Athletic Performance Academy – Latest news & updates from Athletic Performance Academy

FREE Speed Technical Checklist

Hi everyone,

firstly a belated Happy New Year.  I resisted the temptation to do a ‘Best of 2017’ Blog post this year and I have previously written about all the Pro team pre-season schedule I have been using over the last few years.  You can read more about it here and hereBut needless to say December was a busy month working with the pros in their pre-season.

As we get back into the normal routine I am turning my attention to the time of year where I always do the Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning, as well as the Speed, Agility & Quickness Workshop in February.

Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning Coaching

I’ve been running both of these for several years now and it’s always been on my ‘To Do List’ to create a technical checklist for the Speed element of the Level 2 qualification.  You see, 1st4sport provide you with a comprehensive checklist of technical points to highlight in your coaching for the Bench press, Deadlift, Squat etc- but there is nothing for the speed component.

So I’ve gone away and put some time into this so candidates coming onto the qualification will now have some teaching points that they can highlight in their coaching practicals.

APA uses a specific form of classification for it’s speed component of Fitness:

  • Straight Ahead Speed
  • First step Speed
  • Multi-directional Speed

For more info you can go to the education resources page with further details

But without further delay here is the APA Speed Technical Checklist that you can download as a PDF for FREE.  Just click on the red title below:

APA Speed Checklist

I hope you find it useful.  It will be used on the Level 2 qualification as an assessment guide for the assessor to see that the coach has a good understanding of the main technical points associated with each type of speed.

I must give credit to Lee Taft and his excellent resource ‘Complete Speed Training.’  I’d also encourage you to check out Parisi Speed School who produce excellent resources on Speed.


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When’s the best time to focus on single leg training?

Best time to focus on Single leg training

When’s the best time to focus on single leg training? If you had asked me this question 10 years ago I might have given you a different answer.  Early in my career I was influenced by the NASM Personal Training certification and their method.  [Full disclosure: I never took the exam but my best friend did and I looked extensively through the course material he was using].  When I think back to S&C programmes in my early career I remember starting training blocks with what I guess you would call Neuromuscular Training (NMT) using lower loads, higher reps and SINGLE LEG (SL) work for lower body strength.

The rationale was that the SL work would identify and then even out any imbalances/asymmetries in strength, in preparation for the higher bilateral loading to come in later cycles.  This was influenced by my understanding of the NASM methodology, where the first cycle was called a stabilisation phase aimed to do exactly that.

This blog will add to the previous blog I wrote on single leg training and offer some new reflections.  I also want to talk about the timing in your programming where single leg work might make more sense to focus on.

Who cares? Aren’t they just two different patterns?

For a long while I’ve not really felt the need to emphasise single leg or double leg, and I’ve seen the idea of having to make a choice over one or the other as a non starter discussion point in my book.  I simply view them as two different movement patterns that will both be incorporated into a session, or a week.

Normally I run my programmes like the example below if I am training two legs sessions per week.  I only do this during pre-season (as part of a 4-day strength programme) or for more advanced athletes who I don’t think can handle the loading of two sessions at >85% 1RM for the same exercise because of the high intensities that will impose on their bodies (otherwise I do three whole body sessions):

Day 1:

Heavy Bilateral Knee Dominant Exercise (KDE): Squat 5×5 (>85% 1RM)

Light Bilateral Hip Dominant Exercise (HDE): Deadlift 3-4 x 6-10 (<85% 1RM-if programmed in at all for that day)

Unilateral Hip Dominant Exercise (HDE): Single leg glute bridge 3 x 15-20 each leg


Day 2:

Heavy Bilateral Hip Dominant Exercise (HDE): Deadlift 5×5 (>85% 1RM)

Light Bilateral Knee Dominant Exercise (KDE): Squat 3-4 x 6-10 (<85% 1RM if programmed in at all for that day)

Unilateral Knee Dominant Exercise (KDE): Single leg pistol squats 3 x 10-15 each leg

Brownlee Brothers

By the way, Ian Pyper S&C coach for British Triathlon said that he would often split his off-season S&C programmes into two strength workouts- one on a Monday and one on a Friday.  One workout would be a heavy DL exercise such as a squat or a trap bar Deadlift, and the other day would be SL exercise such as split squat.  So it is interesting to see how he would also programme in both.

Personally I have also done this approach in the past but normally when I am still working with an intermediate athlete who is starting to warrant greater variation in load through the week.  Often I would plug in a SL exercise as the primary strength in the mid week session to go between a Squat (Monday) and a Deadlift (Friday).  So for me it’s not about either or, it’s about both.  But I always like to take some time to reflect and so what follows are some key points to consider that like a lot of subjects boil down to injury risk and performance benefit.  Ultimately the question to ask is whether the DL or SL variation has the greater capacity to produce FORCE and in a way that will transfer to sport, with manageable injury downside.


Heavy Bilateral Squats are a lower back exercise, right?

Recently I wanted time to reflect on how appropriate it is to ALWAYS use BILATERAL loaded exercises as my PRIMARY STRENGTH exercise.  After all, Mike Boyle was one of the first coaches to show that there is a bilateral strength deficit.  He said that he had many guys that could split squat 115lbs on each leg for 15 reps but there was no way on earth they could bilateral squat for 230lb, and probably not even for 5 reps!

And even if they could would you want that much load being transferred through the spine?

Mike Boyle says the heavy back squat is a lower back exercise.  From an injury risk standpoint there may be some links to back pain which might be associated with the back being exposed to forces from the legs that it cannot cope with.  But perhaps part of the problem is that it is not too much force per se but the wrong distribution of force going through the lower back due to immobilised joints down the chain- or the lumbar spine is not stable enough?

What about performance gains? Perhaps I am more capable of achieving a higher total load across a single leg exercise? I know that an elite level goal is to be able to hold 22.5% of Back squat 1RM (or 45% body mass) in each Dumbbell for a single leg primary strength exercise such as a split squat or a walking lunge etc.   Assuming I can squat 160kg at 80kg body mass, that works out at 36kg dumbells in each hand (just under my 80kg body mass).  And by the way I can’t bilateral squat 160kg!!!!!!!!  But yet I’m pretty confident I could hold the 36kg dumbbells in my hands!!!  For a Barbell split squat this would be 50% of my 1RM back squat.  Again, the idea of having 80kg on my back for a barbell split squat seems a bit more achievable than 160kg on two legs.

Listening to Mike speak on the Pacey Performance Podcast he is actually looking for you to be able to hit the target of 100% body mass (50% held in each dumbbell) for 5-6 reps for most of his single leg progressions including RDLS.  Again, I feel pretty confident I can do that.

So perhaps there is something there?  But if that means my torso rigidity is the weak link that is not letting me transfer enough force through my torso on two legs, isn’t that also a pretty concerning weak link given that all sports training is about how much of that strength training can transfer to the actual sporting movements– which last time I checked involved transfer through the torso!

Furthermore, I’ve seen evidence that the lower back can be upset by low pistol squats that are done without the use of a box set up, like Mike Boyle uses below.  Read this link for more info.  So don’t be so quick to go for one or the other!


For me there is just something logical about the fact that 160kg on my back will place much higher stress on my ”system” than 80kg ever can.  Yes the total load due to the bilateral deficit may be higher across the single leg exercise, but you are still only lifting 80kg at one time and I think that has to have a lower stimulation on the nervous system per se.  I’d love to see what the brain activity is and hormonal response to markers such as testosterone, for example.  However, developing force per se is only part of the puzzle otherwise we would just all focus on getting our squat, deadlift and bench PBs up.  It’s because we work to enhance ‘sports’ performance that we are having this discussion in the first place.  To quote British Rowing, ‘if it doesn’t make the boat go faster, what’s the point?  So we need to look at force production and it’s transfer to the sports movements.

Well Aren’t Single leg squats more Sport Specific?

This then naturally leads us to the other argument that one of my senior coaches also posed to me last week- saying that he had also moved away from using bilateral exercises as his primary strength exercise- because it’s not sport specific.  Ian Pyper also referred to this in his work with the Brownlee brothers, saying he would tend to move towards step ups for his SL work in more specific phases as it has greater transfer to running action.

