How Much Do You Train Your Serve?

This blog is an update on the Vision of APA and a run down of the findings of the first Pilot Study looking at shot frequency data for junior elite tennis players.


I’ve mentioned previously that APA has the goal of being the ”Best Tennis S&C Team in the World” by 2025. This will be achieved in two parts. Firstly, by carrying out the most thorough tennis research project ever undertaken by an S&C company, with the goal of determining the physical determinants of elite tennis performance.  I have been referring to this as my ”unofficial PhD.”


Secondly, by using the findings of the research to identify the most impactful training methods (APA Method 2.0) and undertake them with our athletes so they can best prepare for the current and future demands of professional tennis.


We have identified four areas of research interest:


1. Workload profiles – of training, simulated match-play and competitive tournaments


2. Serve – assessment of IR/ER shoulder rotation strength ratios, response to fatigue and relationship with serve velocity


3. Groundstrokes – assessment of rotational strength and power metrics and relationship with groundstroke velocity


4. Movement – deceleration profiling, assessment of peak force and RFD of selected muscles (quadriceps and soleus) and relationship to movement velocities performed in match play.


Pilot Study #1 – Workload Profiling


As much as I would like to think that the strength & conditioning training in the gym plays a big part in helping players meet the physical demands of professional tennis, the bottom line is that the ”physical work” done on the court counts most.  It’s the old adage of ”training tougher than a match.”  So for me, the first priority was to gain some info on what is going on, on the tennis court.


For the first study I wanted to look at workload profiles of the players I work with, basically to see how the intensity of the tennis training compares to the [limited] data we have on workload profiles of pro players.


For those of you who are a bit more into the science, it’s worth noting that recently it has been shown that upper arm injuries and in-event treatment frequency increased by ≥2.4 times in both sexes at the Australian Open Grand Slam over a 5-year period (Gesheit et al., 2017).  These kinds of injuries are a direct result of the mechanical loads imposed on the musculoskeletal system (especially the serve) and it is suggested that some measure of ball striking be considered to feature in an upper limb/body exposure (Reid et al., 2018).


The Game Insight Group (GIG) formed by Tennis Australia with Victoria University produce some cool stats on the Australian open using Hawkeye data – such as number of sprints (a sprint is a minimum of 5.5m travelling at least 4 m/s), Distance covered (km) and Hitting load (combines the number of shots a player has hit and how hard they hit them).  Djokovic, for example will sprint on average 19 times a match, and in 2021 did 117 sprints across the 7 matches.



In all honesty, my ideal scenario would have been to look at workload profiles using intensity markers of the game such as Heart Rate and number of accelerations and decelerations if I had the technology (such as a GPS system and Heart Rate monitoring system).   I think this kind of data would have best helped me to answer the question:


”How might our training and planning prepare players for match intensity & match volume experienced on the Tour?”


Given I didn’t have that technology, I opted instead to use Swing Vision (Player & Ball tracking app) to collect data from a selection of Junior National level players training at a full-time tennis Academy, for an entire week of training.  I rationalised that this would enable me to carry out a qualitative analysis of shot frequency in training, and simulated match-play- which might give an indirect measure of training intensity & volume.


Furthermore, if I am going to follow up this pilot study with some research on training interventions to prepare the body for the serve and groundstroke demands, I figured it would make sense to first know how many times they perform these actions in training.


Therefore, the goal of this study was to quantify the number of strokes and the hitting intensities (rate of strokes per minute) performed by junior players during their on-court sessions over one week using Swing Vision.


What Did I Find Out?


Keeping in mind the old adage ”training tougher than a match,” what I would I say I found out is that ”training is different to a match.”


I’ve already presented some compelling data that the Tennis KPIs that count most (and therefore explain most of the variance in elite tennis performance between those in the Top 100 and those outside it) largely comes down to serve and return metrics.  So some of the findings of my research did surprise me somewhat.


Figure 1 shows the average distribution of forehands, backhands and serves hit during each of the five tennis sessions for the group of Junior full-time players.



On average, the duration of a tennis session was 77.0 minutes in which players hit 190 forehands, 117 backhands, and 43 serves. The average weekly number of forehand shots was significantly higher than that of backhand shots. Both average weekly number of forehand and backhand shots were both significantly higher than that of serves.


On average, the peak stroke rate was 6.8 strokes/minute.



The Serve


In a typical match you can expect to hit around 120 serves, which accounts for 36% of all shots hit in a match.


The biggest finding was that in all juniors tracked, the serve accounted on average for:


8.7% of all shots hit per week, and an average of 43 per day (with a peak of 79).





In a typical match you might hit 210 groundstrokes which accounts for 64% of all shots hit in a match.


In my analysis of junior elite players the number of groundstrokes played per session was 278 on average.



Shots in the 0-4 range


In a match, 70% of points that pro male players play are in the 0-4 shot range. For pro female players that number is 66%.


In my analysis of junior elite players the number of rallies played in the 0-4 range averaged 62%. 


Or in other words, the majority of points that pro players play, finish before the 5th shot. And that’s worth noting.  If pro players’ rallies are ending in the first 4 shots, in practice that means that they are hitting a serve, a return, the server hits a second shot and the returner hits a second shot and that’s it – rally over.


In my research, I found out that the majority of the rallies were in the 0-4 shot range so one can conclude that the training is ”representative” of what goes on it a match.  However, one significant conclusion we can make, is that due to the low number of serves hit, it is fair to assume most of these rally exchanges were initiated with some form of feed (either by the coach or one of the players, rather than a serve).


When we focus on what shots the players are actually hitting in matches, I think there’s probably some insight that needs to be taken into account.  Like, for example, that the serve and return are pretty important.  And I would say that they are really important no matter the level of play.  And therefore there is something to be learned from looking at the stats of professional players in matches.




