How To Train Like A Tennis Player
Every year the entire world turns its attention to Wimbledon as the best tennis players on the planet battle it out to be crowned the winner whilst the rest of us tuck into our punnet of strawberries during the only week of summer that England entertains.
As the nations heroes go toe to toe on the courts of Wimbledon, it is clear to see that these men and women mean business; it’s a little different to a knock to and from in the garden with a jug of Pimms and lemonade. To really get the upper hand in tennis, hours of skill training each day isn’t enough, all of the top tennis athletes will have structured and specific strength and conditioning training programmes to compliment their tennis training.
To train specifically for tennis there are three concerns we need to address; the physiological demands of the sport, the mechanical demands and the common injury sites for tennis players. For the purpose of this article we are going to address the first two elements of training by identifying the energy systems demands and by identifying the movements and forces experienced during game play and how to develop these. We have addressed the common injury sites for tennis and how to prevent injury in a previous article.
Energy System Demands
At Wimbledon 2015 a duel between Nicolas Mahut and John Isner lasted a record breaking 11 hours and five minutes, the longest tennis match ever spanning over three days. Reporters from CNN compared this to running five marathons at record-breaking pace, although a little exaggerated; tennis obviously requires a well developed aerobic system. Typically a tennis match can last between one and four hours, of intermittent high intensity work. Game play is usually around 20-30% of overall match duration.
Tennis is played with multiple short bursts of activity followed by periods of rest. Generally a rally lasts under 15 seconds and is played at high intensity, during this the body is utilizing the ATP-PC system to create energy as quickly as possible during the rally but this is not the only system working exclusively to produce ATP. Your body will be working hard for up to 15 seconds without oxygen, your glycolytic or anaerobic system will also be working hard to produce ATP during these bouts. Your recovery between these rallies is what is going to make the difference, if you cant recover and catch your breath between each point you aren’t going to last long. With this information we can see that it is a very unpredictable sport and training for this can be tricky.
Training the Energy systems for Tennis.
Tennis is obviously very intermittent sport, so it makes sense to train in intermittent bouts of intensity. Interval training requires the athlete to work at a high intensity for a period of time followed by a period of lower intensity or rest much like tennis. Interval training can be performed with different work to rest ratios to elicit the required physiological adaption. To increase a players ATP-PC system, small work periods of extremely high intensity are required followed by moderate to long rest periods to recover fully between intervals. To build the anaerobic system you need to be working within an oxygen deficit, your body will be working with small work to rest ratios to create an anaerobic environment within the body. Both systems are used within tennis, so it is essential to train both capacities. The table below shows recommended work to rest periods to train both energy systems.
|2||Anaerobic||30 seconds||30 seconds||6|
If performed at full intensity, both sessions will be hard, but they will feel very different. In session number one, you will be working as hard as possible for 15 seconds then have adequate rest to recover whereas the second session, you will be working hard for 30 seconds, then have 30 seconds rest, if you are working at the right intensity this is not a long enough rest period to recover fully so you will start to accumulate an oxygen deficit in the body, building lactic acid. You might be thinking, “what about the aerobic system?” The aerobic system is always working and the mechanisms of recovery between high intensity bouts is aerobic, so you can develop the aerobic system without targeting it specifically.
These are guidelines for interval training, you can use these rest to work ratios in a number of different ways; Circuits, rowing, running, cycling, swimming and you can even apply them to tennis training.
Tennis is a fast game, very fast, in 2015 Raonic served up a 147mph bullet to Andy Murray, the second fastest in the tournaments history. Andy Murray tapped it back to him and won the point like it was a Sunday morning on the beach, Murrays speed and anticipation during the return was so good that he made it look easy. In this example both athletes display great athleticism, strength, power and speed, coordinated throughout the entire body. With each movement and strike the athletes transfer power from their legs throughout their torso and into the ball. From a mechanical standpoint the average rally lasts three shots and the player will cover over 3 meters of ground for each stroke. Multiply this over the course of a match and one match can involve over 1000 shots and 3 kilometers covered, respectively. Each shot requires the player to accelerate and decelerate in many directions, in most cases a shot will be performed with the players centre of mass over one leg and they will be low to the ground to create a wide base of support. All whilst coiling the torso and upper body to perform a rotating movement to strike the ball. Generating power and creating high ball speed is a key determinant of tennis success, therefore increasing mechanical force production and velocity to is intuitive to improve the power of a players strike.
Training for the Mechanical demands of tennis.
Here are some example movements you can use to build strength and stability in the legs and create real power in the torso to improve your tennis.
The Over-head squat
Each shot during a tennis game requires strength and stability throughout the entire body. Each strike requires some form of deceleration with the legs and acceleration with the torso. The overhead squat will build strength in the legs which will allow you to better handle the forces experienced when decelerating. The over-head squat will also build strength in the back, core and shoulders which will create stability and increase the amount of force you can create during a shot, resulting in a faster return.
Walking Dumbbell lunge.
As mentioned before, the majority of shots are played with the centre of mass over one leg with flexion and extension of around 75° with a multitude of ground reaction forces. The higher the force applied to the ground, the higher the force that can be transferred into the ball. The Walking Lunge is great for building strength in the legs and hips all whilst maintaining posture and controlling the stability of your body.
Over head Press.
Building the strength of the shoulder girdle will improve the health of the shoulder as well as increase your ability to produce force. Training with any variation of the over head press will build strength in the torso which in turn will produce faster racquet speeds.
Single arm dumbbell row
A tennis stroke isn’t all about how fast you can hit the ball, you also need to be able to decelerate your arm as you follow through from the shot and to reset your body in alignment to play the next shot. The single arm row can be used to build the strength of the pulling movement used whilst retrieving a shot and it also involves an amount of anti-rotation within the core.
Lateral Med ball throw.
High lateral med ball throw velocities have been directly linked with high racquet speeds during a tennis shot. Training with the lateral med ball throw will improve your power whilst rotating to play a shot, meaning hitting the ball harder and returning a shot faster.
The physiological demands of tennis have been addressed and guidelines for interval training to train specifically for the demands of tennis have been provided. The mechanical demands have been considered and some basic strength training exercises have been given to give you the upper hand on the court. Apply these principles to your training to become a fitter, stronger, faster and more powerful tennis player.