I have previously written several articles about sport specificity.  You can find one here as well as some of my best work if I don’t say so myself with this article.  But I go back to a point Marco Cardinal made on his Pacey Performance Podcast about his role being getting them strong for the sport.  It was very clear to him that his role was to:

=> get people stronger in the key movements or activities that were relevant to the sport

=> get them strong enough to SUSTAIN the TRAINING Load

=> get them strong enough so they don’t break down


The way you evidence that someone has got stronger is pretty simple in my book regardless of whether you use SL or DL primary strength exercises.  But to demonstrate how much of that strength can be (directly) transferred to their sporting movement is more tricky.

Alex Natera (who quotes Michael Johnston, Strength Scientist at British Athletics) talks about the bridge between CAPACITY Strength and TECHNICAL Strength.  He calls this COORDINATION Strength.  In his work with sprinters in track & field this coordination strength exercise was known as a ‘link training exercise, such as a Prowler push.

So take a 25kg sled or approximately 33% bodyweight for arguments sake.  This is a link assessment- a loaded skill that is very similar to the sport skill, in this case acceleration during sprinting.  A good way to see if the strength training is transferring is measure the time it takes to push it a fixed distance.  If 1RM is going up in the gym but time on the link assessment is not going down then the strength training hasn’t transferred.

What’s the difference between CAPACITY STRENGTH and TECHNICAL Strength?

Capacity strength would be your traditional DL exercises such as Squats and Deadlifts and Jump squats.  Technical strength would be your SL exercises such as SL Hip thrust, SL Seated calf raise.  So in this way Alex was suggesting that perhaps you start with the ‘less specific’ bilateral exercises and move towards ‘more specific’ unilateral exercises.

Alex says ‘just because you run on one leg doesn’t mean you need to lifts always on one leg! But, in Special Preparatory periods where the track coach is getting nervous about you doing more heavy lifting you can focus on more SL work.  This is because at this time there is a greater volume of high speed running and the coaches don’t want the sprinters to be feeling fatigued.  You can sneak in some high intensity strength loading by using SL work.  To the coach they will see you lifting less weight on the back, but actually the intensity is very high!  Remember that a pistol squat (to quarter squat depth) with 1 x Bodyweight external load (30kg weighted vest and holding two 25kg dumbbells let’s say for a 80kg male) is supposed to equate to 3 x BW on DL Back squat

100% BW pistol = 3 x BW Back squat

I haven’t really looked at this in detail myself.  I need to be convinced of whether we can make comparisons between a quarter depth SL squat and a parallel DL squat but it’s something to think about.


I personally still feel the argument for one or the other is a non starter.  You need both in your programme as they are both movements that I want my athletes to master.  I still feel intuitively that having let’s say 200lb on your back will add more ”system stress” in terms of neural load than doing 115lbs separately on each leg- assuming the body can squat that much!!  Therefore DL squats create higher OVERLOAD and CAPACITY STRENGTH in terms of total load overcome in a single rep.  I also like the fact that the lower back is a force transferer which may or may not be a limiting factor in whether someone can BL squat more.  It means we need to work on strengthening our torso if we want to squat more.  I will talk about some paused deep squats that I heard Greg Nuckols talk about in another post!

I do agree that SL work might make more sense to focus on more in your Specific Preparation phases and I’ll look to incorporate more in those phases- but I’d still keep both in, in all phases.

I like the way Alex and Mike Boyle view bilateral strength- there is a point beyond which it probably doesn’t serve us to keep getting stronger on two legs in a non sport specific way.  For Mike Boyle I know he talks about being able to squat 50% bodyweight for 10 reps on a Goblet squat.  Then his focus changes to SL work and it seems getting to 50% bodyweight in each hand for 5-6 reps seems like their next goal!!!!!



Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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RacketEdge Conference 2017

Racketedge Conference 2017

Last weekend I had the privilege to be invited to speak at the inaugural Racketedge conference.

I was really excited as I have been a professional colleague of Howard Green for several years and I was delighted that he has set up a company ‘Racketedge’ partnering with Jonny Fraser- and then setting up this conference.

Tennis is a great sport.  I love working in Tennis and over the years there has been a lack of professional networking opportunities within the Tennis community in the UK.  This conference brought together several practitioners operating in different roles within Tennis- sport science, coaching and fitness.

I will give a brief overview of the presentations:

Chris Bradley–  chartered sport psychologist

Chris used a lot of group work to  get us to think about the importance of ‘’social awareness.’’  As coaches we often get stuck in the sets and reps but taking the time to know your athlete cannot start until you first take the time to know yourself.  It was fun to pair up with people I hadn’t met before and take the time to share things about myself.  It was also fun to think about my strengths and weaknesses and goals I have.

Alex Cockram–  responsible for the physical performance programme at the Tennis Foundation

I have known Alex for many years and he is doing a great job with the Tennis Foundation.  This presentation focused on his work with Wheelchair Tennis athletes.  I took away a lot of points.  He spoke about how he is using a lot of physical preparedness models for able bodied sport and redefining them for wheelchair tennis.  Many of his case studies were with a population of n=1 meaning that nearly every athlete has a unique set of individual needs and you have to develop your own tests to determine what physical preparedness means for that athlete.  His take away point was to always focus on what they can do.


Emma Anderson–  PhD candidate studying player movement in tennis at Sheffield Hallam University

Emma used to work for the LTA for five years so I had met Emma on several occasions before.  Her presentation focused on some of the barriers to utilising sport science in elite sport.  She wanted to determine how widely the coaches in the audience were using it and discussed some of the barriers to using it from her own experience.

Time, Buy In, Lack of knowledge, and Resources available at the organisation were all brought up as barriers.

Howard Green and Jonny Fraser– co owners of ‘Racketedge’

Howard and Jonny presented on their ‘RREADERR’ model which I really liked.  I am familiar with other coaches who have described the Footwork cycle such as Pat Etchberry and David Bailey

What I liked about Howard and Jonny’s take on it was the way they linked the tennis skill with the physical component

Daz Drake– Director of APA and Head of S&C at Gosling and Sutton Tennis Academy

You can get the full flavour of the presentation below which is around 30 minutes but if you just want the footnotes then check out the video series below where I showcase the assessments we use at APA to profile skill, suppleness and speed.  I also go onto to show some of the Basic Method progressions that we use for the four types of Speed that we refer to.  If you search the APA Youtube channel you will be able to find more in depth explanations of the Physical Competency Assessment (PCA) and the Fitness test.

Assessing Skill:


Assessing Suppleness:


Assessing Speed:


Training for Speed:

First step Speed

 Multi-directional Speed

Sport specific Speed


Simon Brundish– owner of StrengthLab Ltd

Simon unfortunately sprained his ankle the day before so wasn’t able to deliver the practical workshop on his ‘Super Heroes’ physical literacy curriculum which he is successfully implementing in a number of organisations.  Instead he went through the concept of the syllabus which links a number of fundamental skills to a Super Hero.

Essentially it is:

  • 120 Exercises across 24 gradually increasing levels
  • 5 ‘Superheroes’ each represent a different movement pattern
  • Built on latest sport science to provide the athletic skills children need
  • Can be used to rapidly plan entire PE lessons, or as an ideal warm-up for games-based activities


Dom King–  Head of S&C Halton Tennis Academy

Dom is a personal friend of mine having taken the role of Head of S&C at Halton Tennis Academy only a few years after I started doing the same role at Gosling.  The inspiration for his practical presentation was his observation that ”Boxing is like Tennis without the net.”  They both utilise a lot of repeated bouts of rotational power.  Dom’s own S&C philosophy has a basis (like mine) on having movement efficiency- and being able to harness the power of the hips was a key component of this practical.  We explored exercises to create more mobility and stability around the hips, as well as some exercises to develop rotational power.


Dave Hembrough– sports science officer for the Centre for Sport and Exercise Science (CSES) at Sheffield Hallam University

I have listened to Dave speak a few times and I really like his delivery style.  He is someone that embodies the art of coaching as well as the science.  He is clearly a very thoughtful and reflective practitioner who has developed enough experience of elite sport over the years to be able to step back and see the bigger picture.