The main finding is that there is a large disparity between the average numbers of serves, forehands and backhands hit in each session. The average forehand/backhand ratio in my pilot study was 1.62 which is higher than 1.24 ± 0.37 found for professional male players in competition (Reid et al, 2016). If the overemphasis on forehand shots seems to be a feature of the modern game, it should not be to the detriment of the improvement of backhand shots. Indeed, a study revealed that forehands are associated with a greater number of points won, while more points are lost with backhands played as the final shot (Cam et al., 2013).


It could be argued that these results are unsurprising if one shot is played (or practiced) more than the other.  Moreover, the average external load of training seems not to match the demands of competition which may be the goal in the pre-season. The hitting intensities (strokes/min) of groundstroke shots peaked at 6.8 and are lower than those observed by Murphy et al. (2016)  for training session (7 ± 1.0), simulated match play (10 ± 5.1) and tournament (14 ± 3.6). This difference could be due to longer rest time and/or a more technical/tactical focus.


Regarding the average number of serves reported in my pilot study of 43, this number was lower than the 120 serves proposed by Myers et al. (2016). My results are similar to those of Perry et al. (2018) who observed that the number of serves during training session was significantly lower than that of competition for U15 male players (38.6 ± 24.2 vs 82.0 ± 24.8).  Because tournament schedules for junior players are often condensed, the players may be required to play several matches in few days with a number of total serves that exceeds that of their current training week. This difference in volume of serves in competition compared to training suggests that coaches should better plan training serve loads (volume and intensity) to match competition to ensure a reduction in injury risk from inadequate exposure.


Coach Perspective


When you are a coach of either one player or perhaps a group of players, you only have 60-90 minutes to develop their game.  Speaking to a Head coach recently he shared with me ”When you think how much time it takes to hit let’s say 10 purposeful serves, and 10 purposeful forehands it’s like worlds apart. If you do one serve every 30 seconds that’s 5 minutes, but you could hit those same purposeful forehands in 15 seconds.  So that might skew your numbers slightly, and if we were to look it in more detail, we’d have to look at it and say, right, what are we saying a serve is worth versus a groundstroke?  I think that’s where I’m at with it.


So player education would be key and one way to improve serving across the week is to say to the kids, you can serve on your own and you need to serve at full power.  Some kids will do it, some kids won’t.  Also, some re-education of the parents.  Unfortunately if I did an hour of serving with a player and a parent was watching, it can look like a slow paced low intensity session, which is a tricky one.”


Training Recommendations


Different recommendations may be implemented during training sessions to both improve serving efficiency and decrease the risk of overload shoulder injury. Firstly, the volume and the intensity of serves should be variable from session to session to allow tissue regeneration and should be planned with intervals simulating the real game (Myers et al, 2016).


I’d like to see some days where the emphasis is on volume and hitting over 100 serves in a practice, and other days where the emphasis is on intensity, and aiming to hit your fastest serve possible with only 10-20 serves total.


I’d also like to see realistic practice conditions where more of the serving performed is to a returner who returns the ball and then the server has to hit the next shot (serve +1).  So many serves I saw were hit into the service box without an opponent, and even if there was an opponent and they did return it, often times the server would not recover their position and attempt to hit it back.


Finally, bear in mind that in a match you may hit over 100 serves and ALL of these are hit with maximum effort.  Of the 43 serves on average that were hit in practice, I can bear witness that less than half of those were anywhere close to maximum effort.


Insights from Spellman Performance


Les Spellman, owner of Spellman Performance recently spoke on the Pacey Performance Podcast on the topic of year round sprint speed development.  Although the topic was different, if you replace [sprint] with the word [serve] I think the advice is still equally relevant.  See below what Les had to say:


”In-season our approach was to maintain the resisted sprints and you surf the curve (so you go from heavy, to medium and light at different time periods) and then you allow practice to be fast.  You allow practice to have the high velocities and you make sure guys hit top speed in games.  What we realised was that we are getting the peak outputs in games, which is what you want – you want to play fast.


We are creating an environment where players are allowed to play fast where they’re not coming into the game where they are cooked.  Most coaches may think, you don’t want to do those resisted sprints in season as it might pull back from their velocity qualities, but we’re micro-dosing it, we are only doing 2-4 reps in a session.  But just that minimal dosage was allowing that athlete to maintain that ability to be very aggressive with their acceleration and have a lot of power, and then practices started to be performed faster, and hit new PBs in speed.  It became a culture where guys wanted to run fast in practice.


The game and the actual system should allow players to run fast in practice.  It shouldn’t just be a volume base.  There should be adequate rest periods.  There should be spacing to make the field big enough, wide enough, whatever, reduce the number of players, to allow the players to hit top speed.  So you start to get those outputs in game and you don’t always have to artificially expose players to top speed.  Now you can if they don’t in practice, okay go and do it.  But if you get 95% of top speed reached in practice, okay cool, box checked.  And when you have coaches that buy in, and say yes, let’s practice fast, it makes it easy.”


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How Do We Learn To Move? – Part 1

This blog has been simmering for a few years now.  I wanted to share my experiences as someone who has been coaching for 20 years, and has subscribed to one particular philosophy of coaching athletes how to move- only to move away from this way in recent years.


The traditional information processing approach to skill – using internal models and knowledge to predict the outcome of our actions, is one I have followed for many years.  Over the last few years I have been adopting an approach that is more consistent with the ideas of exploration, self-organisation, and connecting with your environment.


Like any journey (in this case my professional development) there are various people and concepts that influence you along the way.  Some of these concepts have been in my consciousness for as long as I can remember – but there has been a shift in recent years to apply them.


I learnt about Motor Learning Principles first in University in the late 1990s, looking at the concept of Differential Learning – blocked versus random practice.  This was a topic I also referred to in a few blogs and linked to a talk Dr Mike Young did several years ago – Motor Learning Concepts all Coaches Should Know‘  I had read some of James Gibson’s work on Ecological Dynamics Approach and ”Affordances” around 10 years ago, and was aware of the growing buzz around ”Constraints Lead Approach (CLA).”  But I largely kept it in the background.


