Footwork Fitness

In this week’s blog I would like to give an example of how we can develop the role of S&C in sport skills coaching at the elite level. Last week I wrote about some of the ways we can assess/train physical qualities within a sports coaching session (click HERE). This should hopefully empower sports coaches to work on the fundamentals even if they don’t have the resources to pay for a full-time S&C coach.

Footwork Fitness

In this instance I want to talk about a session where a sports coach could conceivably be working on development of a physical quality (endurance) while at the same time working on a tennis player’s sports skills (footwork).

This week I had the privilege to work with a professional Tennis player who as part of their physical programme was incorporating some endurance into their training week.  Given that the workload of a professional player’s session is often at the high end of intensity and mechanical loading it is often smart to think of ways to either:

a) incorporate cardiovascular endurance into tennis sessions

b) perform additional cardio sessions that minimise excessive joint loading

Some times you actually want to do more mechanical loading such as a running based session but with all the pounding the body takes from moving on the court for 2-4 hours per day, in this case we went for an option that put less impact loads on the body by working on footwork rather than sprinting or high intensity running.

Use of a mask

For this session the athlete is wearing a training mask 2.0.   Find out more about it HERE

Here’s an overview of what the developers have to say

Respiratory training is a new concept in the fitness arena and the Training Mask 2.0. is a light, hands free, functional respiratory resistance trainer that strengthens the muscles you use to breathe. The diaphragm is the centerpiece of your breathing musculature.  Training Mask 2.0 kills two birds with one stone by strengthening your breathing muscles and creating a hypoxic environment for you train in. No mountains required.

I have seen social media light up with haters ready to criticise use of any such training device.  But just to be clear I use it for one simple reason- it makes the athlete feel like the session is harder.  I’m not going to enter into a debate as to whether it creates hypoxic conditions or it doesn’t, whether it increases VO2max or it doesn’t or whether it strengthens the breathing muscles or it doesn’t; I’m simply finding a way to jack the heart rate up without needing to increase the mechanical loading associated with high speed running and/or change of direction.  It does!

Feedback from the athlete is that the same footwork drills done wearing the mask make him feel like he is working much harder.  I’m actually going to ask the athlete to repeat the same sessions in a few days without the mask so I’ll put the heart rate data up for comparison.  But I can tell you in advance, what you will see is that the heart rate will be higher for the same level of footwork intensity wearing a mask, and that’s all that we care about.

Work to rest Ratios

I have posted the video below and the screen shots of the Heart rate data so you can see the cardiovascular response to a session which a Tennis coach can easily do with a tennis player that will help develop some sports skills (footwork) at the same time as working on endurance.

This five-minute video shows you a complete session plan that was used with a Professional Tennis player that works on cardiovascular endurance whilst performing tennis specific footwork patterns.

By keeping the work to rest ratio 2:1 and using work intervals between 20 and 40-seconds it keeps the heart rate elevated.



Session Plan



The average heart rate of the session was 152bpm and the Maximum Heart rate was 175bpm for a male Professional player.  This is actually very similar to the Heart rate profile of a competitive match- although the actual work profile of the entire match will look slightly different to the heart rate summary profile above.

First step speed 6 minute block
Figure 8 lateral 20 seconds work: 10 seconds rest x 2
Figure 8 forwards 40 seconds work: 20 seconds rest x 1
Figure 8 backwards 40 seconds work: 20 seconds rest x 1
Repeat again, then have 90-seconds rest

Screenshot_2016-Figure 8

Tennis footwork: lateral baseline movement 6 minute block
All exercises 30 seconds work: 15 seconds rest
Forehand only
Backhand only
Forehand and Backhand
Forehand and Inside Out Forehand
Repeat again, then have 90-seconds rest

Screenshot_2016-Lateral movement

First step speed Diagonals 6 minute block
All exercises 40 seconds work:20 seconds rest
Short Backhand: Deep Forehand
Short Forehand: Deep Backhand
Short Forehand and Backhand: Deep Forehand and Deep Backhand
Repeat again, then have 90-seconds rest

Screenshot_2016-X drill

Total time: 24 minutes

Heart Rate Recovery

The goal is to get the Heart Rate down to 120 beats per minute after every 90-second rest period which the athlete successfully did indicating a high level of conditioning.

Screenshot_2016-90sec recovery

Hope this helps and I look forward to hearing how you get on applying these drills into your own training.

The Role of S&C in Sports Skill Development

This week I had the privilege to be invited to speak at a Lawn Tennis Association Level 4 Coaching Qualification. This qualification was being run by Nigel Long, a director of UCoach and I was asked to speak to the tennis coaches as part of the physical development section of the course.


The brief was to discuss optimal physical training programmes for junior performance tennis players from 5-16 years, highlighting the typical methods, frequency of sessions and so on that might be expected to be carried out.  It is never easy to condense so much into one day but I did my best and feedback was that it was well received.  Here is what we covered:

In the morning I delivered a presentation entitled: ”The role of S&C in stroke development.”  We looked at three ke y themes:

  • Long term Athlete Development (LTAD)
  • Technical Checklist
  • Coaching Footwork

There were some break out practicals to keep them alert and engaged as part of this presentation as well as some video analysis of footwork.