He started by showing us a great video which really made me reflect on what is important in life and how much gratitude I have to do a job I love.

He then spoke about the Hero’s Journey which the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.  This is perhaps a metaphor for the experiences we have as coaches.  He asked us to think about how many times we have faced.

He finished with a poem known as the ”Desiderata Poem” 


Jonny Marray– former top 20 doubles player, GB Davis Cup player and 2012 Wimbledon Doubles Champion

It was great to have a Q&A with Jonny.  He has recently retired from Professional Tennis and shared how he got into tennis, some of his experiences on the Tour- what he felt his strengths were and some of his thoughts on the future of the game.

One of the things he said to me was that ”why wouldn’t you want to maximise your athletic potential?”, when I asked him what he thought about the belief that you don’t need to be that fit to play doubles.”  Yes the problem is that there are several unfit world class professional doubles players that don’t help your case- you could argue.  If they can get to the top and appear to be out of shape perhap you don’t need to train so hard on your fitness.  But you can also see the opposite, and particularly in other sports.  Look at Christian Ronaldo- would you say he has chosen to ease off because he is already a world class performer.  No, he goes to the gym and works to make his athleticism even better.  Better never stops!!!


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Heart Rate Monitoring for Tennis

Last Thursday I had the privilege of presenting to a group of Master Performance Coach (MPC) candidates at the Lawn Tennis Association National Tennis Centre.  This is a Level 5 Tennis coach qualification and represents the highest level you can get in Tennis coaching.

I’ve previously wrote about Heart rate Monitoring which you can read HERE and HERE so this blog specifically goes through the presentation I gave and I also thought it would be helpful to give some advice on what type of heart rate monitor to buy!

You can hear the presentation I gave below:

On the day we went through a RAMP warm-up, to consolidate their learning having previously been taken through this on their last module.  Then we got stuck into the main topic of ‘Energy Systems Training for Tennis’ and the use of Heart rate monitors.

Warm-up template PDF


Drills you can do to ensure you get the Heart Rate into the Very Hard Zone

I don’t specifically mention this in the presentation as the coaches did this in the practical but here is a protocol that can be used to hit the Anaerobic Glycolytic energy system that will take account for individual response.

I am aware Benedikt Linder uses Heart rate training zones for some of the on court conditioning with the Swiss Tennis Federation. In this blog I talk about spending at least 15% of the squad in a heart rate training zone of greater than 80% Maximum Heart Rate.  When training the Anaerobic Glycolytic energy system you want to work them hard, then let them recover a little bit but not enough so they fully recover.  How do you know when to start and stop the drill, especially when you have different levels of ability and fitness?

From what I remember a specific routine that Benedikt Linder uses to ensure this is a routine of work until they get to about 95% MHR- which might take around 20-30sec followed by rest until it drops to 80% MHR- which might take 30-40-sec. Do this 6-8 times per set, 3-min rest between sets and do 2-3 sets.  Usually it will take around 10-15 balls fed side to side to get the heart rate into this high zone.  As soon as it does you can let them rest.

When I was chatting to National Coach Nick Weal we agree that you want them to still be able to split in the middle of the court and use cross-over steps, and be able to get behind the ball.  You don’t just want them running side to side in straight lines and reaching for the ball with a lunge and a slice!!


Take Home Messages

=> Heart rate is a good way to monitor intensity levels of Tennis sessions

=> Plan your week to include specific sessions which can be used to improve endurance on the court where athletes spend more than 15% of 2-hour squad in a Very Hard Training Zone (>80% Maximum Heart Rate)

=> Minimum stimulus load vs. maximum destructive dose.  Two to three sessions per week are more than adequate to increase the conditioning levels of your players.  More does not necessarily equal better.


Want a Recommendation for a Heart Rate monitor?

Check out this LINK where you can find out about some research on fitness trackers

Fitness trackers have become ever more popular, helping people better monitor their health and activity levels – but with all the options out there, it’s easy to get lost in the hype. That’s why the research team ( evaluated 87 models on the market, considering factors such as sensor accuracy, battery life, and app integration. After personally testing their finalists, they came up with three top picks: best for endurance training, best with a GPS, and budget-friendly best.

Team Training

Check out FirstBeat

I’ve used FirstBeat monitor with teams and I like the Training Effect and EPOC values it provides which give you a bit more information into aerobic stress than just heart rate alone.  This is particular useful in intermittent sports like Tennis where a lot of the aerobic load comes from the recovery period.

On a budget?

Check out Polar H7 Blue tooth

I’ve used this a lot with my individual athletes.  You can pick up the belt and unit for around £40.  You can download the app ‘Polar Beat’ and it gives you pretty decent feedback straight to your smart phone.

Where I am next presenting?

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE


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  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help





Athletic Performance Academy

Why 12-year olds should lift weights!

In this week’s blog post I want to discuss a topic which has come up again recently, and it’s a topic that will not go away.  It concerns resistance training and youths.

Pictures of Cruz Beckham on Instagram lifting heavy weights prompted the question  — how young is too young to be performing bench presses?  Unfortunately (in my opinion) the article published in the Times which commented on this question allegedly summarised that resistance training before puberty should focus on bodyweight training (author note- I haven’t read the article myself as I don’t subscribe to the Times online) .  This was quickly followed by an article in  Athletics Weekly which basically said the same thing.


The link to the Times article is HERE

So is bodyweight training before puberty the only solution?


I will leave it to two juggernauts in the pediatric research field to answer this question.  Coincidently their article came out at the same time which was called ”How Young is too Young to Start Lifting Weights?”  It was authored by Gregory Myer and Avery Faigenbaum.  I won’t steel their thunder and quote the whole article, rather do yourself a favour and read it in full HERE.  But I will highlight one of the interesting sections that stood out for me.

“Just as with an adult, kids work at bodyweight until they can perfect their form,” Faigenbaum says. “Once a child can perform the basic movement of a bench, squat, or lift correctly, he earns the right to progress to adding weights to it. We certainly have teens in our programs who can squat double their bodyweight, but they’ve built up to that weight over time.”

And for helicopter parents concerned about their kids handling added weight, consider this: When kids run and jump and play, they land and hit the ground with an impulse load of 2–10 times their bodyweight going through their bones and joints, Myer says. That means a healthy 10-year-old boy can be looking at some 1,000lbs on his joints—which is way more than anyone’s suggesting he squat. Without learning the proper way to jump and land—and without building a strong foundation to absorb that impact—that 10-year-old boy is at a much higher risk of injury absorbing that impact without any training under his belt.”

I refer to a few more sections of the article in my latest episode of Daz Dee TV Episode 15.

Why 12-year olds should lift weights

In a follow up to the Athletics Weekly article Richard Blagrove wrote a piece outlining why 12-year olds should lift weights!

I guess these myths will keep on being rehashed and passed down the generations but I hope you’ll agree that the three authors above (Greg, Avery and Richard) make compelling arguments for why parents and coaches need to rethink their positions on resistance training in youths.

Where I am next presenting?

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE


Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

Are you a good coach?

Are you a good coach? This is the question I asked the group of students to think about at the University of Hertfordshire, at my latest Guest lecture for David Turner and his final year sport studies students. Well, to be more specific I asked them to come up with an observation checklist that they could use to give David feedback on me to evaluate me on my effectiveness as a coach.  Would they give me a job to work at the University as a guest lecturer next year?

After all, many of us will have to go for a job interview at some point and will probably have to do a practical session.

So while I was setting up the drills for the physical warm-up session I let them get in small groups and discuss their checklist.  After I took them through the 20 minute practical I asked them to feedback on my coaching effectiveness. I really enjoyed getting the feedback.  To be honest I am pretty self aware of my strengths and areas for development.   But they did pick up on a few things that I can definitely improve on!!!!!  Before I get to that I just want to pull out a few blogs from the archives on the topic of ‘communication’ in coaching.  I believe that as coaches we should all strive to develop a philosophy that has a method but the successful implementation of that method will be significantly based on your ability to communicate your ideas to your athletes.  The coaching process is something I discussed with the students.  This blog will summarise my observation checklist.