In 2012 I heard Frans Bosch speak for the first time, at the UKSCA Conference – Transfer of Strength Training – Implications from How the Central Nervous System works.  He was the Keynote speaker on the first Saturday morning.  It’s probably unfair to generalise for the whole audience, but I did feel that at that point in time the predominantly Newtonian biased audience of coaches were quick to reject the ideas of Fran and defaulted to the idea that Force = Mass x acceleration, and the more the better, is more important than the control of Force during sporting tasks.


I bought Frans Bosch’s second book in 2017 (first published 2015) but left it on the book shelf for the first year, waiting for the right time to be drawn back to it.



Fast forward to June 2018 and Chris McLeod – who just started as the Lawn Tennis Asociation (LTA) Lead S&C coach.  Chris is someone that clearly had a refreshing outlook on how to address skill acquisition and it wasn’t long before he was inviting interesting and innovative coaches to speak to some of us involved in British Tennis.  In August 2019 he invited Danny Newcombe to present on ‘Movement Puzzles,’ and specifically diving into CLA.


Around this period I went to visit Steffan Jones to learn about some of his training methods in fast bowling and cricket and it seemed the World was sending me a message that this topic was one I needed to pay attention to.  He was instrumental in giving me the nudge to invest more time in understanding the principles of Frans Bosch.


The presentation of Danny Newcombe coincided with the first year of one of my junior coaches Gabe Fishlock working at APA in April 2019 – Gabe would go on to stay with us for almost two years until January 2021.  I often use Gabe as an example of a ”positive disruptor,” a coach who challenges the status quo and helps evolve the programme.


Time for a Change


Gabe had been following the syllabus we had in place at APA which was largely based on the the traditional approach of learning a number of discrete motor skills in isolation through rote repetition – and the concept of developing mastery through drills.  I could tell he never felt at ease coaching within this framework and thankfully he had the courage to challenge the status quo- and ask if he could re-write the syllabus over the summer break for the next term.


I’ll come back to this story in Part 2 of this blog, but for now it is enough to say that this was certainly the catalyst for change – and a new era of coaching.  We had the pandemic from March 2020 – August 2020 so I guess it’s only really the last 2 years that the syllabus has been in full flow.


It would be easy to stop there and be content that APA has made it’s own positive dent in the coaching landscape but I’m always trying to develop what we do – and as I write this I still feel that while we say we adopt an approach to coaching that fosters self-organisation, and we use methods such as CLA, if I’m honest I think we still have a long way to go- myself included.


Present Day


In the last few months I’ve been further inspired to dig deeper after hearing Paul Venner – Frans Bosch System & Aquabag, who was someone I heard about having read about Randy Sullivan’s Savage Method in Baseball.


Two weeks ago I finally read Rob Gray’s ‘How We Learn to Move” book and found it really helped to consolidate all the various bits of research and sound bites into a coherent explanation that helped to solidify my understanding of the scientific research.


Today I’d like to share a few insights from Paul Venner’s presentation (Part 1) and I’ll follow up with a summary of some of the main findings I took away from Rob’s book (Part 2).  This will certainly be just the highlight reel, the tip of the iceberg and I encourage you to seek out the original information for yourself.


Paul Venner – Frans Bosch System


The following sections are based on a presentation I listened to with Paul Venner in 2020 prior to the Pandemic.


Sometimes we have a situation where we have an athlete with a very stable pattern, but it is not optimal.  Think of a runner who has a hip drop as they are running, so it’s stable but it’s passive stability as they move into the end range of the (hip) joint.  This way they lose performance and they increase injury risk.


So what we need to do is first show them that it is not optimal, and put them in a position where they are going to get feedback about this passive movement (solution) that they are using.  So for example, using a perturbation of the pattern so they are going to feel it and notice that it is actually not a good pattern.


Basically, this is what Motor Learning is – moving through this landscape of Stability


This landscape of stable points is moving throughout our development – firstly as a baby, then moving through to adolescence with growth spurts and later even as an adult whenever we learn a new skill- finding the optimal stable points to help control movement.


If someone has a stable but sub-optimal pattern, it is not enough to ‘teach” a better pattern because it’s so deep/engrained in the system (deep attractor well) that they will always fall back to the original pattern- and their old way of doing it.  SO we have to get rid of that old pattern and make it unstable.


The model that we use for this coaching is the ”Constraints Lead Approach (CLA).”  The movement emerges through the interaction of the TASK, ENVIRONMENT and ORGANISM.  So the better we know the constraints of the organism, the task and the environment, the better we can manipulate those constraints in order to get a different movement outcome emerging.



If I have a goal orientated approach I can eventually increase the total solution-space – which is the space in which I can be successful.


Broadly speaking, instead of doing the same repetition 20 times in a row, I do one or two repetitions in a certain way, and then do something else.  This may also include doing things that are not optimal, because by doing it someone will get a feel that it is not optimal so it is much more about having variation in the task.



Bottom Up Vs Top Down


There are two predominant theories that coaches use to explain how we learn skills – one based on a ”top down” computational model (CNS dominant) and the other based on a ”bottom up” dynamic systems model (muscle dominant).


Actually of course, it’s a bit of both!   Yes we have a lot of stuff going on from top down, and yes we have a lot of stuff going on from bottom up, and it’s about how we can put them together.


What I have aimed to do with my baseball training is seeing where the anchor points are where both meet each other.  I think of it like a road map of the country, and I identify all the places where all the traffic comes together [Daz comment- such as when cars are converging on London from the North and South around the M25 – for a UK based analogy].