In the afternoon we looked at the Annual Plans that I have prepared for the various performance squads discussing expected training to competition ratios and the emphasis I place on different physical components at certain times of the year.  We also did a warm-up practical.

Below are some summary points from the morning’s presentation:

Long term Athlete Development (LTAD)

Factors Affecting Tennis Performance

I think it is vital to put into context the role of physical preparedness at different stages of the tennis journey.  Clearly the number of years you have been playing has the biggest contribution to tennis performance  (resulting in winning) in the game at 11 and under. It is not so important how fast or coordinated you are in a general sense- what counts is who has been playing tennis the longest.

As you progress through the ranks it is evident that the role of the physical attributes of the tennis player become ever increasingly important- where upon at the pro game we can conclude that physical attributes such as speed, power and coordination are vital to tennis performance.

Well duh? That’s obvious right?

Well, while it may not come as a surprise, what surprises me though is the reluctance to give physical development enough priority in training during the years of training as a child and adolescent.  If we can all agree that it is of vital importance then why can’t we agree it needs more training time as the child grows up? Do we perhaps assume that growth and maturation takes care of its development? I’m not sure but what I like to stress with coaches is that growth and maturation isn’t enough- time and time again research has shown that training related improvements in physical qualities can far exceed those developed through growth and maturation alone.

We talked about the priority areas for physical development– which if you have ever attended an APA Training course you will be familiar with the 5 S’s (Suppleness, Skill, Strength, Speed, Stamina).

5 S Diagram

We also talked about how many hours of Tennis and S&C per week.  As far as hours go we can get into all kinds of discussions about how many hours to do per week, per year etc and of course we absolutely have to factor in talent into this discussion.

Definition of Talent: the rate of learning

I wanted to offer this definition to get the coaches to view talent beyond the apparent genetic physical attributes but also the apparent rate with which they are able to acquire motor skills from a motor learning stand point.  Once we grasp this concept we can view rate of learning like internet download speed- everyone will get there in the end but some people will take longer than others to download the information you are giving them.

Technical Checklist

For me this is a critical part of the cross-over between S&C and Sports Coach.  Every Sports coach has a technical checklist- basically a technical model of correct technique from a bio-mechanical standpoint.  We talked about KINEMATICS versus KINETICS.

HertsLTA presentation2

As you will see in the slide above the technical checklist has a consideration of stances (footwork aka set up) and kinetic chain (bodywork/torque, impact and follow through). These would be considered the KINEMATIC aspects of technique- what the stroke should look like.

HertsLTA presentation4

The message I wanted to get across to the tennis coaches is that perhaps the best question they can ask an S&C coach is: ”Are there any physical limitations in their performance that would prevent them being able to execute this tennis technique?”

Perhaps they lack the suppleness to get into the technically correct position- which effects their kinematics.  But more often they also lack the required strength/speed to produce elements of the stroke due to their kinetics.  They can’t produce enough FORCE or at the required speed to execute elements of the required technique.

Now I explained that the gold standard is to conduct fitness tests and assessments to determine the athlete’s level of preparedness and whether they have the required levels of strength, power and speed to meet the demands of the game.  That’s where we come in.  But if they don’t have these kind of resources they can still conduct their own on court assessments.

Look at things like:

  • Being light on your feet- skipping
  • Having an explosive first step- Figure 8 drill
  • Arriving at the ball in balance- hop and stop test

There are many simple exercises to assess this and train it.  This leads nicely into the last section


As Louis Cayer once told me, if an S&C coach is going to teach/train footwork then they had better know what they are talking about.  You certainly have heard of the quote:” A little knowledge is dangerous.” We don’t want to undermine our selves by going outside of our scope of practice.

Role of the Tennis coach:

In my experience the tennis coach is therefore in the best position to teach/train specific footwork patterns on the court in terms of how to move to hit a ball. But there are a number of physical qualities that need to be present which I discussed above.

The physical traits above of being light on your feet, having an explosive first step and arriving in balance could be worked on BY THE TENNIS COACH using some more general drills as part of the tennis lesson such as the ones below:

Skipping- Target 200 in 1-minute

Figure 8 drill- Target 4 in 10-seconds

Figure 8 forward- Target 5 in 20-seconds (if doing a jump at the completion of every figure 8)

Hop and stop- stick at 90 degree knee angle for 3 seconds at 50% of standing height

I personally believe these could be used by the tennis coach to get an indication of their athlete’s athletic profile in the absence of some of the fitness testing knowledge that an S&C coach will have.

Role of S&C coach

Primary goal: improve the kinetic capabilities of the athlete in the gym- ability to produce more force

If the S&C coach has further knowledge and skills that mean they can coach the specific footwork of the tennis stroke then further transfer of physical gains can be made, and this should be encouraged.

Further information for Tennis Coaches:

Finally, to get further information I highly suggest the LTA CD-Rom Resources

LTA Video resources

And also APA’s Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning.  We will announce the dates for October/November 2016 shortly.