Communication in coaching 

Communication is a topic I’ve written several blogs on this already and I don’t have too much more to add here.  If you’d like to read more the the links are below.  As a summary, effective communication has an Outcome and Process.

The outcome of effective coaching is that athletes are ”Listening, Learning and having Fun!”

As far as the process goes, I break it down into four parts: creating the environment, setting the scene, observing performance and giving feedback.

Creating the Environment

Lessons we can learn from Sir Alex Ferguson: in this blog I focus on how to Create the Environment.  It starts with Respect.  For less experienced coaches who haven’t earnt that through past results as a coach or an ex-player you have to be consistent to gain respect– set rules for behaviour.   Also think about your coaching style? Are you more directive or more interactive? Whatever your style is, you have to have a presence and grab attention.  Being passionate goes a long way regardless of your style! But most importantly, be yourself!

Set the Scene

Also remember to set the scene well by explaining the purpose of the session and make it clear what you’re expecting in terms of behaviours and execution of the drill

When you set up drills remember that the best drills are:

  • Fun – games based drills and positive praise
  • Challenging– set the bar high as it ensures focus- let them know what world class look like!
  • Competitive– keep score

Observing Performance

Communication: the secret ingredient to becoming a top coach:

In this post I look in a little bit more detail at observing performance and checking if the athletes are achieving the outcome. ”Are they doing what you’re expecting? So if you’ve done a good job of setting the scene and explained what you’re expecting, your first job is to observe that they are doing this.  Then you can look at the processes to see whether they are focusing, and if they are focusing on the right things!

Giving Feedback

Are you a good teacher?

Most of my blogs talk about giving feedback in terms of the timing and type of feedback.  In this post I talk more about constraints based instruction (feedback) and Discovery Learning.


Usually we give feedback during the drills to aid performance and correct errors.  If they are doing well then you can cheer success and praise them for the great job they are doing.  We may also then ask the athlete for feedback after the performance to find out more about how they think they performed, what they were focusing on, and how they can improve it next time.


Set the ‘Challenge’ and the outcome you want.  Then sit back and let the body self organise.  This is known as Discovery Learning.  We are not saying don’t coach. Clearly the athlete may search endlessly for a proper movement solution (and never get the ball in the hole).  Athletes may learn poor movements and adopt bad habits. Instead, the coach or trainer can guide the athlete by providing purposeful intent (outcome), ideas about where to focus attention, and clues to key perceptual cues (process).

So How did I do?

It’s a really good reflective practice and I’d like to share with you what I learnt by asking for feedback.  The students had lots of criteria for effective coaching based on ability to get knowledge across and linking it to practice (theory and practice).  They wanted to see if the coach could help them learn something and they could see how it applies to their sport.  They were looking for someone who is confident and in control.  They also wanted to observe how well I accounted for different ability levels, as well as how positive I was during the tasks.

Interesting they didn’t really have any criteria for the human element- we talked about how if this really was a real job interview you have to take into account whether you think that person will fit in with the team. Do they seem passionate, positive and motivating.  David Turner said that Clive Woodward talked about the 24 flight test, ”would you be able to survive sitting next to this person for 24 hours in a flight? Also think about someone’s coaching style.  Does it compliment or add to your team dynamic?

What I did well:

=> I had a strong presence and they felt confident to follow me

=> I was clear in the objective, the expectations for behaviour and gave good demonstrations

=> I linked how each part of the warm-up and drill aids performance

=> I gave choices in some drills so people could work at slightly different levels of challenge

What I can do better:

=> I asked everyone to do the same drill in many cases and didn’t account for the fact some athletes will have found doing things like squats, lunges, press ups very advanced.  Perhaps some athletes would need to do a regression

=> I forgot to give a few of the drills names.  When I checked for learning at the end by asking them to describe back to me the things we did, it wasn’t a coincidence that they didn’t remember the ones I didn’t name!

=> During the drills I didn’t give much feedback or encourage.


It was great to get feedback.  I don’t really work with mixed ability groups.  Most of the athletes I coach are fairly competent and if they are a bit off the pace I can usually manage it because they stand out like a sore thumb and I can work with the odd one or two to help them while the others can get on with it.  Or I have an assistant that can support the less able.  So it made me think about how I might need to modify my ‘standard’ routines.

I was actually disappointed in myself about the lack of encouragement.  I pride myself on doing this but for some reason I just observed performance with most of the activities and then praised them after for doing a good job.  There was a bit of encouragement but no where near where I would normally set the bar for myself.


Where I am next presenting?

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE


Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
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APA Job Opportunity and Conference News!

Excited to bring you news of further opportunities with APA.  We are looking for S&C coaches to work with our Partners at Gosling Tennis Academy (Hertfordshire) and Challenge Tennis (Bucks).  Full details are below in the PDF



Racketedge Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Also don’t forget I will be presenting at the above conference on Dec 9th.  My topic will be titled ‘5 S’s to Live By: the Key to a Successful S&C programme.’  In this presentation I will be examining the five most important components of fitness and how we test and train them in Tennis players at APA.

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE

Periodisation for Teenagers

This week I had a few comments from parents who were concerned about their children lifting weights.  I also had a great meeting with a tennis team about the annual plan of a 13 year old boy and discussion of his strength & conditioning goals for the year.

It’s funny how various coaches I admire and share ideas with can be thinking of the very same topics as I do- but then I guess it’s no surprise as we are constantly all looking to answer the same question- namely how to maximise athletic performance.

Only this week two of my favourite S&C bloggers Eric Cressey and Matt Kuzdub released blog posts on topics that relate to these very issues! Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) coach, John O’Neil wrote a three part series on Periodisation for Teenagers which is the inspiration for this blog, and Matt has been putting some great ideas out on how to apply the Force-Velocity relationship to Tennis Training


Why we need to Lift Weights

I never feel disappointed that I have to answer this question so many times because I totally understand why parents may have initial concerns.  But once you look at three facts it can be easier to get the parents to come around.

1– Olympic weightlifting is one of the safest sports on the planet- less injuries per 1000 hours reported than any other sport.  Resistance training per se is very safe.

2– There is no scientific data that it has adverse affects on growth and development.  In fact any observable physical changes such as muscle mass increase can only be a good thing for protecting the tendons, and ligaments.  Bone density will increase through impact from controlled landings, where we teach children to absorb forces properly.  Furthermore, flexibility will be enhanced with appropriate full range lifting techniques.

3– Newton’s Law of Motion

Remember Newton’s 3rd law? For every action, there is an equal (force) and opposite (direction) reaction. Therefore, the more force we apply to the ground, the more force will be exerted- meaning we can move more explosively around the Tennis court!.  You can only apply so much force into the ground with your bodyweight.  To apply more force you need to work against weight of external resistance- the kind you stick on your back when you squat, for example!! That’s why weight training works.  It makes you have to apply more force to stand up!  But what’s really cool is that if you lower that weight carefully it teaches you to absorb more force as well!

As Matt says in his blog, ”In tennis, max strength is critical to both absorb high forces and to generate high forces. When referring to the absorption of forces, the most common scenario in tennis is deceleration. The higher the running speed before setting up for a ball, the faster will be the rate of deceleration and the more force the lower body must absorb. Eccentric strength is vital in this scenario. If you think about decelerating when tracking down a ball, you can associate that with the deceleration phase of a heavy squat. Strength adaptations are joint specific, contraction specific and speed specific. Believe it or not, deceleration in sport and the lowering phase of a squat have similar characteristics. There are even cases when more than 2-3 times a player’s bodyweight is acting on them during deceleration tasks…if they can’t handle these loads in the gym, they surely won’t have the ability when it comes to the tennis court. ”

Figure: Courtesy of Matt Kuzdub

In any plan we are really trying to develop the ability of the athlete to express different degrees of Force and Velocity according to the demands of the sport.  Whenever I work with my interns one of the first exercises I get them to do is think about where different types of tennis movements fall on the F-V curve.  Matt has done a great job of highlighting the main ones above.

