Hey guys, I am really happy to have Brian join up for a guest post today. I first was introduced to his material on his Reddit AMA which was absolutely awesome. If you’re taking tennis even remotely seriously, you absolutely need to check out Brian’s AMA and his website. Enjoy this article he wrote for us at GBAT.
Hi! My name is Brian Carlson. I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach and USA Weightlifting Coach. I obtained a Bachelors in Kinesiology with a minor in Strength & Conditioning from Washington State University. While I was there I was a student strength coach with a variety of teams including tennis. I am currently in graduate school at San Diego State University to obtain two Masters Degrees, one in Exercise Physiology and the second in Nutritional Sciences. I have spent time training tennis players ranging from junior level elementary students to Division 1 athletes to older USTA players looking to keep an edge on their game. You can follow me on social media @briancarlsonfitness or visit my website www.briancarlsonfitness.com for more tennis and general training advice!
Here are my Top 10 Tips when it comes to strength training for tennis:
- Build Eccentric Strength
An eccentric muscle action is any action where the muscle is lengthening under action. This includes the lowering portion of a squat, press, or lunge. Every action in tennis (and all sports) contains a concentric (shortening), isometric (no muscle length change), and eccentric (lengthening) portion. Each of these actions can be trained together or separately to create strength gains. When it comes to tennis all deceleration of both the racquet and the body is controlled eccentrically. Our muscles use this eccentric action to absorb the weight of our body when we lunge, turn, or slow the racquet down during a follow through. This is the portion of the movement where most injuries occur because the high rates of force. So, this is the portion of the muscle action where we need to spend some extra time focusing on. Eccentric specific training is done through temp work and can be incorporated into almost any exercise routine. This tempo training is done on the descending portion of an exercise. So, for example, if we were doing bodyweight squats the eccentric training would be performed by squatting down slowly, counting to three, and then standing up as we normally would. This type of temp training would be the same for a lunge, dumbbell press, push-up, resistance band curl, almost any exercise. Tempo training should start light, potentially incorporating the tempo work on your final set one to two days a week. The goal should be to work up to a longer count, of performing the exercise with the same count but a heavier weight.
- Work on Bilateral Strength
Tennis is a lopsided game in terms of muscle recruitment. Just look at any of the top players out there and the disproportion between their dominant and non-dominant arms is readily apparent. This deficit is inherent to the game, but is not an excuse to not do our best to work on developing our body in a balanced way. Striving to gain a better balance between halves of the body can most easily be accomplished by training each side independently. Dumbbells or resistance bands put the emphasis on each limb equally, as opposed to a straight bar. Lunges, single leg squats/RDLs, rows and single arm presses are all great exercises to incorporate to develop symmetry. If this is a particularly bad issue for you it may be beneficial to place an extra emphasis on the non-dominant or weaker side. This can be accomplished through performing more reps with that size, using a heavier weight, or simply starting each exercise with that limb first focusing on the muscle contraction to build a better mind-muscle connection.
- Focus on Posterior Muscles
The muscles on the back of our body are critical for power development, change of direction, and especially crucial for the follow through and deceleration of a shot. Often people will put a lot of focus on training the muscles they see in the mirror (chest, abs, biceps, quads) and neglect the muscles in the back (lats, hamstrings, glutes, posterior shoulder). A complete program always incorporates exercises that utilize every part of the body, especially the posterior chain. For tennis, extra emphasis should be placed on the back of the shoulder (posterior deltoid) because it is responsible for much of the deceleration on every forehand and serve. A poor ability to decelerate after a shot is what leads to things like shoulder injuries and tennis elbow.
- Train at a Higher Level than you Play
This is a concept that is true for every sport. By weight training/conditioning at a higher level than you play your sport you properly prepare your body for the intensity of the game. In tennis, this means lifting heavier weights than your body would handle during a match to prepare for the repetitive accelerations and decelerations. By putting that healthy stress on the legs under a controlled condition like a weight training session we build the resilience that we need to stay healthy during an intense point or match. Training at this higher intensity often means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone in the weight room or on the court on a frequent basis. As your body adapts you will need to keep adding additional intensity (more weight, reps, tempo, less rest etc.) to continue to make strength gains. This is why progress hinges on both consistency and proper administration of this stress to create adaptations in the body.
