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).
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?
Coaches, players, parents...even your aunt Judie know the importance of the serve in today’s modern game. More specifically, the first serve. The first serve is so critical that the top 10 servers on the ATP, year after year, win over 77% of their first serve points! And it’s not just on the men’s side. The top 10 women on the WTA win between 69%-79% of first serve points.
Want more proof? Look at Table 1 - in 2016, the top serving men won over 3/4 of their first serve points. On the other hand, when these top pros missed their first serves, they only won between 52% and 55% of their points.
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.
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.
In last week’s post, we took a closer look at the principle of progressive loading and offered several ways in which we can effectively ‘progress’ a player both on and off the tennis court. To reiterate last week's point, it’s critical that we look at progressions from a long-term macro perspective. Why so? Well, progress is rarely (if ever) linear. Further to that, each of the biomotor qualities that we spoke briefly about last week (speed, strength, stamina, suppleness, skill), improve and regress, depending on which we give greater attention to (i.e. more 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.
Most tennis players spend hours on the practice courts. And for good reason - tennis is darn tough. The question is, are these hours on court productive hours or redundant? How can we know? To assess whether our training is effective (and that it'll transfer to matchplay) we must first understand the demands of elite tennis.
In this post, we’ll review a study by Pereira et al (2016) that dives into the movement details of professional tennis. Other studies have previously analyzed movement characteristics; but, those studies replaced tournament matches with simulated matchplay. The present study observed movement characteristics via official ITF sanctioned matches.
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.
For many in the tennis world, this time of the year means tournaments, and lots of them. Players from all over are either preparing or competing in ITF Futures events, open tournaments and club matches. With that in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at a typical training week for players competing in weekend events/matches. Good news is, Dariusz Lipka (former 1000 ranked ATP player) was in town this past week to train & compete in an open event - a mini preparation block for his upcoming Futures circuit this summer.
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.
BOTH Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have been in the news of late with elbow injuries. While Novak is back competing, Andy is still on the sidelines with a suspected "tear" around the elbow (no further details have been mentioned). Both missed the Miami Open this year and while they'll likely be back in form soon, I thought it was a good time to discuss why elbow injuries happen and some ideas on what we can do about them.
How do different athletic qualities fit into the program of a tennis player? This is a complex question but one that deserves an answer. With information being so readily accessible these days, there are countless videos of players doing all kinds of things off the tennis court. But let me ask you this: just because a top 100 or 50 player is doing X or Y, does it mean it’s effective? Is it driven by some underlying scientific basis? Often times, it’s not. It’s a regurgitation of someone else’s training or a drill that was once seen before. If you’re a player, and someone is telling you to do squats on a stability ball…or ladder drills to develop agility and change-of-direction (COD) ability...seek alternatives as these are merely gimmicks that have little transfer to the aforementioned performance qualities.
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.
Last week, French tennis star Jo-Wilfred Tsonga posted a sneak peek video of his off-season training regimen...and almost every tennis fan on the web had a comment to share. Comments from fans included “what’s Jo doing? He’s gonna hurt himself!” to “I would never lift weights during practice!” while some were more encouraging, like “wow look at his hard work, he’s gonna be ready to go for the 2017 season!”. Coaches had other things to say including a comment along the lines of...“This is type of training just doesn’t work for tennis players, their skill will deteriorate due to fatigue of the lift”. Here's what the session looked like:
Not so long ago, a tennis coach I worked alongside asked why I don’t prescribe long runs with our players. You know, to get them into shape. My response at the time was that we need to prioritize their strength, power and explosive abilities. He then asked why I didn’t do long runs with them during pre-season? I didn’t want to get into the details at the time but there were 2 reasons. First, there is no real ‘pre-season’ in tennis, particularly not in junior tennis. And second, long distance running can do more harm to a tennis player than good.
You still see it all the time though. Coaches making their players run. Especially when they want to punish a player for bad behaviour or failing to accomplish a drill. They think, why not kill two birds with one stone? Teach the kid a lesson AND get them in shape. Boy is that not the furthest thing from the truth. Many coaches also still believe that running long distance will build an aerobic base but the type of aerobic qualities that are enhanced during long-distance running, are not the qualities we need for tennis - or any explosive type sport. In this article, we’ll outline the basic physiology of tennis, why you shouldn’t run (there are more reasons then, it’s a waste of time) and what you should do instead.
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.
Last week I wrote about some key lessons I learned from a weightlifting coach. One of those key lessons was the importance of general training for athletes. Although general training is vital for any athlete, developing athletes may get the greatest benefit from this type of work. When I talk about general training, I am referring to non sport specific movements. For tennis players, this means movements that are non tennis related. John Kiely, sport scientist and elite coach, refers to general training, especially in the early years of development, as movement diversity. In this article, we’ll explore the current dogma in physical preparation for tennis, why early specialization is an almost must and the theory behind general training.