17 Sep Strength and Conditioning Specifics to Improve your Tennis Game
Roger Federer once said –
“One of the most important characteristics to be a successful tennis player is to be physically fit.”
Regardless if you are a recreational tennis player or perhaps you are an aspiring professional, your game will improve with the inclusion of off-court fitness.
The importance of fitness becomes more evident as you progress into playing more difficult matches against more challenging opponents. You will find that matches become way more competitive and physical.
Whatever the sport, strength training is in harmony with various training factors (i.e., technical, tactical, physical and psychological) and training principles (i.e., overload, specificity, progression and individualisation). The connection strength training has with other training factors within a sport will equip an athlete with a complete set of tools in order to maximise their performance.
In tennis, strength is used to generate speed, power and endurance. It is impossible to have agility, speed, power, a developed anaerobic system, and flexibility/mobility without optimal strength levels.
Strength training is also critical to prevent injury. Because tennis is a sport that involves many repetitions of movements of unilateral features, it is conducive to developing muscular imbalances which significantly increase the likelihood of injury. Specific strength training for tennis is essential to maintain or restore proper muscle balance.
Exercise Right spoke with Accredited Exercise Scientist and owner of Best Practice Personal Training, Anthony Gillespie.
Anthony has coached tennis in Austria and London and discusses the importance of strength and conditioning for tennis players.
How important is strength and conditioning for a tennis player at any level for performance and injury prevention?
It is super important.
It is what underpins everything, including the mental side of performance on the court.
Often a fit mind follows a fit body and vice versa, but of course not always – the mental side is another blog entirely. Sure, you can get fitter and stronger by playing tennis, but nothing will replace specific strength and conditioning training.
Think about a top-level tennis match. What do you see?
There is the powerful fast serve and then the amazing reaction time to prepare and return that ball (sometimes with even more power).
There is a big need for high speed and agility to move across the court efficiently and also to have sufficient mobility of multiple limbs to run and then strike the ball sweetly. The player needs to be able to stabilise and maintain fine control at the end point to manoeuvre the racquet into position to achieve that clean contact.
The length of a single point can tax the aerobic system, but an advanced fitness level in this sense is more so for recovery between anaerobic bouts. The average point depending on the surface is usually not long enough to qualify as aerobic in nature.
Nevertheless, a professional tennis player needs to sustain bouts of maximal effort for matches lasting anywhere between less of than an hour and up to a 6 hour+ game.
All the components of fitness and performance needed for tennis should be developed and there is no better way to do that than through a structured and tailored approach to strength and conditioning.
The inclusion of focused tissue maintenance and recovery regime is vital because the fittest, strongest, fastest and most agile player is no good if they are injured. There clearly is a lot that needs to be worked on physically to give an individual the best chance to be the tennis player they want to be.
With a a small amount of time to train and a lot to cover, areas of weakness should be the prioritised target. There is no point for a tennis player to try to have a super advanced aerobic system like a distance runner. A Vo2 max that meets a good enough level will suffice with a minimum score of 55ml being the goal. That is not to say that maintenance of the ‘good enough’ area should ever be ignored but suffice to say it is a combination of both art and science to get this right in a strength and conditioning program.
What training specifics would a tennis pro be doing within their routine?
In the so called ‘off season’ it would be important to cross train to both give the highly used muscles a bit of a break but also allow a mental freshen up from the daily grind that can happen if the balance isn’t right.
It is fortunate that tennis requires so many different areas of performance, but also unfortunate in that there is almost too much to work on.
Cross training for aerobic fitness could be anything other than running. But of course, as the ‘season’ gets closer, running would take precedence. This running could be aerobic in nature aiming to achieve a Vo2 max possibly at least above 55ml.
There should also be anaerobic running focusing on the lactate system (up to about 60s of maximal effort) and the ATP/PC system (short powerful bursts). The breakdown of how much you do with each will depend on current ability and the type of player you are. The bigger the hitter, the more the focus on power.
If you are a counter puncher like Lleyton Hewitt, then an ability to keep running and retrieving will be super important. In short, you always need to be a lot fitter.
The training may change too according to the surface. It probably comes as no surprise that a great level of cardio fitness would be required for the French Open, where the average point length is a lot longer.
What does a general week look like?
This would be clearly different for a pro versus a serious amateur. After all, one makes their living from it and for the other, it is a secondary pursuit in life.
In general, time on the court needs to be the priority, but it will depend on what part of the ‘season’ it is.
Whilst it is true that tennis is a year-round game, there will be time throughout that year where certain events will be more prioritised.
For the purpose of this question, let’s assume it is a typical training week for an amateur. This player participates in an ordinary competition on the weekends and an event of note coming up in about 3 months.
Other than tennis practice on the court, the week should include a mix of training including aerobic base maintenance work:
1-2 x 30-45 minute sessions
General Strength Training Routine (Whole Body)
1-2 x 20-30 minute sessions
Power and Agility
2 x 45 minute sessions
Speed Endurance and Speed Training
2 x 2-30 minute sessions
1 x 60 minute session (massage, physio, osteo, etc. – preventative maintenance)
It should all be about quality movement and quality effort. There is no need to do hours and hours of general training for fitness and strength.
Get focused on the movements and efforts required to be good on a tennis court and the recovery mechanisms needed to re-set and stay fresh and injury free.
Your top 3-5 tips for an amateur player looking to take their game to the next level?
- Have a strong aerobic fitness base but don’t over do the long distance running as you need speed, agility and power more than an incredible Vo2 max.
- Do interval training both in a general sense and specific to the demands of tennis performance.
- Do strength training which looks at all body strength followed by exercises aimed at the muscles involved in powerful movements, e.g., legs, core, shoulder and arms. Think how they deliver power in the serve.
- Don’t forget mobility, trigger pointing and stretching to help the body recover in between training and playing events.
- Regular massage, chiro, osteo and/or physio to help maintain an injury free body. You can’t get better if you are sidelined.
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Written by Exercise Right. We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series. The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.
Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.