- Practice Training in Multiple Energy Systems
Tennis is a sport that involves multiple energy systems. A tennis player needs explosive anaerobic power to quickly change directions during a point. They also need the underlying aerobic endurance to stay in the match for 5 sets lasting multiple hours. Both energy systems need to be trained, and each adapt through different means. Anaerobic power is most easily developed through a training style involving short bursts of intensity followed by short periods of rest. Any good high intensity interval training (HIIT) program is an efficient way to work on building that anaerobic power and ability to continue to play at a high intensity for short bouts. The second energy system used in tennis is aerobic endurance. This is increased by training at a lower intensity, but at a duration that is longer than anaerobic power. This would include long steady state sessions on a treadmills or stair climber. In my opinion, the easiest way to train aerobic endurance is to play a lot of tennis and especially try to play or practice longer than a typical match would last.
- Don’t Neglect the Core
Core strength and stability make up a large component of a powerful serve or groundstroke. The core is comprised of multiple abdominal muscles as well as the muscles of the low back. The core performs multiple muscle actions, but the one most important to tennis is rotational strength. The core should be trained through anterior flexion exercises (crunches/sit-ups), posterior flexion exercises (superman, back extensions), anti-movement exercises (plank/side plank) and rotational exercises (Russian twist, medicine ball side throws). In tennis core stability and strength are the primary goal, with power rotational strength a secondary goal after an adequate level of strength and stability are achieved.
- Repetition Repetition Repetition
Consistency is king. The body only gets stronger and adapts under an adequate stress level. Over time as your body adapts this stress level will need to increase in a programed and periodized basis. Time off leads to detraining and the need to reset and lower the stress/intensity level of play. Progress is only achieved through consistency. This is especially true when training on court movements. As a strength coach, I need my athletes to practice accelerating and decelerating 1,000 times so that when they are in the middle of an intense point they can perform and react without having to even think about it. This level of adaptation is only achievable through repetition repetition repetition.
- 70% of all movement in tennis is lateral. Train Like it!
Most of the movement in tennis is lateral. This includes shuffles, crossover steps, drop steps, lateral lunges etc. This means that an extra emphasis of any training program should be placed on lateral movement and lateral mechanics. This can be as simple as incorporating lateral lunges into a program, or as complex or performing multiple lateral agility drills with a mix of forward and lateral movement. Change of direction performed from a shuffle has a different set of mechanics than a change of direction performed from a sprint. Every agility session should start with lateral movement drills and build in intensity as you progress in proficiency.
- Start from the Ground Up
Although it seems segmented the body is one complete machine. Often an injury in one part of the body is a direct result from tightness or imbalance in another part of the body. When assessing strength and mobility it is easiest to start at the bottom and work up. This means paying attention to the bottom of the feet then the ankle, calves, knee, quads/hamstrings, hips etc. up and up. This is true for strength training and myofascial release and mobility. Rolling the bottom of the foot after training can do wonders for foot and ankle health. Tight ankles can manifest all the way up to low back issues so make sure you don’t neglect those either!
- Recover Recover Recover
Recover means getting enough sleep, eating enough food, and drinking enough water. The time we spend in the gym or on the court doesn’t build our muscles it breaks them down. It’s during the other 22 or 23 hours of the day that we have the ability to rebuild that broken muscle stronger and larger. Make sure to optimize every minute of it by sleeping as much as possible (eight if you can manage it). Be mindful of what you are eating. Opting for healthier options is always a good idea but make sure that you are consuming enough calories to fuel your performance. Eating more calories on a training or exercise day is a good way to recover and make continued progress. Eating too much at the opposite end of the spectrum is also a bad idea. More body mass means more force to decelerate and accelerate on the court which means more repetitive wear on the tissue and an increased risk for injury. The final component of recovery is hydration. The American Council of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends consuming 16-20oz of water four hours before exercise, 8-12oz 15 minutes before exercise, 8oz per 20 minutes during exercise, and 20-24oz of water for every pound of bodyweight lost during exercise. This last number can vary greatly due to body size, hydration level, and temperature but at least 40oz of water after training is a good number to shoot for!