Furthermore,  during each movement, different parts of the the F-V curve could be involved. For instance, when hitting an open stance forehand, strength-speed qualities would predominate when initiating the leg drive, while once we get closer to contacting the ball, we move down the curve into higher velocity segments.

Bottom line- we are looking at increasing the force generating and force absorbing capacity of the body!!!  This is vital because the tennis player is exposed to these every time they step on the court.  We have a duty of care to prepare them for these loads by enabling them to experience these loads in a controlled safe environment- rather than just the high stress environment of the court!

So we have to do a great job of educating the parents (and coaches and athletes!) that strength training which includes lifting weights- is the most effective way to increase the force generating capacities of the body.

But isn’t bodyweight training enough?

A parent recently said to me that body weight training is more than enough for their pre-pubescent child to get strong.  I actually couldn’t disagree with this comment in the context of her daughter’s current development.  She is just starting her S&C journey.  The bodyweight squat is the first step in a progression which follows on to a goblet squat and later barbell squat as we see here in this example.



I will touch on this further in the main topic below.  The key thing to remember is that bodyweight training is not going to prepare the body for the stresses of sport which are often several times bodyweight.  But the real key point is who says you have to wait until after puberty before progressing to external resistance? This is a belief which is perpetuated on a myth that resistance training is unsafe for children.  As I said earlier, there is no scientific data that it has adverse affects on growth and development.

When we determine what the most appropriate resistance should be for an athlete (of any age) we need to consider whether they can:

=> perform the activity with perfect technique

=> perform the activity with the required tempo- meaning under control

If a child of 11 has already developed their technique in a given athletic skill with bodyweight and we determine that they can continue to meet the above criteria with an external load, then there is no reason not to add this, assuming that the bodyweight exercise is no longer proving challenging!

How we Periodise for Teenagers

One of my favourite books of all time is ‘Special Strength Training for Sports,’ by Yuri Verkhoshansky.  In the preface he mentions that the goal of his methodology is to allow the athlete to execute his or her specific competition exercise with greater power output using a ‘conjugate-sequence system’.  This basically means the goal is to be able to be more powerful at the movements you actually perform on the court!

Much of his research has been applied to elite athletes who are very advanced, and most of those athletes came from the sport of athletics.  He talks about a conjugate-sequence system.  To better understand this we need to define some terms.



Taken from Supertraining (Siff, Verkoshansky), a concurrent model “involves the parallel training of several motor abilities, such as strength, speed, and endurance, over the same period, with the intention of producing a multi-faceted development of fitness.”


You might of heard of this term in languages or even maths.  In a strength & conditioning setting it means a form of periodisation (planning) where we  build ‘connected‘ components of fitness on top of one another.


  1. 1.
    coupled, connected, or related, in particular:

A conjugated sequence, as defined by Periodization (Bompa), is a “method of sequencing training to take advantage of training residuals developed within periods of concentrated loading.”

In terms of ‘sequencing’ we need a plan which takes into account the sequencing of exercises from two standpoints- the fitness component(s) you are emphasising for a given time period (time) and the intensity of the exercises used for that fitness component (intensity).  I refer to the time period as the ‘X’ axis and the intensity as the ‘Y’ axis.

Y axis: So what exercises come first in a sequence?

As alluded to above, there are always two elements to factor in when making any plan- what I call the ‘X’ factor and ‘Y’ factor.

The Y factor- for a given type of fitness (let’s say Strength) we need to choose the most appropriate ”intensity” of exercise.  The least intensive forms of exercise are close to the X axis.  The most intensive forms of exercise are furthest away from the X axis.

Verkhoshansky deduced that training means with the ”same” training direction (meaning exercises that work on the same type of fitness- in this case strength), but different training potentials, should be incorporated into the training plan in a definite sequence.   As it relates to novice athletes, this sequencing relates to progressively increasing the training intensity of exercises.

In order to determine an exercise’s place in the sequence you need to know about its training potential.

Think of it like filling up your fitness bucket!!

Every exercise has a training potential- the capacity to increase an aspect of an athlete’s fitness towards its motor potential (a full bucket). It is more suitable to use the training means with lower potential first, followed sequentially by those having a high training potential.

So going back to our bodyweight training concept these exercises have the lowest training potential and represent the start point of a training process.  But once these exercises can no longer provide an adequate training stimuli it is time to add external resistance.  Remember also that we adapt to different exercises at different rates- we might find a press-up or a pull-up really hard for many months and even years!! But a bodyweight squat which uses the strongest biggest muscles of the body might become easy after only a few weeks!!

For any athlete, it is not appropriate to use high-intensity training stimuli (training means having high training potential) at the beginning of the training process– since the body is not yet ready!!

For young athletes, and those with less training history, the training is aimed not only towards improvement of their performance in current competitions, but also, and above all, to their preparation for highly intensive and specialised training in the future.  You don’t need to give your ace cards away with young athletes.  Training exercises with lower potential will still cause an adaptation to the body with novice athletes.

They will adapt and respond to exercises with lower training potential.  Over time we will need to gradually substitute these exercises with new exercises having higher training potential.

At APA we describe exercises on a continuum of Basic to Advanced.  The goal is to progressively introduce greater amounts of Advanced exercises into an athlete’s training programme.

X axis: What should be the focus at different times of the year?

In terms of the focus of the training for the year we need to refer back to Matt’s explanation of the Force-Velocity curve and the article by John O’Neil.  With a beginner the bucket is practically empty in all aspects of Force and Velocity.  You have heard me say time and time again that at APA we train fitness components concurrently, meaning we train everything all of the time, speed, power and strength.

This is where we refer to the ‘X’ axis.  What are the fitness components we want to emphasise at different times in the year?  With younger athletes we tend to give them a bit of everything at all times of the year.

Complex sessions for Beginners:

Programming for these athletes won’t have anything resembling a block- where we focus on just one component at the exclusion of others; instead, it will focus on mastering the fundamentals of training so that by the time they’re able to have higher levels of output, they won’t need to spend immense amounts of time learning technique.  So in terms of an annual plan we might stick with similar exercises and themes for 12-16 weeks- just manipulating the sets and reps, gradually building intensity and reducing volume.  I refer to these as ‘complex’ sessions where in a given session and a given week they will do a bit of speed, a bit of power and a bit of strength.

What will change is the category of speed (as an example) that we focus on so in a typical year we might move through speed in the following way:

=> deceleration skills => straight ahead speed => first step speed => sport specific speed (footwork)


Cressey Performance train their teenage athletes this way too.

”At CSP, we use a concurrent/conjugate style of programming that doesn’t strictly adhere to principles of block periodization. The more advanced an athlete is, the more their program might look like it’s block periodization.”

”The reasons are simple: we train primarily athletes who need to train a multitude of qualities in off-seasons ranging 3-6 months – and they don’t need to be peaked for any individual event. Rather, they need to be ready to perform for periods of greater than half the calendar year.”

[Caveat: having said that with full-time athletes 13-16 years who I work with in various Tennis Academies they are doing 10 hours of S&C per week.  So in that situation I do cycle through blocks of work that have a slightly different focus moving from volume to intensity emphasis over the course of the 12-16 weeks- so for full-timers it has a bit more of the feel of the conjugated model that advanced athletes do below- but the phases are more focused on learning skills.  So we might move through a block that emphasises endurance=>strength=>power=>power endurance.  But when we get to strength and power for example it just means we do more skill development work in these areas.]


Conjugate sequence for Advanced athletes?

The strategy with more advanced athletes can be a bit different.  The specific strategy will be based on the length of time you have to prepare for a competition.  If it is a sport with only a few major competitions in the year you might see a strategy which is based on focusing on only one thing at a time, before moving onto something else.

Sports with long preparation periods

Verkoshansky deduced that training means with ”different” training directions could be concentrated in different stages of the preparatory period, incorporated in the training plan in a definite sequence, which had a cumulative effect.  He found  that the sum of the individual parts added up to a greater effect when you add them on top of each other separately, rather than training them all at the same time.

