This blog is a review of the Tennis Files Podcast Episode 33 – S&C For Tennis
Dr. Mark Kovacs
Dr. Mark Kovacs– Dr. Kovacs is a renowned performance physiologist, researcher, author, speaker and coach with an extensive background training and researching athletes and elite performers. His unique skillset has made him one of the worldwide leading performance experts in the area of optimizing human performance through the application of cutting edge, evidence-based information. He formerly directed the Sport Science, Strength & Conditioning and Coaching Education departments for the United States Tennis Association (USTA)
MK on several areas of Tennis fitness that are required
”Overall philosophy of Train hard and recover hard. Like most sports it requires a multitude of physical qualities.
- Endurance- to last long matches
- Dynamic Balance
These are factors that are important in becoming a PROFICIENT ATHLETE first and foremost, and tennis player second. Unfortunately people are so focused on the tennis side of it, hitting tennis balls that sometimes they don’t develop their physical capabilities well enough. We see that at every level of the game. You may have great strokes but if your physical qualities aren’t optimised and you can’t get to the ball, recover from wide balls and fitness for the long term you can’t compete at your highest level for three or four hours.
So it’s really important to look at yourself as a tennis athlete, and make sure you don’t have major limitations in your physical capabilities. It’s definitely an area that can be worked on, and you can do a really good analysis to understand where you are at today, and what areas you need to work on.”
MK on prioritising the different elements of Tennis Fitness
”Everyone is at a different stage of their tennis development. The thing for most tennis players from a speed, power strength perspective is that a lot of that is based on your strength foundation level. So you need to make sure you are doing some form of strength training. That’s really a foundation for a lot of other physical capabilities.
So strength is one component that needs to be a priority. The other is your endurance. You have got to make sure you can last a match as we know plenty of players who are great in the first set and by the third set they’ve got nothing left in the tank. So strength at one end of the spectrum and endurance at the other.
The third big piece is this flexibility/mobility area where you have got to have the right range of motion. You have got to be able to get into the right positions so you can really utilise the energy appropriately meaning the energy up from the ground through the entire kinetic chain out into the ball. That’s where the great players, the efficient athletes do a great job, and get injured less typically.
Athletes that are less efficient are always using the wrong body parts to create their power, they are adjusting at the last minute to hit the ball and those are the players that typically have more issues in the long-term.”
MK on which areas are typically lacking in the adult amateur tennis athlete
”A lot of what you see as a limitation is a lack of general body strength, not necessarily absolute strength but the ability to repeat that movement (muscular endurance. Meaning that when I ask you to perform a single leg squat many of them struggle to put eight through their hip and lower limbs without collapsing or falling one way or the other.
If the lower limbs and core are not strong and stable then we lose energy and have to recruit other muscles to allow us to make contact with the ball. That’s where we see a lot of the problems stemming from.
We want to make sure we have stability with muscular endurance.
MK on which muscle or muscles groups is an area a tennis player typically under trains
”We used to say it was the core, but now people seem to have a greater understanding of the importance of training the core. So a lot more people are now training the entire core region, still sometimes they are doing it with the wrong exercises but that area at least is more of a focus.
The area that doesn’t get enough attention is the lower limb, the calf all the way down to the ankle. This is really the large major joint and last major muscle groups before ground contact, and we know that everything we can get energy wise into the ball comes from the ground. So if we have a weak link at the lower limb then everything further up the chain is limited.
- Ankle range of motion =>stretch it out DAILY
- Ankle stability
- Ankle force generation capabilities => bodyweight squats are a good exercise
MK on type of strength training most appropriate for Tennis players
”A lot of tennis players structure their training to not necessarily increase their size of the muscles but what they are doing is they are developing general strength, power and muscular endurance and they are not trying to increase size of muscle as an objective. However as you age, you want to increase muscle mass because there is a natural aging effect, where you lose muscle mass as you get older.
- Strength foundation – 3×10 (two reps short of a 10 Repetition Maximum- so not going to failure)
- Power– 5×3-5 (30-60% 1RM) -the optimisation of training for a tennis player. Less that 6 reps. Light, Fast and Low Reps.
- Absolute Strength– 5×3-5 (>85% 1RM) less than 6 reps. Heavy, Slow and Low Reps.
- Hypertrophy– 4×6-12
- Muscular endurance– 2-3×8-15
MK on different types of Periodisation for Tennis players
Perioridation is simply a form of planning to increase and decrease load throughout a period of time to optimise your training and be prepared for your appropriate competition. The reason Tennis players train is so that they can compete at a higher level so you need to structure your training with:
- Heavier weeks
- Lighter weeks
- Higher volume
- Lower volume
We can’t do week after week more and more. At some point you will break down. For some players that might be week two or three of a programme. For others that might be week six or eight. But at some point you keep increasing the workload and increasing the intensity you are going to break down, and a structured periodised programme is designed to avoid that!
Monitor the workload, monitor the rest and then pull back on the training depending on what the numbers are telling you objectively. When you start to see signs of fatigue (and there a lot of different ways to monitor that) you want to start backing off and you want to start reducing volume and reducing intensity. Let them recover for two, three, four days or even a week depending on how bad it is, and then start ramping up the training again. If you don’t do that the body will naturally shut it down itself by getting sick or injured and have to take time off.
One way is the block approach– where you really emphasis one specific component for an extended period of time (two to threes strength foundation, two to three weeks absolute strength, two to three weeks power etc. This is a great way to train and develop those areas, no doubt about it, and for athletes who have a traditional season with a full off-season, a full pre-season that’s how I train them (football players, basketball players).
