Tennis is a complex sport and difficult to master. Although it is known primarily as a skill sport with a high degree of technical and tactical ability required, the importance of physical capability for players at all levels must not be underestimated. Even if personal trainers don’t have a tennis background, they can still provide extremely useful and specified strength and conditioning work.
There are a variety of statistics stating to what degree energy systems are utilized within the game. According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) the alactic system is used 70% of the time, the lactic system (both under the anaerobic umbrella) 20% and the aerobic 10%. The relevance of these statistics is that players require a solid aerobic base to last the unpredictable duration of a match while being able to deal with the high intensity of individual points.
Additional statistics that affect how we train players are as follows:
- 70% of errors are due to footwork and positioning
- Players change direction three to four times per point
- Lack of movement capability hinders further technical/tactical development
- Average points are less than 10 seconds
- Rallies are generally lost due to ineffective recovery
Type of movement (approximations)
- 50% lateral
- 49% forward
- 1% backward
Tennis is a whole-body sport relying on muscle groups firing in a predetermined order to produce a stroke. In the preparation phase of strokes players must coil up, loading the body with energy. Energy will then transfer from the ground through the legs and hips, through the core out to the arms and finally via the wrist into the racket. The majority of power is generated from the lower body and the trunk. Players who try to generate from the arms alone will be prone to injury and find it difficult to control shots at high pace.
Players must also be able to brace their hips to prevent over-rotation, which hinders energy transitions and effective recovery back on court.
Tennis stresses the body in multiple planes. The trunk can use up to 90% of its capability when producing a stroke, so is right on the limit and susceptible to injury. As fitness trainers we must pay attention to this area and, in particular, the rotational elements.
The shoulder areas are extremely prone to injury as contacts and high velocities send a large amount of force through the shoulder.
Arms are often under stress as players try to generate pace, mainly on the forehand side, instead of utilizing the larger muscle groups to greater effect.
Hip muscles are also used frequently in tennis. In the first Grand Slam of this year, the Australian Open, there was a large percentage of top female players with strapping on their legs due to hip injuries.
Hip muscles must have the ability to rotate into shots and then brace to maintain balance, energy transfer and strong postural recovery positions.
Tennis is a high-impact sport resulting in potential for foot/heel injuries and knee injuries, particularly in young, developing tennis players. Plyometric work must therefore progress from force absorption to more reactive work as the body adapts.
Technique is a vital injury-reduction tool and coaches must ensure that players are fundamentally efficient.
30-minute strength and conditioning drill:
- Warm-up– RAMP (raise, activate, mobilize, potentiation)
- Mobility– Five in five (five exercises in five minutes, 40 seconds on, 20 seconds rest)
- Plyometrics– Force absorption progressing to reactive movements and combined runs
- Speed, ability, quickness– Shadow tennis drills, footwork patterns, resisted movements, tennis-specific patterns of play
As mentioned, technical development can be hindered by lack of physical competence and so even individual session’s players must be exposed to physical work that relates to the technique or tactic they are learning. Medicine balls are a great way to teach technique allowing players to feel the muscle groups working due to the slight overload (1-2kg max).
This is a complex area and very difficult due to the competitive structure within the UK. Players may play two to three competitions in a month trying to increase ratings and rankings and expect to peak at every event.
Obviously this is not possible and training programs have to be adapted to prepare for events as much as possible. In the week leading up to a competition, it is advisable to do more general work at the beginning of the week and lead up to lighter tennis-specific sessions.
A key to ensuring success – at any level – is communication. Talk with coaches and players and plan the competitive schedule. This will allow certain events to be emphasized and allow the player to understand what they are trying to achieve at certain times of the calendar year.
There are a wide range of movement drills available to train tennis players but in general I follow the READER model: react, explode, accelerate, decelerate, execute and recover.
Movement drills should encourage movement directions and situations that your players experience within their game style. What kind of play does your player prefer and what are the normal counters from the opponent? This will allow drills to be designed for each individual.
A useful method of conditioning is to use shadow tennis. Players simulate footwork patterns and game transitions (for example, rally to attack) while executing strokes without the ball. This method is very useful to train the footwork steps (flow steps/power steps, etc.) and also allows the player to mentally visualize the stroke and the outcome. Shadow tennis can be as detailed as required. I tend to emphasize initiation steps such as split-step and drop-step, appropriate footwork and recovery positions
(hands in front)
|Encourages good posture and body positions|
(medicine ball, barbell)
|Encourages hip extension and firing of lower body when players drive up through their strokes|
|Medicine ball rotations
|Explosive power in trunk, simulates strokes|
|Shoulder work||Use of tubing to perform internal and external rotation and raised internal and external rotations|
|Core||Supermans, plank progressions, rotational exercises|
Source: Fitpro Network