This is a 2-part post. In today's article, we’ll take a brief look at the most important physical qualities a player should focus on during the off-season and how to best train them. Part 2 will then focus on the application - how a microcycle might be organized, how it fits into the overall training cycle and the interplay between on and off court training.
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Medicine ball training is a widely popular training modality amongst tennis players at all ages and levels. More specifically, med ball (MB) training is primarily used to augment rotational power. For a review of the underpinning science and theory on this topic, please take a look at a previous post on this topic. Why augment rotational power though? Today's game is classified as power based - players are hitting the felt off the ball. The rationale from a training perspective is as follows: increase rotational power and you'll increase hitting speeds - whether that's groundstroke or serve speeds.
Tennis itself is primarily an individual sport. Even if you play mostly doubles, individual differences between players exist at all levels of the game. This concept is known in sport science as the principle of individualization. Research studies and coaching experience tell us that all athletes respond differently to training. That’s why many fields of study exist - from psychology, to motor learning and strength & power training - each attempting to answer questions that help us better understand human behaviour and the stress-adaptation process (and why there is so much variation in responses to the same training stimuli!).
In last week’s post, we took a closer look at the force-velocity relationship and it’s underlying science. Recall that when force requirements are high, velocity outputs will be low - and vice versa. This has important implications because of the different movement requirements on a tennis court along with the methods used to improve relevant athletic qualities. Look at the figure below - it’s a theoretical look at where certain movements and strokes etc. lie on the force-velocity curve (this is an adapted representation based on science and my anecdotal experience). Even some of these movements will have different force-velocity requirements at the muscular level - when decelerating for a wide ball for instance, the initial deceleration step will have higher forces acting on the lower-body then the last step just before planting (because we’re trying to stop from a relatively fast movement speed).
This is the final part of a series of posts on change-of-direction (COD) in tennis…for now anyway. While we’ve touched on a number of key aspects of COD, researchers are only beginning to uncover the complexities of this athletic quality. This week’s post will briefly highlight why many in the tennis world believe that strength training doesn’t have a place when it comes to improving COD ability - and how the landscape has changed; and why straight line sprinting, although initially proposed as a key factor in COD ability, doesn’t really correlate after all. We’ll finish up with some practical examples of how purposeful strength training means can improve each phase of COD - the deceleration, planting and propulsive phases.
In previous posts on COD, we spoke about the importance of reactive strength. In particular, we emphasized the role leg and ankle stiffness plays in the production of reactiveness. Ultimately, high levels of reactiveness are predicated by very fast eccentric-concentric muscle actions. These actions impact a variety of movements in tennis, including any type of first-step reaction that involves very little changes in knee, hip and ankle amplitudes. `
But what about movements that have longer ground contact times? For instance, a player is forced into a deep lunge position - perhaps because of a fast low ball or because they’re retrieving a low volley at net. To recover from these types of scenarios requires qualities that extend beyond reactiveness. This is where strength and power qualities come into play. While reactiveness is great when joint angles are small, inertia is low and ground contacts are short, when these parameters are reversed, fast stretch shortening cycle (SSC) abilities won’t cut it.
Many of you have probably heard of the acronym SAQ before. If not, it’s referred to as speed, agility & quickness. Coaches & trainers from a variety of sports use these terms liberally and interchangeably. This is a problem. In the tennis world, many believe that these 3 qualities are supremely important for the movement success of an elite player. Another problem. When referring to speed, are we referring to maximum speed? Or something else? In tennis, as we’ll see later in this post, a player almost NEVER reaches top running speeds. Is it relevant then? Quickness, on the other hand, has multiple issues. First, what does it even mean? Does it mean being explosive? Does it deal with having fast feet (which is a misleading term in itself). Prominent researchers disregard quickness as a sport science term anyway - their reasoning...it’s too vague.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely seen countless videos on social media of athletes lifting big weights. And it’s not just athletes from sports like american football, baseball or hockey. Many athletes across various sports - like long distance running, swimming, volleyball - are lifting weights. We're not referring to light dumbbells but rather heavy loads and big lifts. The question is, why? What’s the rationale behind this type of training? Should tennis players learn from these sports?
I’ve briefly spoken about the importance of strength training for tennis. Some factors include the prevention of injury and increases in serve speed. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into the details of maximum strength training and it's relevance to the elite tennis player. Specifically, we’ll outline how max strength development can impact movement characteristics - including explosiveness, first step ability and acceleration.
Not enough is written about female athletes. They’ve got charisma, class and most of all, they’re damn good at sport. In tennis, the women’s game is constantly improving. Not only are women hitting the cover off the ball, but more and more feel & touch are becoming a part of their arsenal. Many believe the women’s game is still one-dimensional - but in the past several years, different types of game styles have emerged. Look at Radwanska, Halep and even Kerber - they’ve got variety. Not to mention the level of women's tennis has strenghtened - you just never know who’s gonna make it deep into a slam anymore. Sure Serena’s had some streaks where she’s dominated the women’s game but recently, the draws are more open.
Over the years I’ve coached many female tennis players...and I’ve learned a lot. From the tennis court to the weight room and everything in between. I’ll share my experiences in this article…and hopefully shed some light on female players.
About 6 months ago I hired a weightlifting coach. You might be wondering why. There are 2 main reasons - first, he owns a gym less than 50m from my front door. Second, he was a national champion weightlifter in Cuba, national champion in Canada (in his late 30s), silver medalist at the World Championships, coached a world champion and has worked with many athletes from many sports around the World. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned; in training, sport and life.
This post will touch on one of the most important qualities for a tennis player - reactive ability. Being reactive will help any tennis player be set for more shots and run down tougher balls without having to run any faster than they already do. Now before I get into the nitty gritty details I think it’s important to distinguish between reactive ability and reaction time (no they are not the same thing...although also not mutually exclusive).
We’re all aging. For some of us, the aging process might feel faster than for others but the fact is, none of us are getting any younger. When it comes to muscle mass, research suggests that after 40 years of age we lose about 5% of muscle mass per decade with even more accelerated losses after the age of 65 (Candow et al 2011). Obviously we all want to maintain and/or gain muscle as we age but there’s something more important at stake here - the loss of strength and power!
I’ve seen it many times - with athletes, regular joes and even friends & family, they make the ultimate decision - I’m going to lose this extra weight and get into the best shape of my life! Things usually start off really well. They clean out their fridge and pantry, buy fruits, vegetables, lean meats, get more sleep, go to the gym 3 days/week, run 10k for the first time….the list goes on and on. They finish their first couple weeks without missing a beat; daily exercise and diet spot on. A few weeks go by and things begin to slip - 3 days/wk in the gym have turned into 1 day/wk….a couple extra cheat meals...motivation to run has turned into fatigue. “It’s ok” they say, “I’ll get back to it on Monday”. But the cycle just repeats itself.