In many Tennis players, they don’t have that luxury as they are competing once a month, every two weeks, may take two weeks on, three weeks compete etc and that’s their entire year. So for those individuals that are competing year round, we use a tennis specific periodised model, which is a form of non traditional periodisation known as concurrent approach. Meaning we do everything every week. We have a strength day, a muscular endurance/hypertrophy day, a power day.
The way we periodise it is we increase or decrease the volume and intensity in a structured way leading into our major tournaments. So certain events where we know aren’t as important as others, where they are competing just for match practice, they are going to train through that tournament somewhat, and maintain their physical training regime so they can really peak for some of the more important tournaments.
MK on some of the best strengthening exercises for the serve
A lot of times people try to fix their serve technique without knowing what the cause of the problem is. Sometimes it’s purely a technical issue that can be changed just with a cue and some practice. Most of the time there is a PHYSICAL LIMITATION that is the reason why you can’t do certain things on the tennis court.
In general the big areas that athletes need to focus on are the hip range of motion. Most people don’t think of the serve as a hip based exercise but that’s really where a lot of the power comes from. So they have to have good hip stability and range of motion.
The second big area is their back leg strength. If they don’t have good strength and power here that needs to be an area of focus.
Once our lower limb and hip is doing it’s job we can focus further up the chain with the core and shoulder.
MK on how to improve Footwork
”Very. very important area. A lot of people think that taking a lot of little steps is the best way to move, and it’s definitely not. It’s actually the slowest way to move on court. We want to be in the air more than we are on the ground, and what that means is that we want to take less total steps to get from A to B.
The problem is we want to do that as quickly as possible but you have to have the right amount of power to generate into the ground and out. So if you think about Usain Bolt at the Olympics, the reason he wins is because he takes less total steps than all his competition in the 100m dash. If the fastest way to move was to take a lot of little steps, we would see everyone shuffling down the track, and we don’t see that for a reason, because the fastest way to move is to take big steps.
Sometimes we do need to take those smaller adjustment steps but that only occurs if something has gone wrong in your movement to the ball
(meaning you haven’t timed it right, you’ve over ran the ball or mistimed the ball that is coming to you). Great movers always look like they are in the right position.
You with individuals that really struggle with movement you have to ask yourself:
- Technique– am I using the most efficient footwork pattern as possible?
- Strength/Power– do I have the leg strength and ability to produce the power to move quicker
- Flexibility/Balance– concept of stability. Do you have the stability to be able to take these larger steps and absorb what you need to absorb, and take another step without losing your balance or taking too much time to regain your balance?
A good oncourt drill to use that work really well is the T line to S line (in service box) 30-sec cross-overs (run facing the net). This is a great exercise because you have to work on not only your footwork, but your change of direction, acceleration. If you do that for 30-seconds that is about a long a point as most people will play, so you get a little bit of speed endurance. You’re starting to get a little tired in the last 10-seconds.
We also like the Spider 5 ball drill.
Focus on your technique and understand your angles of stopping and starting, which is the art of good movement.
MK on areas of flexibility to focus on
- Calves– loosen up that area
- Hip mobility– loosen specifically internal rotators (pigeon stretch)
- Shoulder mobility– internal rotators eg. sleeper stretch
MK on overall athleticism of a Elite Tennis player
Tennis players aren’t going to win any of those traditional competitions on a specific quality. They won’t have the biggest vertical jumps, and jump 40 inches; they will be in the mid twenties or low thirty inch at best. They won’t get a 4.3 seconds 40Y dash, maybe it’s going to be in the 4.6-4.8 range. They aren’t going to put up 20 reps on the 225lb bench.
However, they are going to do pretty well in all those competitions and when you combine all those scores together their average is going to be higher than a (American) football player, because an American football player is not going to have the endurance of a Tennis player etc. You need to be really good at all those physical attributes to be an elite tennis player.
At APA we always promote the use of using a range of exercises, that require a mixture of physical capabilities- it’s just the focus and intensity of those exercises that changes at a given point in time.
For this reason APA would agree with the recommendations to use a concurrent approach to Tennis periodisation with a focus on building a strength foundation.
Top 5 Take Away Points:
- Total athlete– recognise that Tennis is a sport which requires a multi-variate approach with emphasis on strength, endurance and flexibility
- Strength foundation– importance of building relative strength as the foundation of power and speed
- Importance of lower limb strength– make sure you focus on strength of lower limb
- Importance of hip mobility and back leg strength for serve- rather than focusing on the upper body, make sure you are getting the lower half working efficiently first
- Importance of taking big steps- rather than taking lots of little steps remember the fastest way to get from A to B is with big steps.
Want more info on the stuff we have spoken about? Be sure to visit:
You may also like from Tennis Files Podcast:
Episode 136 Functional Training Principles with Mike Boyle
Episode 134 The Tennis Fitness Mega Episode
Episode 125 Explosive Movement with Dean Hollingworth
Episode 119 Tennis Fitness with Nathan Martin
Episode 101 Dr. Greg Rose- How to Reach Peak Athletic Performance
Episode 82 Dr. Sean Drake- RacquetFit and the Body-Tennis Connection
Episode 79 Injury Prevention with Dave Grant
Episode 78 Strength and Conditioning for Junior Athletes with Aaron Patterson
Episode 69 Strength and Conditioning on the Road with Jonny Fraser
Episode 51 Level Up Your Footwork with Dave Bailey
Episode 39 Todd Ellenbecker- Injury Prevention
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