent play involved in tennis, which does not allow high velocities to be reached (Hoppe et al, 2014).
“Get set”...“use your legs”...“keep your wrist locked”...“step in!”...“move forward”...“hit higher”...“follow-through”...
If you walk by a tennis court during a lesson, these are only some of the phrases you’ll hear being shouted from across the net. The problem (beyond their vagueness) - as we alluded to in last week’s post - is the constant bombardment of these phrases. At times, players don’t just hear one cue or piece of feedback, but 5 or more. And further to that, it’s on every ball! Is this feedback facilitating learning? Or hindering it?
Like many coaches, I work with a variety of players. This includes older teens looking to make the transition to pro, juniors that are still honing their skills, seniors that want an edge and pros climbing their way into the top 100. On top of that, it’s a mix of females and males.
This get me thinking (and contemplating) - is my on-court and off-court feedback impactful? Is it driving change? Or impeding it?
Are you a high-performance player or coach? If so, this post is for you.
You see, I’ve coached in a number of high-performance settings. From academies, to federations and in private settings. One common characteristic that has struck me time and again is training schedules. The typical schedule sees players training Monday to Friday. On rare occasions, some take part in Saturday morning sessions - but this is certainly not the norm. As you can see, these settings follow the regular school and work week schedule.
But is it the most ideal option when developing an elite performer?
’ve received many questions of late and thought it might be interesting to share some of them in a post, along with my thoughts on some key topics. These queries come from players, coaches and even tennis parents.
As you read along, keep in mind that a lot of scenarios are circumstantial, so there could be more than one answer to a particular query. That being said, I will give the most direct, evidence backed response, that I possibly can.
Not long ago, I received the following question “What are some fitness tests I could run my tennis players through. Just some measurements they could aim to improve?”.
This question actually comes up time and again. For me, the question has layers…
You see, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of testing on many occasions - you know what I’m referring to...going through a battery of tests, recording sprint times, jump heights and so on…
And never really using the data in any meaningful way.
Most of us in tennis won’t argue that today’s game requires high levels of explosive strength - or as it’s often called - power. But many disregard some of the most influential exercises that contribute to this quality: olympic weightlifting movements.
In case you’re not familiar with olympic weightlifting movements, they consist of the clean, snatch, jerk and any variations or derivatives of these 3 lifts (videos examples are found throughout this post).
During the specific prep phase, as we’ve mentioned in previous sections, there is a greater emphasis on tennis play/practice - especially when compared with the general prep phase. Because of this, in my opinion, the need for conditioning work (in the traditional sense) is not as important - players, in effect, are getting a lot of their conditioning through tennis. Studies (Fernandez-Fernandez et al 2016, Kilit and Arslan 2018) are reaffirming this trend. See the ‘Learn More’ section for links to both studies.
Many athletes have the following problem - they seek to improve their sport performance while doing an overly large amount of the their training in the weight room.
Tennis players, on the other hand, have the reverse problem. They spend way too much time on-court and their off-court training closely resembles (or mimics) what they’re already doing on the court.
Then there are coaches and players (even parents) that often seek ‘tennis-specific’ training. Depending on how you define it, ‘tennis-specific’ can mean a lot of different things.
I’ve previously written about the split step and it’s importance to successful movement - and ultimately, shot execution - in tennis. But do we truly understand what factors contribute to an effective split step? Why we should devote serious attention to it? Or even more, how to best train it?
Before we get into the details, you should know that there are 3 primary components that make up the split step:
As 2018 is soon coming to an end, I wanted to share the top 5 articles from the past year at Mattspoint. While I know that some of you might read the blog regularly, others may not have had the chance to check-in weekly - here’s a second chance to do so. The following posts were the most popular of 2018:
Have you ever been working on a player's forehand and thought "they're just not getting it". And instead of talking the player's ear off with detailed mechanics or trying every cue in the book, you decide to get them to throw a med ball.
All of a sudden, after just 1 or 2 cues - something like “thrust your rear hip” or “turn your torso, then release the ball” - they found the correct movement. You then return to hitting forehands and voila, they finally ‘get it’.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a step-by-step recipe when it came to building the ultimate tennis champ? Just add 10 years of skill training, a half-decade of physical development and a sprinkle of mental skills...and voila, a world-class player, just like that!
Jokes aside, the topic of ‘what it takes to get to the top’, is eternally interesting. Whether you’re a coach, parent or athlete, achieving high levels of success in your chosen sport, is often a lifelong dream. The odds, however, are stacked against us all.
By this point, I think we’re beyond prescribing tennis players to run long and slow (at least I hope we are). If you want to understand why this is the case, I urge you to read through this post, as I outline how the energy systems work and interact with one another.
Yet we still need players to be able to endure tough points, tight sets and long matches. No question about it. So how do we do this?
When beginners first start playing tennis, their movements are rather mechanical. While many coaches appear frustrated, this process is totally normal. Why so? Early on, a beginner uses a lot of conscious effort in order to complete a task. But with exposure (and hopefully proper instruction), their movements begin to stabilize...and eventually, after considerable time, they don’t even have to think about their actions, they simply ‘do it’.
If you’re involved in tennis at any level, you’re like me, constantly searching for ways to help players learn and improve.
At the base, though, what is it that we’re trying to improve? From my perspective, it’s skills - the more skilled a player is, in theory, the better they’ll perform (although even skilled performers can underperform...but that’s a whole other topic).