  • CNS dominant – anything with very High Intensity  –> building maximum strength in optimal range.
  • Focus on maximum power with pre-tension – with little or no external load (in max strength training the load builds tension, but out on the field I don’t have external load so I have to build it myself).  This is based on the concept of muscle slack, and getting rid of it!  I want to be able to get up without going down first and the way to train that is with pre-tension and using no load or changing loads such as aqua bags to train this ”co-contraction” control.
  • Focus on rhythm in jumps, bounds & plyometrics
  • Focus on reflex patterns development – cross extensor flexion reflex etc
  • Focus on joint-coupling & synergies –> variable loads
  • Focus on neuromuscular development –> time pressure & complexity (it’s too much information for the brain to cope with and there is a limitation on this transition from CNS to the muscular).  You get very quick fatigue but you get very quick recovery, so you can do this even on game days.
  • Focus on preflex development –> co-contractions & pertubations



Finding the Anchor Points in Our Coaching


In our coaching we can also find those anchor points so if we coach in a more brain dominant way – and talking a lot – I like to focus on keeping my talking only to the level of using analogies, metaphors & motivation – I try to do as little talking as possible, create the environment, and let the movement do the talking.



On the deeper level I can have knowledge of result information so that I get feedback from the exercise because I hit my target, I used a certain rhythm, I made a certain sound.


On the lowest level I can have intrinsic knowledge of results which is information that I get from within the body, this implicit learning through a feeling.  It takes longer to establish but it is way more robust if we learn that way!


Exploration Versus Exploitation




Exploration is always done at moderate intensities, with many degrees of freedom  –> mobility & variability = flexible system.




Exploitation is always done at high intensity –> hitting attractor sites (high specificity) = stable system.




On what level, to what extent, and on which difficulty and degree = Individuality


  • Strengthen attractor sites = STABLE
  • Increase Solution-Space = FLEXIBLE
  • Find and prioritise bottlenecks in both = INDIVIDUALISE


If you have got this far then well done and Thanks for sticking with me!  There is a good chance you are curious about this topic so stand by for Part 2 – How Do We Learn To Move?


Want More Information?


By the way – Frans Bosch Systems (FBS) are coming to the UK to deliver a 7 week International Course (26 May- 9 July 2023).  It will focus on the theory outlined in Frans Bosch’s latest books.  I personally won’t be going as it falls in the summer period, I feel I have a pretty good grasp of the principles and I need to focus on applying them now.


It will be delivered through a combination of the interactive online learning platform, live webinar sessions and a 2-day onsite practical session at Queen’s University Belfast (8-9 July 2023).




  • Understand the Constraint Led Approach and transfer this knowledge into exercises and training settings.
  • Understand the mechanisms of specificity and transfer of training.
  • Understand how feedback works and can organise training and rehabilitation in such a way that representative design in exercises and the learning process is guaranteed.
  • Understand self-organisation and its effects from intramuscular processes to muscle cooperation to bigger components of movement to total contextual patterns.
  • Understand deep rules of motor control and know how to determine these in movement.
  • Understand the search rules for attractors and how to apply these in movement analysis.
  • Gain knowledge of all the systems involved in motor control, feedback and intrinsic learning, and how to apply these in rehabilitation and training.
  • Be able to use phase transitions in rehabilitation and training in order to accelerate the learning process.
  • Demonstrate each topic of content in training or rehabilitation.



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Periodisation for Tennis – Part 4

One of the benefits of running a strength & conditioning coaching company is that each year I get to mentor a new set of coaches.  In the last few weeks two questions have been raised by some of the interns which I thought would make a good blog topic for discussion.


  • How do you decide on the goals of the S&C programme?
  • How do you periodise the goals into an Annual Training plan?


I covered the first question in my last blog – Click here and now I will turn my attention to the second question of Periodisation.


I’ve probably written about this topic as much as any on my blog and usually it’s when I have been trying to figure things out and make myself accountable to commit my thoughts to paper.  So certainly there has been some good stuff, and some not so good stuff, some things I still agree with and some things I have changed my mind on.


But for what it is worth – take a look at some previous blog articles – Periodisation for Tennis – Part 1; Periodisation for Tennis – Part 2; Periodisation for Tennis – Part 3; Periodisation for Teenagers; Periodisation – Hybrid Models for team Sports; Periodisation – Does it Even Work?


I also wrote a review of the Triphasic Method – click here and here, which are the probably the two most recent blogs I have written about on the topic of Periodisation.


All of the above blogs talk about frameworks and models but having gone back through them all it was actually the Periodisation for Tennis – Part 1 that I want to talk a little bit more about.  In the team meetings with my staff we have been discussing how you go about solving the problem of working in Tennis where the athletes rarely complete several cycles of 4 consecutive weeks.


Junior Elite Tennis Players


Let’s take the example I gave of a female player in the 14-unders (double periodisation) and moving into 16-unders at aged 15 (triple periodisation).  For boys the equivalent could be moving out of 16-under and into 18-under.




  • At 15 yrs they might play 35-75 matches per year
  • They may play up to 9 international tournament
  • They may play up to 3 consecutive tournaments in a row
  • They might have 3 training blocks a year (triple periodisation) up to 8 weeks each


Almost 50% of the top 100 ITF ranked junior
girls fail to plan 1 block of 8 weeks and 1
block of 4 weeks (Raabe & Verbeek, 2004)





McCraw, P. Making the ATP Top 100. Transition from Top 10 ITF Junior to Top 10 ATP Tour (1996-2005).



As you can see, different researchers report slightly different stats, but you can gather from the research that children can be playing tournaments from anywhere from 11 to 30 weeks of the year, with 12-16 weeks of training (development weeks) and 8-10 weeks of rest.


In reality, the best outcome is one longer training block of 8 weeks and probably two shorter ones of 4 weeks each, and a lot of 2 weeks in training followed by 2 weeks in competition.


When you have 8 weeks


This is what I would do with a less advanced athlete.  I’d do a 4-week build up phase, what I call the ‘GET FIT’ PHASE, and I’d follow it with a GET STRONG / GET EXPLOSIVE phase.


Phase 1 – GET FIT (Foundation) – Early Preparation – Hypertrophy



Phase 2 – GET STRONG / GET EXPLOSIVE – Late Preparation – Max Strength and Power



With my more advanced athletes there will be ‘loading’ of all parts of the Force-Velocity curve from the beginning of the preparation period, which will only be 4 weeks in most cases.  It will be the emphasis that I will shift BUT all forms of training are present from the outset. This means that advanced athletes will be loading up on hypertrophy, strength and power either in the same session or at least in the same week (microcycle). See later in the blog for more information on this.


But What Happens when they come in for 2 weeks and go on the road for 2 weeks?



In the above figure (on the left) we have a scenario where the athlete has trained for a few weeks and built up the intensity, only to then go on the road for 1 week.  The orange column was supposed to be a 75% week (of the planned 100% of intensity for that block).   If they only go away for a week I just get them to repeat the load of the previous week.


If they go away for two weeks in a row (on the right) where they would have achieved the planned 100% load had they stayed for a full month in training, when they come back, I have to start from scratch!


The only way to break this cycle is to lift on the road – preferably as soon as they exit the tournament but before the following week


The key with in-season programming is to have your ‘benchmark’ levels of performance that you can hold your athlete or team accountable to.  I want my less advanced athletes to be motivated to keep making progressions in the intensity of their lifts, and buy into the principle of ”no missed lifts.”


For my less advanced athletes I really want to get them to progressively build up to a few cycles of 100% intensity before switching up to a more concurrent method (see below).


As for the more Advanced athletes


A couple of common approaches to strength training in-season are:


1 .  A weekly undulating model – An undulating model as proposed by Charles Poliquin uses weekly variations in load.  It is quite common as an in-season model which fluctuates between 1-2 weeks of hypertrophy and 1-2 weeks of maximal strength/power.  It allows the CNS to recover during periods where there is already high neural stimulus from a busy competition schedule.


I believe Dan Baker uses this form of week to week variation in strength sets and reps schemes to maintain strength and muscle mass using a form of weekly undulations in strength. (Undulating wave 12/8/10/6).  In this example the weeks of 12 and 10 reps would represent hypertrophy weeks and the weeks of 8 and 6 reps would represent strength.


2.  A daily undulating model– which uses variations in the same week.  This is something we use quite a lot with Tennis players where we will plug in a session which combines Strength and Power a couple of times a week.  Or you can have one session which focuses on a strength and one which focuses on power.  This is an example of the concurrent method – where you are training strength and power in the same week.


In the earlier scenario above, where they miss a few weeks of strength training while they are competing I am less concerned about this.  I feel more confident that I can get them back into their training by progressively increasing load during the first week.  I can do this by doing a 50% load in the first session back (muscular endurance 3 x 12-15), a 75% load in the second (hypertrophy 4 x 6-10) and by the third session of the week we can be getting back to our 100% load (max strength 5×5).  So we top up their strength the first week they are back.


Then in the second week we can do the session which combines Strength and Power a couple of times a week.  Or you can have one session which focuses on a strength and one which focuses on power.  This gets them feeling a little sharper before they go back on the road again.


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APA Price Changes

This article will explain the price changes for all APA clients, which go into effect on 1 April 2023.


What APA Prices are changing?


Starting from 1 April the price of all one-to-one sessions and packages will increase.  See the tables below for more information.


APA Coach Current price per hour New price per hour
Head coach £38.50 £42.50
Senior coach £32.50 £36.50
Junior coach £28.50 £32.50


APA Package Current price per package New price per package
Premium £400 £440
Gold £300 £330
Silver £200 £220
Bronze £100 £110



Why are we increasing prices?


At APA, supporting the needs of our clients is our singular focus.  To do this innovation is key.


Investment in new equipment, new technology, staff recruitment, retainment and professional development drive how we continue to support our clients.  Periodic price increases make sure we continue to deliver the services that best meet your needs.  Not just today, but for many years to come.


How are we telling clients about the price change?


All clients impacted by a price change will be notified by email, in accordance with terms and conditions.  We’ll continue to give you advance notice of any changes we make to your pricing.


Didn’t receive an email?  Check your spam/junk folder.  Be sure that your email address is up to date so that you can continue to receive important updates from us.

How Do You Decide on the Goals of an S&C Programme?

One of the benefits of running a strength & conditioning coaching company is that each year I get to mentor a new set of coaches.  In the last few weeks two questions have been raised by some of the interns which I thought would make a good blog topic for discussion.


  • How do you decide on the goals of the S&C programme?
  • How do you periodise the goals into an Annual Training plan?


Where to Start?


These are fundamental questions all coaches need to ask and a thorough needs analysis is required which boils down to gathering information on:


  • The Athlete
  • The Sport
  • The Training Philosophy of the Organisation


Regardless of which sport you may be focusing on, there are so many outstanding coaches to learn from.  I aspire to have a Training System  that other practitioners will find helpful and be impactful in our industry.  I’m certainly not where I want to be yet, and many of my ideas are influenced by others.  The list is too long to mention everyone but the list below is based on coaches I have taken the time to study their methods in detail.



In this blog I’ll focus on the goal setting process and specifically the Athlete.   Many of my ideas have been influenced by the coaches above, and others besides.  I’ll touch on Periodisation but I’ll go into more detail on that topic in a follow up blog.


The Athlete


When you work with an athlete for the first time, in order to set some goals you need to determine what their strengths and weaknesses are.  This starts with an Assessment process.  Early in my career in 2003 I was fortunate to read ”Athlete Body in Balance – Gray Cook.”



This is still one of my go to texts that I like to re-read each year.  I really like the concept of developing the Athlete through a progressive approach starting with Functional Movement –> then Functional Performance –> and finally Functional Skill.