Cumulative effect of exercises with different training emphasis

So in a typical training period you might progressively work on one theme at a time:

=>increase ability of athlete to produce a maximal strength effort (barbell exercises)

=>increase ability of athlete to produce a maximal strength effort in minimum time (jump training)

=> increase ability of athlete to perform specific exercises and technical event work (technical work)

Weight training is proposed by some to negatively influence speed of movement and it is fair to say that if you do it at the exclusion of other types of fitness for a prolonged period of time, this might be the case.  But special strength training (SST) is characterised by the use of training means (exercises) integrated into a system- a training process or ‘method’ to enable the strength increases to transfer into competition exercises in later phases.  You do the heavy strength training (or explosive strength in example above) in a concentrated block furthest away from the most important tournaments (which may have the possibility of causing a feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the muscles).  But after a period of reduced volume of strength training following the next power phase, you get supercompensation and a long-term delayed training effect (LDTE).

Sports with short preparation periods

For sports like Tennis and Baseball, I personally would go along with Cressey Performance where we don’t do strict ”block” phases with advanced athletes (only training one quality at a time like the original application of the Special Strength training method).

According to  Cressey Performance, ”Rather, it is more conjugated- conjugate periodization will have one main focus but will also be training other qualities as supplementary work.  The way I do this is adjust the blend of speed vs power vs strength exercises in the session.

When someone is more specialized, the programming will become more of a conjugate model. Exercise selection will be more geared towards training qualities needed for the specific sport. We might change loaded supplementary exercises more frequently to give athletes more exposure to joint positions they need to be strong in, and, each phase will have a specific focus.

Exercise selection, while more variable and through a much wider selection than the beginner athletes, will all have a specific purpose that relates back to performing at their sport. Instead of changing intensity/volume primarily and exercise selection secondarily, the intensity/volume will be scaled directly with the offseason of the sport. The exercise selection might vary more because we don’t want our athletes to become specialists at exercises they can load exceptionally well like deadlifts and squats.”

Application to the APA Method:

A max strength focused session as part of the early preparation phase (General prep) might have only one power exercise in the routine and the rest of the plyos would be low level exercises done in a separate session.  A power focused session (Specific prep) might have several power exercises and a low volume of Max Strength to maintain it.  This is how I develop the squad routines for our pro athletes.

Pre-season essentially the same approach but because we have several sessions per day and lower tennis volume we can afford to separate the strength and power sessions and give them more concentrated doses of both.  But the focus will still be determined by the needs of the individuals.   Our younger pros 16-18 years old with still do more max strength work.  Our seasoned pros with good training history will do more of a mixed routine.

Want to hear more?

I also have the following speaker engagements planned:

Coordination and Strength training for Sports

Dates: 29th October 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, AL86XE

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE



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The Key to Running a Successful S&C programme- 5 Numbers to Live By

Last Sunday I delivered a workshop on ”The Key to Running a Successful S&C Programme- 5 Numbers to Live By.”

This blog is a summary of the key take home messages from the workshop.  I have narrated the presentation.  If you want to listen to the whole thing I go for around 40 minutes but if you just want the key messages I have bullet pointed them below:

‘5’ Biomotor Abilities

Everyone who has a training philosophy will have their own pillars of Fitness that they refer to.  Often times, we use different terms but we are referring to the same thing.  However, we might have different views on what types of fitness to prioritise.  I once heard that any philosophy needs a ‘Strategy’ and ‘Tactics’.   The strategy is- how you believe you develop a component of Fitness.  So for speed, a common idea is the short to long approach.  Start with short distances with the required intensity and as they progress, increase the distance.  The tactics are the specific means to deliver this strategy, namely your sets and reps.

For simplicity, at APA we talk about the 5 Biomotor Abilities:

  • Suppleness 
  • Skill
  • Strength
  • Speed 
  • Stamina

When I first introduce myself as a Strength & Conditioning coach I like to make sure everyone has the chance to discuss with me what that actually means.  I always say the ‘Strength’ part is more self explanatory but what about the Conditioning? And does the the S&C defintion miss anything?  Conditioning in my book refers to the Speed and Stamina biomotors so in essence the Main role of a S&C coach is to get someone fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in Sports.  You will see me say that several times on the APA website.  This really refers to the Olympic motto CitiusAltiusFortius (Olympic motto).

But for me this speaks to the training part of the Performance Pyramid- when you’re trying to put some horsepower in the athlete.  Underlying that we need to spend some time teaching the body how to move properly so the missing pieces refer to Suppleness and Skill.


I know most coaches are more familiar with the term flexibility, however this only really considers the properties of muscle.  I prefer to talk about mobility- which is the available range at a joint.   Linked to this is stability because it is important to have control of this range.

This aspect is key to movement efficiency- to enable your muscles to function the way they are supposed to.  Having said that there has been a growing shift in S&C coaches who in my opinion are operating too much like a physio and this is not our expertise!! We need to have a good understanding of functional anatomy but we are not trained to diagnose injuries and we need to know when to refer on.


Even though skill is traditionally thought of as the domain of the sports coach there are a number of fitness components we can target to make it easier for athletes to acquire the skills of their sport.  These focus around balance, coordination and reactions training.  We are assisting the athlete to better organise their body’s by developing their senses especially vision, and proprioception.  I call these ‘Athletic Skills.’


‘6 Stages of Development’

Often referred to as Long term Athlete Development, the APA training system spans 6 stages designed to progressively develop athleticism.  I used to refer to Istvan Balyi’s model a lot (Fundamentals, Learning to Train, Training to train, Training to compete, Training to win) but more recently I refer more often to the key parts of the Tennis Academy programmes APA are involved in:

Mini Academy- Stage 1  (Basic 1)

Junior Academy- Stages 2 to 4 (Basic 2, Basic 3, Advanced 1)

Pro Academy- Stage 5 and 6 (Advanced 2 and 3)


Exercise Progression for every Biomotor:

The various parts of the Academy programme cross over the Basic to Advanced exercise progressions that we use at APA, with the idea that you can start doing more advanced training methods as you get to the end of the Junior Academy.

Another feature of the training system refers to what the priority should be in terms of which biomotor abilities are more important.  So in the early years emphasis should be on movement efficiency, then strength/power and finally conditioning.

20,000 Hours

This topic has been beaten to death and in the end I think it is impossible to be able to quantify exactly how much training is appropriate for every individual.  In the slide below I compare some ‘old’ guidelines from the Lawn Tennis Association (around 2003) versus new ones (2013). I highlight that if you do the recommended hours you will have accumulate 10,000 hours by 14 years, and then 20,000 hours by 20 years old.  I suggest that this means you become an expert in technique by 14 and hopefully the next 10,000 hours are about training the skills you have mastered!!

Don’t get stuck in the numbers.  It’s an average NOT a rule.  I can be talented and make it on 6,000 hours.  Less talented players might need more hours!! Its about deliberate quality practice. Of course it is possible that someone could make it on a 2 hour a day tennis programme!

Talent vs. Practice / HOURS will improve your talent or if you have moderate abilities iron out deficiencies but hours alone won’t do it- those will insufficient ability will get weeded out / Environment Parents like water: has an effect on fish, even if it doesn’t explain any of the differences in fish/ Inspiration and Perseverance Heritable but not completely deterministic TRAITS

‘9’ weeks per year

Nine weeks per year should be dedicated to physical training.

This is based on ‘emphasis.’  The LTA is saying that you need at least 9 weeks where S&C is the focus with rackets down.    This can come in mini-blocks of 3 weeks- which may involve little to no tennis so you can get a head start with your physical work.   I think the concept of a training block for a concentrated period of time with rackets down is an adult pro player model that is not appropriate to younger players .  For the top juniors/pro players I would do this.

For the younger juniors I would try and plan work for the term according to my plan below and control how many weeks they are away each term.  I prefer to plan the work around 2 (double) or 3 (triple) main blocks in the year- when they are younger we might expect them to be away from base competing for only 6 weeks in 6 months, so there is plenty of time to train them without needing to put rackets down!  Post puberty they might be away for 2-3 months in a 6 month period.  By the time they are a top junior they will be away 2 months out of every four!! So we may need to look at a physical block.

