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.
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).
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).
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.
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:
Based on some of my previous posts, many believe I’m not a fan of running. That, however, is not true at all! I’m a huge believer in running activities - but not the ones that have traditionally been prescribed in tennis books and in many tennis related research papers. A typical ‘old school’ prescription is to get players running long slow distances (LSD) in the off-season or during preparatory periods. The rationale is - ‘let’s build an aerobic base’. Hmm. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll do it again - energy system development is not that simple. You can NEVER truly isolate one energy system and completely disregard the others. You can bias one over the other, but there’s an interplay between the 3 (anaerobic, anaerobic-Lactic, aerobic).
I recently heard that periodization is dead. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it can be defined as the division of training & competition into various phases throughout the calendar year (this is of course a simplified definition - articles, books etc have been written on the topic but for our purposes, that’s all you need to know for the moment).
Before we tackle the statement from above, let me provide the background story. There was a once a time when athletes - primarily those competing in the Olympics - only had to (truly) peak once every 4 years.
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.
I’ve been asked countless times - from tennis coaches to players and even parents - 'how can I get more leg drive on my forehand?' 'Or more jump from the legs on my serve?' 'Or more explosiveness when moving laterally?' There’s no simple answer. It truly depends on a number of factors, including your strength levels, coordination, training age, biological age, training history, genetics and more. But if I absolutely had to boil my answer down to one form of training, I’d have to look towards plyometrics.
There are many terms to describe plyometrics including plyometric training, plyos, jump training, shock training (that’s what Soviets used to call it) & ballistic training. I may use some of these terms interchangeably throughout this article but they all refer to plyometrics. Whatever you call it, it’s general premise is to increase power output.
In a previous post, we introduced mobility and how it’s not just a passive process but an active one - and it requires both flexibility AND strength (read that post here). I've studied joint mobility and flexibility considerably. From research articles, seminars, workshops to practical experience. Based on my studies, I am convinced that we can ALL improve joint function, flexibility and active range of motion (ROM). This may come as a surprise to many (often I hear coaches and players saying that "they've never been flexible" or that they were "born stiff"). The truth is, like any training quality, achieving more active and passive ROM is simply of matter of deliberately providing the desired tissues with a training stimulus, allowing time for recovery and adaptation and repeating this process.
In last week’s post, we introduced the main physical training components that tennis players likely should focus on during the off-season. To get the best out of this week’s article, I suggest reviewing part 1 of this series first.
In this post, I’d like to tackle a couple key points. First, I’ll outline what a typical training week in the off-season might look like and how the overall cycle takes shape. Next, I’ll take a stab at commenting on the interplay and subsequent management of on-court and off-court training loads. Lastly, I will then offer some feedback - in other words, why it's my belief that training the various qualities outlined in last week’s article shouldn’t stop once the off-season cycle ends.
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 the last couple of posts, we explored two key sport science training principles, progressive loading and variation. These training principles were linked to both off-court as well as on-court training for the elite/developing tennis player - in hopes that they could provide the astute coach or player with more insight into the organization of practices and long-term training schemes. But the principles don’t stop there. There are other of equal - or perhaps even greater - importance, especially when it comes to tennis training.
Specificity is this week’s topic of interest. It’s a term that’s been somewhat of a buzzword for the better part of a decade (or longer). Often times, tennis coaches, players and parents are brought to believe that to be a successful tennis player, one must be subscribed to a physical development program that is ‘tennis specific’. When these same tennis folks see programs that include a variety of plyometric work and ballistic lifting in the weight room instead of rotational band work, quick footwork drills, and other movements that ‘mimic’ tennis play, they think to themselves - “this isn’t tennis-specific”. I’ve got news for you though, there’s only one training component that is truly specific to tennis play and that’s...wait for it….TENNIS!
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).
Last week I presented in front of the BTV (Bavarian Tennis Verband) - it’s one of the biggest associations in Germany and many of the top junior tennis coaches were in attendance. The topic - how we can use off-court training strategies to accelerate on-court development. I had 3 young junior players helping me during the practical component - going through a series of jumps, bounds, throws, bodyweight exercises and so on. They were 12-13 years old and apparently, some of the best young talents in the country (I never met them previously and had never seen them play or train).
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.