Functional Movement – Move Well


Off the back of reading Gray’s book and also having the opportunity to learn from Kelvin Giles, I created the APA Physical Competency Assessment (PCA).   I describe it as a bridge between a physiotherapy musculo-skeletal screen and a Fitness test.  We look at the function/competency of the athlete’s movements in a range of patterns:


  • Overhead Squat
  • Lunge & return
  • Single leg squat (pistol on a box)
  • Hop & land
  • Press up
  • Lying pull up


These movements require a combination of mobility and stability and relative body strength.  They show you if an athlete has the competency to perform a movement but they don’t necessarily highlight the reason why an athlete can’t perform them.  Is it a ”software issue”, meaning they  just need to practice the movement more to gain competence and develop the software (the neural input- ability to time and coordinate a specific pattern)?  Or is it that they lack the hardware (the muscles, the bones, and the tissues resulting from not having enough mobility & stability to get into the position in the first place). So this is where the musculoskeletal screen comes in handy as it gives more clues.  Some strength & conditioning coaches are more interested in functional anatomy and physical therapy etc and develop expertise in how to assess individual joints for strength and range of motion.


I personally try to up-skill myself on these type of clinical assessments each year but I’d rather refer out to a physiotherapist for the most part.  I tend to focus more on looking at gross movements rather than individual joints.  However, it definitely pays off to understand Functional Anatomy better.


As Gray Cook says; ”it takes a lot of time for the tissue to remodel.  And when you’re doing strength training for the first time you’re doing software re-organisation for the first 3-4 weeks before you ever get any change in tissues like increased bone density or hypertrophy of muscles.”


That’s because most of us can organise a movement situation well if we are moving well and we do it often enough to allow for healthy adaptation – your first adaptation is going to be neural and your second adaptation is tissue.


Yet much of our fitness is focused on tissue.  Now you may be able to re-set and or reprogramme the neural software in a matter of minutes and get changes within a session.  In terms of tissue re-modelling it takes weeks and months to make those kind of changes, which is why I guess it becomes a focus.


Elite Adult


For an elite adult I broadly talk about it taking 12 weeks to Peak (that’s based on 4-6 weeks strength block*, 2-4 weeks power block and 1-2 weeks speed (peaking) block).  But the strength block is a maximum strength block meaning loads above 85% 1RM from the get go.


For a great example of how a collegiate level athlete might go about this I highly recommend you read Triphasic training by Cal Dietz – or you can read by blog overviews here and here.


Clearly this type of training approach is only appropriate to someone who has training experience and is quite ‘Advanced.’  So a novice adult undertaking a training programme for the first time would need to build up to lifting those kind of loads and would do more ‘basic’ training to prepare for that, which might take another 12 weeks of progressive loading of the tissues.


Below is an example of a 6 month training plan – assuming no interruptions in training, all phases are 4 weeks and separated by a week of unloading.


  • Hypertrophy – 3-4 x 8-15 reps – 65-80% 1RM
  • Strength – 5 x 5-8 reps – 80-87% 1RM
  • Maximal strength – 5 x 3 reps – near maximum force –  93% 1RM
  • Maximal strength* – 5 x 1-3 reps – maximum force – 93-100% 1RM
  • Explosive power – 5 x 3-5 reps  – 50-80% 1RM
  • Speed – 30-50% 1RM



There is an argument that unless you are in the professional sport of power lifting or Olympic weight lifting you may not need to go to maximum force loads due to the extra stress on the body, but I’ll address that when we talk about the demands of the Sport in the next blog.  It’s also not possible in some sports to have athletes commit to 12-24 weeks in a row without some form of competition, so again I’ll address that in the next blog.


I have regularly used this systematic approach in my own training to fully appreciate how my body feels during each training phase.  I have also used it with adult clients who can commit to seeing me consistently.


Key point:  During the first phase, which is associated with lower intensity work, often called Hypertrophy phase, it is a good opportunity to work on the hardware and software to improve how well the athlete moves.   At APA we refer to this as the GET FIT phase.  It’s probably not the best term to describe it, as GET FIT probably makes coaches think of lots of continuous runs and bodyweight circuits.  Although the aerobic fitness is part of it, it is about laying a foundation of fitness that ultimately sets the body up for success in the next phase.


The GET FIT phase would be an ideal time to use the PCA to assess your athlete to see how well they move.


Functional Performance – Move Fast


Needless to say that strength and power work in the gym are critical components of the training we use to develop the ultimate goal of moving fast – producing high forces at high speeds.  There are slightly different assessments we can use to assess the athlete here.


Now I’m not going to go into specific details on the Fitness test and some of the other strength/power tests that you can use as part of the ”Functional Performance,” aspect of assessment.  These are broadly speaking well understood by coaches and are used to see how much horse power the athlete is capable of harnessing.  This is where you can use:


  • Sprint tests – to measure acceleration and maximum velocity
  • Jump tests – to measure power output
  • Endurance tests – to measure aerobic speed and anaerobic power/fatigue index
  • Strength tests – to measure peak force and rate of force development


At APA I personally start to incorporate all these tests with secondary school age children onward (11 years and over) to build up a picture of an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.  Even though there is a typical hierarchy to the way we progressively remodel tissue (progressive overload) – of volume to intensity (endurance to speed) it is still useful to know which aspect the athlete is better or worse at to best target the training most effectively.  Some athletes are better at sprint and jump tests, but find endurance and strength tests more difficult.  Others, for example, are very strong in the gym but struggle to express that force at the time frames required in sport (so will need more speed and power work).  You get some athletes that are outstanding in endurance activities, some who are generally good across the board, and also others who are generally poor in all areas.


Key point:  During the second phase, which is associated with higher intensity work, often called Strength phase, it is a good opportunity to work on upgrading the hardware to improve how fast the athlete moves.   At APA we refer to this as the GET STRONG phase.   If an athlete is a beginner or has had a long period off training, we will do the training in a sequential fashion meaning there will be a focus on strength first.  Then we change focus to Power which at APA we refer to as a GET EXPLOSIVE phase.


The GET STRONG and GET EXPLOSIVE Phase would be an ideal time to do a Fitness test.


Risk Reward


Please be cautious with what sort of assessment you do here and WHEN in the training plan.  All coaches like assessments and numbers and want to benchmark starting levels of functional performance.  This way it is easier to show improvements.  I get it! But you may be testing a quality that you have not yet trained fully so the idea of asking an athlete to give a maximum effort in a particular test (such as a 20m sprint or a 3RM back squat) may be a risk if it comes at the wrong time.


So please be cautious if opting to do a Fitness test at the beginning of a GET FIT phase.


If I am going to do it at the start of a GET FIT PHASE I usually get children to do the Fitness test after a few weeks of training so not to shock the body in the first week or two of resuming training (even though some coaches will say they are not at a true baseline level of performance a few weeks in, I’d rather not take the risk of getting an injury).


As for strength testing, with technology and some simple maths we can estimate strength and power levels pretty well from sub-maximal loads without needing to go to maximum.  APA are fortunate to have a Gym Aware to measure bar velocity so it can help in this regard.


Children versus Adults


Now with children you can’t expect them to reach those levels of tissue loading in 12-24 weeks.


It is generally understood that the body is physically better equipped to handle more intensive training means once children have been through puberty.  By this stage they have finished growing and their hardware has been upgraded thanks to the surge in hormones and increases in lean mass.  So how do you approach working with children?


Long term Athlete Development


In 2005 I read a really interesting book which really helped me to consolidate my ideas around the APA Training System. The book talked a lot about the Key Stages of Long term Athlete Development (LTAD) and also Optimal Windows of Trainability.  The book also gave some really good insights on Periodisation concepts and how much competition per year a child should do as they go through the stages of development.  I’ll go into more detail on this in the next blog.



I used the principles of the book to design six stages for my training methodology (At APA we talk about Basic level– 3 stages – which covers childhood and puberty, approximating 10-under, 12-under and 14-under; and Advanced level – 3 stages- which covers post puberty onward; 16-under, 18-under and pro level).  Note that for girls, these stages could occur two years earlier.  I typically think of post puberty as a jumping off point to ramp up training intensity to the Advanced Method (although I have been known to introduce higher loads in adolescence if the child has a good training history).


I personally give credit also to Jon Oliver & Rhodri Lloyd – The Youth Physical Development Model (2012), which brought into focus the idea that critical windows of training needed updating and actually all training qualities should be trained all the time, and particularly that strength needs to be a focus from middle childhood (5 yrs old) all the way through to adulthood.


Going back to Gray Cook’s point that when you’re doing strength training (or any new skill for that matter) for the first time, you’re doing software re-organisation for the first 3-4 weeks before you ever get any change in tissues like increased bone density or hypertrophy of muscles.  When I think about all the skills I would want a complete athlete to have, that gives you a pretty good idea that one of the priorities in childhood is to learn all the Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) as well as Fundamental Sport Skills (FSS), collectively these are known as Physical Literacy.


If you think about it there are a lot of movement skills to master:


  • ABCs (Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed)
  • RJT (Run, Jump, Throw)
  • KGBs (Kineasthesia, Gliding, Buoyancy, Striking with objects)
  • CPKs (Catching, Passing, Kicking, Striking with body)


When strength is developed alongside FMS it creates a foundation for all other forms of exercise and helps children to develop controlled movements.  So the biggest part of assessment of a youth athlete is assessment of Physical Literacy in a range of skills.


Key Point: At APA we refer to these Fundamentals under the umbrella term ‘SKILL.’  Skill has three sub-components:


  • Reaction speed
  • Balance
  • Coordination – I include all the RJT, KGBs and CPKs under coordination


I refer to Agility & Speed under ‘SPEED’ and there are 5 Biomotor Abilities that make up the APA training system.


  • SKILL              <– Coordination Profile
  • SPEED            <– Fitness test
  • STRENGTH     <– Fitness test
  • STAMINA       <– Fitness test


How Do You Test Skill?


At APA we created the Coordination Profile which is an assessment specifically created to be used with children as it doesn’t bias higher performance to those children who are more physically mature, as you would see with the Fitness test.  To be honest, it used to be a very big part of the Training System, but now the challenges have been incorporated into the syllabus rather than performing lots of assessments with the younger children.


The Full version has 14 different challenges and the Modified version has 7 which includes challenges like skipping rope, throwing, balance, racket skills over an obstacle course, hexagon drill, reaction ball and a jump.


Even if you haven’t created a specific assessment to ‘test’ skill, I’m pretty sure that most coaches have developed a progressive training syllabus where the focus of the skill changes throughout the year.  James Baker was someone in the 2000s who was a leader in bringing more ‘physical’ into the Physical Education syllabus at his school – St Peters High School- between 2013-2017 before moving to Qatar to work at Aspire.  You are only limited by your imagination.


Below are some simple example progressions of skills for speed and strength that could be used to informally assess and teach a youth athlete.  Essentially our annual plan takes into account all the software organisation (uploading) we want to do, so by the end of the year we have more skillful athletes – who MOVE WELL.




Hope you have found this article useful.  I’ve included lots of different links to coaches that have influenced my ideas about athlete assessment.  It should give you plenty of places to look for further ideas on all the different types of assessments you can do.




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Are You Happy?

First of all Happy New Year to all who read this blog.  I’ll spare you the cliched post about setting goals – it’s not that I don’t like to set goals, just that they don’t necessarily need to start in January!


Having said that, Christmas is one of the few times where I take a week off and my laptop doesn’t travel with me, so it does give me more time to reflect.   Because of the way my mind works I really struggle with completely stopping so I tend to favour the kind of ‘stopping’ that allows me to trick my mind into thinking I’m still ‘doing.’


For me this means cooking and reading.  I’m in no hurry to start writing a food blog so instead I just wanted to share with you a summary of a couple of books I did read over the festive period.  Depending on my mood I gravitate to different genres, but usually it’s between business or self development (mindset).


On this occasion, I picked out ”Happy” by Fearne Cotton (2017) and ”I have enough-I do enough-I am enough” by Sheridan Stewart (2023)



The back story for this is that I set my company Vision in 2020 to be ”The Best Tennis S&C Team in the World” by 2025.  I also recently set a personal goal to ”pay off my mortgage in the next 5 years.”  Both of these goals are big scary goals which excite me, but I have realised that they have the potential to pull my time in different (and not entirely complimentary) directions.  To achieve the first goal I feel I need clarity to achieve my vision – my inspiration will be fed by isolation and protection from distraction (meaning having time set aside ALONE to work on the Vision).  To achieve the second goal I need to be committed to working full-time WITH CLIENTS for the next 5 years.


In the last four months I have aimed to work full-time and also work on my Vision.  This has lead me to feel 1) knackered 2) question if it is sustainable? and 3) consider, what makes me the most happy?


I’ve read all the same self-development books as you no doubt have, and one of my all time favourites is ”The 5 AM Club” but the message ultimately speaks to the virtues of sacrifice and suffering in order to achieve your potential and make the biggest contribution/impact in your career.



One quote states:


Victims love entertainment.  Victors adore education


In my 30s I couldn’t get enough education and I had no interest in entertainment, and I didn’t really feel like the sacrifices that other people saw I was making made me suffer- it was fun.  In my 40s it feels a little different and I feel I need more balance.  I still love to educate myself but I feel the need to make more space for other stuff.  I’ve read self-development books that say that the idea of balance doesn’t cross the mind of truly successful people.  I have spoken to a few trusted friends and in my view, it comes back to taking things one day at a time, doing what makes you happy, and knowing that you can change your mind.  I don’t want to feel like a hostage to my goals and constantly be thinking about the future.  It is important to be in the present moment.


Life is a journey, not a destination – Ralph Waldo Emerson


The books definitely helped give me food for thought.  Rather than review the books in detail I’ll just pull out a few paragraphs that resonated with me.  In this blog I’ll start with Sheridan Stewart’s book.  I’ll cover Fearne’s in the next blog.


I have enough – Sheridan Stewart (2023)


On finishing her next book

  • I live in fear of never finishing it.  Why? Because I don’t write enough is the obvious answer.  But is that true?  I don’t write as much or as often as I aspire to but does that mean I don’t write enough?
  • For the past few years I’ve focused on the idea that I don’t write enough and allowed that belief to become entrenched; yet another thing I’m not satisfied with!
  • Did I have the imposter syndrome or was I simply a wannabe writer?
  • But what if I have been writing enough all along.   The need to have ‘just a little bit more’ can creep up on you.


AFFIRMATION – I am learning to trust that I know when I have done enough


On having enough

  • I find myself wondering if holding back from contentment is a learned behaviour?  I often feel trapped, cornered and fearful that I won’t amount to much, won’t achieve my full potential.  Is this what drives me?  And is that a bad thing? I think not, it’s part of how I achieve things, but knowing what is enough doesn’t come easy for me.


On Surrendering

  • I only have one bum, I can only ride one horse at a time.
  • Then something clicks into place, and I realise I’ve confused surrender with giving up.  Giving up implies defeat, but letting go of that which no longer serves us, surrender, is an act of choice.
  • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  Why do I think I’m exempt from the basic principles of life?


On Expectations

  • There is a sweet spot between what we want and what we are willing to do to obtain it.
  • How can I still dream and have goals without feeling like a massive loser if the dream changes when I’m only partway to the goal?
  • What happens when you discover that you don’t really enjoy doing what it takes to manifest that Big Dream? Or maybe the time for that particular dream has passed, you’ve outgrown it and a new dream is emerging?
  • I’m realising that sometimes the role of dreams and goals is to get me up and moving.
  • I’m starting to see them as guides, sparks of inspiration that light a path that may lead me directly to the Holy Grail or I might sidestep to explore other choices and opportunities.
  • This understanding allows me to not become attached to a fixed result or outcome, to let go or adapt when required or desired.
  • Perhaps life doesn’t need to be ALL or NOTHING?


On Taking Action

  • Let’s talk about inclination for a minute.   ”A person’s natural tendency or urge to act or feel in a particular way, a disposition.”  We often talk about our dreams in terms of compromise: ”the acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable.”  I like inclination much better!
  • Weighing up what you think you want to do or achieve, against what you actually feel inclined to do, helps to define your goal towards an outcome that is both satisfying and achievable.
  • A Venn diagram is a great way to identify the sweet spot, where desire and inspiration meet resources and inclination.
  • In the first circle, note your dreams and aspirations, and in the second circle place your resources i.e., available time and money.
  • The place where the circles overlap is where you put what you feel you are inclined to give the project in terms of time and money.
  • Then step back and think if what you are inclined to commit will bring about the outcome you want?
  • If not, adapt the goal to better match your inclination, or wait until you have the desired resources to achieve your desired outcome.


Venn diagram



My Summary


I definitely like the words ”surrender” and ”inclination” rather than thinking of ”quitting” and ”compromise”.  For me personally, I feel inclined to work full-time (right now) as the personal goal of paying off my mortgage sooner is more appealing while I am younger and have the capacity to work more hours.   You also never know when things can change in business so I’d prefer to be busy now when demand is high.


That may change in the future but for now that is what I am inclined to do.  This means that in order to achieve my company Vision of being the ”Best Tennis S&C Team in the World” in the next 3 years I will need help – to bring other coaches and researchers into my world to help me answer some of the questions I have.  Or, if I have to lead this research myself accept that I will need more time to do it with the clarity I choose.  Perhaps I won’t arrive at that clarity in the next 3 years, but that is okay as I’ll look forward to finding my way over a longer period of my career.


Hope you have found this article useful.




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