Strength & Conditioning

Once a basic level of fitness has been achieved, the training programme should be modified to suit the specific demands of Tennis. Tennis requires long strong muscle fibres, and does not require excessive muscle bulk. When using weight training, the emphasis should be on repetitions, rather than weight.

The conditioning should consist of, hurdle drills, to develop basic movement, agility ladders to develop the movement at speed with balance, movement drills specific to Tennis using cones, short Sprints to develop speed, 20 Metre sprints and aerobic exercise, jogging, step climbers, rowing machine or cycling.

Weight training will increase the muscle mass and muscle strength, but will encourage the development of 'slow twitch' muscles fibres. For Tennis, the player needs 'fast twitch' muscle fibres, to encourage the development of 'fast twitch' muscle fibres to increase explosive power, strength training with medicine balls is used. For advanced players, speed chain exercises are incorporated into the training programme.

Tennis is approximately 70% Anaerobic (Alactic) 20% Anaerobic (Lactic) and 10% Aerobic. The type of exercises, exercise intervals, active rest and recovery periods should be adjusted to reflect the demands of Tennis and the development of an appropriate balance of muscle fibres. An example is using a static cycle, the load should high for 30 seconds and low for the next 30 seconds, a critical measure of fitness for a Tennis player, is the Heart rate recovery, at the end of the high load the heart rate should drop quickly.

An example of the results an in-appropriate conditioning programme, is a player who trains on Clay Courts for long periods with minimal rest periods, this biases their conditioning to Aerobic, when this player then moves onto a Grass surface where the demands are for shorter faster explosive steps with rapid deceleration, they may experience problems as they progress through the tournament, either with muscle cramps, or minor strains/sprains.

Conversely a player who trains on fast courts indoors will have problems playing on slower courts in warmer temperatures.

The Annual training programme should take into account changes in court surfaces and climates.

A vital part of conditioning, is the development of flexibility which enables a greater range of joint and limb movement. For warm up, Dynamic flexibility exercises should be used, development stretches should be conducted when the body is fully warmed up and preferably towards the end of the day when training has been completed. For developing and maintaining the Range of Motion (ROM) of joints and flexibility the use of a stretch strap is recommended, with the Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) method of stretching.

Although the majority of movements made by a Tennis player are specific to Tennis, there is a place for sprint training in the conditioning of a Tennis Player as the ATP-PC energy system can be trained to improve players speed of movement. For pure speed development a six second sprint is recommended with a 30 second rest period, with a 5 minute rest after 5 sprints. These timings ensure that the player uses the ATP-PC energy system, the sprint should be performed in a straight line and the player should be using >95% effort. The players should aim to accelerate as quickly as possible and maintain thier speed for the entire six seconds, the deceleration should occur after the six second period. These pure speed sprints should be performed when the players is well rested, preferably first thing in the morning. To condition the Lactic System, 20/40 metre sprints should be used.

75% of forced/unforced errors in a Tennis match are related to poor stability. Stability is made up from, Joint Quickness, Balance, Strength and Flexibility. 

The player should be observed to determine if the player can move to the Ball, hit the ball whilst maintaining static or dynamic Balance and then recover. The observation should determine which areas the players need to improve. Quickness of movement can be improved by using Agility Ladder and Hurdle exercises, and cone drills. Balance can be improved using balance beams, and incorporating exercises using a BOSU and balance pads into the players movement exercises. Strength training will improve the players ability to maintain dynamic balance whilst hitting shots. Core strength is a major part of this training, and should be functional, this is usually achieved with medicine balls. Flexibility exercises will ensure that a player has maximum range of movement in joints.

One of the problems in getting fit to play Tennis is that frequently the strength of major muscles are improved first, with this increased strength, more powerful explosive movements are made which increases the load on smaller muscles which provide the stability, which have not yet developed, this frequently results in injuries to these smaller muscles and associated ligament and tendons. Tennis also encourages the development of asymmetrical muscle structures, imbalance of muscle groups can lead to injury. Therefore most exercises need to ensure that muscle development is in balance, front to rear, side to side and top to bottom.

A solution to this problem is to incorporate the use of a vibration plate device in a players fitness programme.

 Some of the claims for these devices are outrageous! but an examination of what effect they have on the muscles is of interest in Strength and conditioning. The device as it vibrates causes the body to be placed out of balance, this causes the 'stretch reflex response' in muscles to regain balance. As this is a neuromuscular response the muscles is contracted throughout its length, this effect happens in the large muscles and more importantly the smaller muscles which stabilise the joints. As a result the large and the small muscles develop, this will help prevent injury to the smaller muscles whilst developing fitness and competing at Tennis.

The device has some benefits in match recovery, as the device stimulates all muscles, muscles that are tight or have spasms are stimulated to contract and relax, this aids the muscles to relax and recover. As all muscles are contracted and relaxed, it appears to help in the removal of lactic acid  stored in the muscles during competition.

It is recommended that the use of a vibration plate is incorporated into the players strength and conditioning programme and post match recovery.

Serena Williams is now using a vibration plate as part of her training and match recovery. To read the article on TennisWire click here.

Rafael Nadal is also using a vibration plate as part of his training. To read the article on TennisWire click here.



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