Strength and Conditioning for Tennis

[cs_content][cs_section parallax=”false” style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_text]After watching the Australian Open, you might be feeling inspired to take your tennis to a new level. Undoubtedly, the athletes on court are there, at least partly, for two reasons – they are physically capable and they aren’t injured. This is the result of world-class strength and conditioning programs which ensure athletes are healthy and performing to the best of their abilities. These programs deal with the unique challenges faced by tennis players.
• Up to 5 hours of repeated high intensity efforts
• Short, high intensity points (average hardcourt rally lasts just 6 seconds (9)
• Relatively long recovery between high intensity efforts (1:2 work/rest ratio) (4,5,8)
• Approx 1000 shots played per match
• Short sprints (Average distance to ball contact is just 3 metres (11))
• Repeated, powerful trunk rotation (11)

4 things to think about when developing a tennis strength and conditioning program:
1. Focus on the shoulder (injury prevention & force production)

Shoulder injuries are the most common upper body injury in tennis players (10). Therefore, to keep the athlete on the court, shoulder health is vital. During the serve and forehand, tennis players create rapid internal rotation resulting in huge torque around the shoulder joint. Unfortunately, this means that once the serve is delivered, the athlete must rapidly control the deceleration of the racquet head. When this deceleration is occurring hundreds of times per match, multiple times a week, eventually injuries can happen. Thankfully, there are a few things a good strength and conditioning program can deliver to make sure the athlete is on court, strong and ready to go:
Make sure there are no muscle imbalances between the front and back of the shoulder.
As the serve and forehand are both anteriorly dominated, muscle imbalances in the shoulder joint are common. Therefore, it is up to the strength and conditioning coach to make sure the back of the shoulder can cope with the forces experienced in the deceleration phase of these strokes.
Maintain shoulder range of motion
Research suggests that shoulder range of motion (especially internal rotation) decreases over time in tennis athletes (1,2,6). Therefore, in an effort to reduce this injury risk it is vital that shoulder flexibility is taken into consideration. This can easily be programmed to do at home to maximise time-efficiency in the gym.
Strengthen internal rotation
Upper arm internal rotation plays a substantial role in racquet velocity with professional players reaching velocities of 3000° per second (7). Therefore, the importance of internal rotation development shouldn’t be underestimated. Therabands are a great tool for developing shoulder rotation, especially at home or on the road.

2. Make sure the athlete can rotate their torso powerfully

Groundstrokes, which contribute the majority of shots played in modern tennis, rely heavily on powerful trunk rotation. This poses a unique challenge to coaches of how to best train trunk rotation. A solid foundation can be achieved using ‘traditional’ training methods such as cable rotations or medicine ball throws. After this, it is desirable to train the stretch shortening cycle to exploit the elastic properties of the athlete’s muscles and tendons. Research tends to suggest that athletes can increase their racquet head speed by around 20% just by utilizing an ‘eccentric’ stretch (3). To produce this pre-stretch in the medicine ball throw, a coach could stand in front of their athlete and throw them the ball. As soon as the ball is caught, the athlete must rapidly decelerate the ball and throw it back mimicking a forehand or backhand. When doing so, keep the medicine ball light to allow power to be developed.
3. Strength endurance is key!

A male tennis player in a grand slam can expect matches to last for up to 5 hours, during which, the athlete may be required to hit 1000 shots (11). To be successful, the player must continue to produce powerful shots. Therefore, strength endurance is particularly important for tennis athletes. To develop endurance, keep the reps high!
4. Make the lower body strong!

The lower body of tennis players must be strong for two reasons; it is the location of most tennis injuries (10), and it contributes to powerful stroke production and fast movement (11). A skilled athlete will transfer force from the lower body to the racquet but, if the legs aren’t strong there won’t be any force to transfer. Research tends to suggest that both knee extension and flexion both contribute to powerful shot production (11). Therefore, it is important to load both movements. As for increasing speed on the court, movement on a tennis court is short, but time constrained. This means the first step must be powerful to get into position early and well balanced. Exercises which promote lower leg, horizontal power, such as weighted horizontal jumps would be a great way to train for this!

Author: Russell Rayner 
1. Ellenbecker, T and Roetert, EP. Age specific isokinetic glenohumeral internal and external rotation strength in elite junior tennis players. J Sci Med Sport 6: 63–70, 2003.
2. Ellenbecker, TS, Roetert, EP, Bailie, DS, Davies, GJ, and Brown, SW. Glenohumeral joint total rotation range of motion in elite tennis players and baseball pitchers. Med Sci Sports Exerc 34: 2052–2056, 2002.
3. Elliott, B. The development of racquet speed. Biomech Adv tennis 33–47, 2003.
4. Fernandez, J, Pluim, BM, Mendez-Villanueva, a, and Pluim, BM. Intensity of tennis match play. Br J Sports Med 40: 387–391; discussion 391, 2006.
5. Groppel, JL and Roetert, EP. Applied Physiology of Tennis. Sport Med 14: 260–268, 1992.
6. Kibler, W Ben, Chandler, TJ, Livingston, BP, and Roetert, EP. Shoulder range of motion in elite tennis players Effect of age and years of tournament play. Am J Sports Med 24: 279–285, 1996.
7. Kibler, WB. Biomechanical analysis of the shoulder during tennis activities. Clin Sports Med 14: 79–85, 1995.
8. Kovacs, MS. Applied physiology of tennis performance. Br J Sports Med 40: 381–5; discussion 386, 2006.Available from: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2653871&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract
9. O ’donoghue, P and Ingram, B. A notational analysis of elite tennis strategy. J Sports Sci 19: 107115, 2001.
10. Pluim, BM, Staal, JB, Windler, GE, and Jayanthi, N. Tennis injuries: occurrence, aetiology, and prevention. Br J Sports Med 40: 415–423, 2006.
11. