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.
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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:
Last week we introduced reactive strength and its underpinning qualities. If you haven’t read that post, I strongly encourage you to do so, as it’ll provide a scientific rationale for what’s to come in this article.
Recall that reactive strength is effectively the fast component of the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) - SSC activity being a rapid change from an eccentric to a concentric contraction that produces more power than would be possible with a concentric only contraction. We also determined that reactive strength is quite important as it relates to change of direction (COD) in tennis. There are 2 reasons for this. First, it’ll improve a player’s split-step ability - effectively allowing for a faster first step initiation - AND it can help with movements - along with recoveries - that are short but require high levels of explosiveness (think of shots that are near you but are coming at you with speed).
I’m constantly trying to bridge the gap between how players should train off the tennis court and how they should train on the tennis court. It’s important to look at on-court tennis training through a physical lens as much as a technical or tactical one as these qualities are all interrelated. Let's look at an example to illustrate this point. Say you're working on retrieving tough wide balls on the backhand side. Not only is technique targeted (attempting to refine open stance backhands, for example), tactics (being able to send the ball back high/deep and with plenty of spin for example) along with the specific movement qualities (explosiveness, acceleration, deceleration) are also being trained. As you can see, it’s very difficult to separate one quality from another as they are all in some way related.
A few weeks back I wrote an article about strength training for tennis. More specifically, I wrote that physical training for tennis should stop focusing on “fancy drills” that may appear useful on the outside. Among other qualities (not the focus of this article), physical training for tennis should include a properly planned and executed strength training protocol. In this post, I’m going to outline the mechanical demands of tennis - this will hopefully provide a better understanding as to why strength training is important for tennis. And a brief application of strength training will be linked to each tennis demand to provide further context.