The weeks devoted to training below are idealistic.  It is unlikely you will get 18, 15 or even 8 preparation (prep) weeks in a row to train with a tennis player without some kind of competition (comp) that comes bang in the middle of that.  But rather, what it does is give you a sense of how many weeks you want to emphasise on a particular type of training before you move on.  I’ll look to split the preparation period up into more general or more specific work depending on what is appropriate for the athlete.

’10’ hours per week S&C

So what exactly should you do with your training time? This again is almost as impossible to answer in a general sense as every individual is unique.

I’ve already touched on this before with the ‘6 Stages’ or levels of athletic development. In the slide above I’m actually referring the old LTA guidelines.  Skill is a big focus on 10-under and 12-under S&C.  Stamina and Strength become more important in later stages.

I liked Pat Etcheberry’s answer to this- six sessions a week, 2 speed, 2 strength and 2 stamina.  It’s pretty simplistic but a good start point for people wanting to build their general fitness.

I talk about ‘focused’ versus ‘complex’ sessions.  Athletes who are accessing our programme for 1-2 hours a week will do a complex session where in an hour we give them a ht of all the 5 biomotors.  If we are working with a fuller-time athlete who is doing up to 10 hours per week with us they will do a focus session- meaning each session will focus on a particular type of fitness.  I will then give each week a main theme for the week or training block so if it is speed, strength, stamina, or something else it is reasonable that more of the sessions will focus on that theme!

Want to hear more?

I will be presenting on these topics again later in the year as well as on my Level 2 S&C Certificate.  Don’t forget it’s not too too get involved!!!

Level 2 Strength and Conditioning Qualification

Next Dates: 21/22 October, 18/19 November Location: Hertfordshire


I also have the following speaker engagements planned:

Coordination and Strength training for Sports

Dates: 29th October 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, AL86XE

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE



Tapering for Tennis?

Hey Everyone!! I am a bit embarrassed to admit it has been over a month since I posted a blog, it feels like I’m in confession!!  In truth, I made a deliberate effort to disconnect for a few weeks on holiday and then I wanted to take my time to digest and reflect on the information at the UKSCA Conference I attended almost three weeks ago on August 5th/6th.   In this blog I will review the conference speakers that I enjoyed listening to the most and then talk about some of my ideas on how I am going to improve my S&C programmes.


I have to say I felt this was one of the best conferences in a while.  There was a nice blend of Academic research review, evidence based practice and coaching practicals.  I have attended almost every one from the beginning in 2005- and it is always nice to meet up with old friends and new ones.

I was particularly pleased for Chris Bishop being elected to the Board of Director’s who I have known for several years, as well as James Baker being awarded Youth S&C coach of the year- and it was great to meet many new acquaintances in person for the first time.

James Baker hosted a fantastic Child to Champion conference earlier in the year and I have enjoyed seeing the development of his Elite Performance Pathway at St. Peter’s R.C High School, Gloucester.  In many ways his training system at High School mirrors the APA training system I use in Tennis for our mini-tennis, junior academy and Pro Team squads.  His award was certainly well deserved and his work is mapping the way forward for other school based coaches.

Finally, I’d like to say how fun it was to meet some of the contributors to a Facebook page I am a member of ‘Youth Strength & Conditioning coaches’ and meet the likes of Rob Anderson, Nick Ward, Des Ryan, Simon Brundish, Howard Green,  Andy Bruce and many more.

Highlights of the Conference

Jeremy sheppard, Des Ryan and Loren Landow were my personal favourite presenters.  Here’s what I took away from some of their presentations.

Des Ryan- Arsenal FC Academy

I had the privilege to hear Des talk at the recent Child to Champion conference.  How could I put it? At the end of the presentation both there and at the UKSCA conference I had a strong urge to want to work for him.  He just came across as someone who understands both management and leadership.  In his 3-4 years there he has:

  • Created a Team culture where coaches want to work there and players want to train there
  • Reduced injuries in his teams to below the league average
  • Created infrastructure to facilitate more individualised world class programmes by investing in staff and facilities.

Overall it was clear that Des was someone who wanted to invest in his team of coaches.  He reminded me of how valuable CPD is, done the right way, and I could see that he believed in his team and would support them in their decisions.  His does this by exposing them to world class coaches and then trusted them to use these experiences to come up with the Arsenal way, provided that they can support their rational and don’t make too many mistakes.

Loren Landow- Landow Performance

Loren gave us an energetic insight into how he coaches movement.  I was excited to hear him speak because a lot of his ideas spoke to my own philosophy.  He also echoed some of the points that Jay Dawes made in his practical ‘breakout session’ on Reactive Agility.  In the last few years I have questioned myself whether I have needed to do less technical coaching- use less coaching cues- use more chaos sooner etc but this restored my faith that first and foremost we need to learn the correct movement pattern.

  • Loren put it out there that Tennis athletes are perhaps the best movers of all sports- certainly in the context of agility.  No complaints from me!
  • He believes (like Jay) in building a movement competency base- before adding fitness and sport skill on top. Sure everyone (player and coach) wants a ball involved, or an opponent but sometimes they don’t have the movement skills to support the sport skills.
  • Drill the movement skill first before adding chaos.  Bruce Lee quote

  • We’re not talking about sports, we’re talking about laws of biomechanics: passive restraints (tendons/ligaments) are like the guard rails on a road.  We know they are there but it is the DRIVER who keeps us safe on the road- we shouldn’t need to rely on the passive structures to keep us safe.  We need to programme the neuromuscular system to perform movements akin to being able to drive with a degree of autonomy.
  • Pronation is a good thing– it’s the body’s natural shock absorption.  The best athletes decelerate flat foot footed (promoting dorsi flexion) but the amortisation phase is very brief.  Too much eccentric pronation on the plant foot will create excessive torques!
  • Whole-part-Whole coaching works best
  • Technical model- Piston (acceleration) versus Acyclical (top speed)
  • Programming- Linear day (high) versus Multi-directional (low) but if you want to emphasise high load eccentric work on the MD day then just do technique drills for the linear day to make that a low one.

Jeremy Sheppard- previously Surf Australia

  • Look for patterns– think outside of the box to determine the most appropriate biomotor abilities and assessments that will give clues to what the best ‘surfers’ in the world can do physically.  Is your athletic profile sensitive enough to detect differences in performance between the elite and the sub-elite? Put another way, are there tests you use that the best in the world consistently do better than the sub-elite?  Jeremy said that he went with his gut instinct to help him make decisions about what to test.  He would eliminate tests that didn’t reveal anything significant and keep the ones that he thought showed promise.
  • Reverse engineer sports performance– Jeremy shared with us some of his findings from analysing the surfers in training and competition on the water.  A ‘Needs Analysis’ is not a new concept but it was fascinating to learn more about surfing and see that for example, the best surfers consistently paddle at a higher speed.


What can we apply to Tennis?

So Jeremy got me thinking, what can I apply to my main sport of Tennis?  I talk about this in the first half of my latest Daz Dee TV Episode 14.

I am forever disappointed by the lack of available research on Professional Tennis.   I’m determined to uncover some physical parameters that discriminate between elite and sub-elite tennis players.    Yes we know that there appears to be no correlation between those players who score highest on an athletic profile (fitness test) and their ranking- meaning that the best athletes don’t seem to be the highest ranked players.

But there is hope that we can start to look for lessons from the competitive matches with the introduction of GPS and mechanical load monitoring which is a welcome addition to the physiological loading that has been available in Tennis for some time.

GPS in Tennis?

Rather than going into lots of details I am just going to post the Journal article here so you can read it.

Do Running Activities of Adolescent and Adult Tennis Players Differ During Play

I am really encouraged by this article because I had always assumed that GPS technology is inadequate for a sport like Tennis, where the maximal changes in velocity and direction over short distances are misinterpreted as low to moderate intensities because the attained velocities are not high.   I am going to try and find out more about what they did to overcome this but it seems they have cracked it!

This could be a break through in technology advancement that could enable practitioners to quantify the mechanical load more accurately and finally determine the physical demands of the sport.



I’ve written about Periodisation in several blogs before.  I am always refining my ideas and currently I tend to adopt two or three variations of cycles. Even though tapering/deloading wasn’t mentioned in any of the UKSCA conference presentations this is where my reflections took me!

At APA we talk about a preparation period which will be defined by the athlete’s training age and athletic profile.

Advanced athlete:

In an ideal world a more advanced athlete would complete a cycle with a focus on ‘General’ work and then progress into a cycle which has more ‘Specific’ work focus.  A general preparation cycle has more focus on strength.  A specific preparation cycle has more focus on power.  The more experience the athlete has the less time they spend on general work.

An optimal preparation phase would enable a build up to a peak over 12-15 weeks, this would include a taper period. In Tennis there will be usually only 3-5 weeks of progressive loading as part of a preparation cycle.

It is rare that I get more than 2-3 weeks of consistent training at base before it is interrupted by a tournament, so I usually have a week or so of more general work then go into several weeks of specific work which combines max strength, power and anaerobic conditioning. Some athletes I will use more ‘between session’ concurrent training- meaning I might do sessions with power and strength focus on different days.  Others will do more ‘within session’ concurrent training where the strength and power is in the same session.

I am still trying to see if I can get certain players to lift while at a tournament but this is not always practical or desired.

As Alex Natera said, ”I am concurrently working on the qualities that are important for the sport until it’s time to balance fitness-fatigue.” so the goal is to simply prioritise what they need and get on with it for as long as you have them but leave enough time so they leave you without being too tired!

Less experienced athlete:

Basic strength should be the main priority right up to competition in a weak, young or less trained athlete. Not a massive need to periodize and plan multiple phases of differential qualities in the weaker/less trained athlete.

Alex Natera says: ‘My preference would be to stay away from high reps of 15’s, 12’s and 10’s. I would prefer to transition them quickly to 5’s or 6’s and doing multiple sets at those reps. I would look at the speed of the lift and use a passive loading scheme (extensive loading and repeat cycles) to dictate when I increased loads. The development of power in this type of athlete will be looked after in getting them progressively stronger however I would be introducing them to forms of explosive/ballistic lifting from a skill perspective.”


Beginner strength cycle


The figure above corresponds to the progression of loading for a primary strength exercise.  These are the exercises that have the greatest capacity to be overloaded such as squats, deadlifts, presses, rows etc.

The best opportunity I have to use periodisation is with our 10-13 year old athletes on the full-time programme who train every day and usually only compete at the weekend and in school holidays.  For these athletes I may initially use a linear periodisation cycle where every 4-6 weeks we increase the loading e.g., 3×15 => 4×10 => 5×5 for our strength exercises.  In the initial stages of a young athlete’s career I feel justified in progressively loading them.  In the deload week we will keep the same programme but reduce volume of sets from three to two or even one.  If they can’t squat or deadlift etc at the beginning then they would be learning these lifts with less reps and load, and the 3×15 for the quadriceps for example, might be a leg extension machine, split squat, step up, lunges, even leg press or whatever they can do with good technique and we can load a bit.

Hopefully by the time they move up to 4×10 or 5×5 their technique on barbell exercises is good enough to load.

At the recent Child to Champion Conference Alex Natera said when speaking about novice lifters :’Even in early GPP I shoot through the higher reps ranges with each week and by week 4 or so I am already down to 5’s.’  I might do that in the second half of the year but in the beginning I feel more comfortable in doing at least 4 weeks at progressive loads.

Intermediate strength cycle

The primary strength exercise in the above example is progressively loaded over a 12 week period but the sets x reps is constant at around the 5×5 level.  In the final week of each 4 week cycle there is a deload of volume while the athlete attempts to lift the heaviest load of the cycle.  You then repeat the cycle but with a slightly heavier load.  The general preparation programme for an intermediate athlete would have a mixture of strength, power and muscular endurance exercises in each week, or each session. Therefore rather than being linear periodisation is now concurrent.  Again, I need to stress that most tennis players don’t train for 3-4 consecutive weeks without a break so the deload week would rarely come into play.

Advanced strength cycle

There are not many athletes that I work with that I consider to be Advanced but in their Training blocks they would probably get into a bit more heavy work with the primary strength exercise.  However, if they are only in for 1-2 weeks then they won’t!!  If they have not lifted for more than 10 days then they might need to do a few sessions or even a week with more General preparation exercises and loads.  Therefore pre-season is often the time when we can realise their strength potential as I don’t feel comfortable going straight into >85% 1RM with these athletes.  The example above refers to a percentage of 1RM rather than a percentage of 5RM or 15RM like in the previous examples.


General preparation

As stated earlier, for beginner/intermediate athletes I still think strength is the focus- so we use general preparation cycles.  The general preparation phase for a beginner athlete will be more focused on building a movement competency foundation, emphasizing muscular endurance, core endurance, speed technique and aerobic capacity.  APA employ more basic methods here.  A general phase for an intermediate advanced athlete will have more focus on maximal strength and resisted speed.  APA use more advanced methods here.

They might still be doing some explosive lifts in the strength session (although not in example below) and with usually do their plyometrics in a separate session in the mornings.

The session below is a General Preparation cycle which I might have the intermediate athlete do for at least one to two 4 week cycles before we go into a more Specific Preparation cycle.  The deload is not shown in the example but could be achieved by doing 3×5 instead of 5×5 for example.

Velocity Based Training

Again if you wanted to be more precise in your timings to increase load / introduce deload you would look for adaptation plateaus. Use VBT to determine this.  This is something I am going to consider looking at too.  Watch out for new blogs on this once I have experimented more!


Specific Preparation week

Suitable for more advanced athletes who are already strong and have a high work capacity.  The example below uses ‘within’ session concurrent training of strength and power.  You could make the Wednesday a slightly lower intensity/higher volume session if hypertrophy was more a focus.  Equally it could be more power focused if you added in more explosive lifts.  You could put lower intensity muscular endurance into the alactic and lactate conditioning sessions.

The training week now how more focus on Power.  We may do 2-3 weeks like this before the deload week.  For the deload week we would increase the intensity further and do some Post Activation Potentiation (PAP), dropping down to just two strength/power sessions on Tuesday and Friday.

Deload week- end of a specific preparation cycle

As a general rule the Preparation period is what ever the athlete needs- in most cases they will do more general preparation cycles to build the strength.  As their training age increases and they are stronger we can move more quickly and more frequently into Specific preparation power blocks.


Tapering / Deloading

Tennis can be challenging to ‘periodise’ for, as competition is year round.  The concept of a full taper ahead of a major competition is most suited to sports with long preparation periods such as track & field.

This slide is a good summary for those of you interested in getting the main points.  For a running based sport you want to decrease volume by 21-40%, maintain intensity and frequency and taper for 8-14 days.

It is rare that I get to take a Tennis athlete through more than 2-3 weeks of training before it is interrupted by a tournament.  So the concept of building up enough training stress/fatigue that they actually need to taper from is some times lost on Tennis.  However, the stress of year round tournament play and training can take its toll so we still need to monitor fatigue, which I do by asking the athletes to keep a training diary.  I also monitor acute responses of fatigue with the reactive Strength Index (RSI).

For week to week training load management I am looking at the response of the Reactive Strength Index (RSI) of our athletes and seeing if it can be sensitive enough to detect fatigue.  My plan is to give our full-time players a deload week every 4 or 6 weeks according to their response to the training and the intensity of that training.  Our younger ‘newbies’ 10-13 years old will probably be fine with a deload every six weeks.  Our slightly older beginner/intermediate athletes 14-16 years old will need one every fourth week I expect.

As I said in Daz Dee TV I have found that my tennis athletes are not the best at it and before I scrap it I will see if the RSI score responds better to fatigue once the learning effect has been mitigated.  As you can see this athlete’s RSI kept improving every week for the most part so there is still a learning effect taking place in my opinion.  Either that or the training was not tiring enough!

I will then use that as an objective guide along with my coaching instincts and programming to determine the best time to deload.  This way I hope to advise athletes on a more individual basis the right time to deload based on their response to the general and specific preparation cycles.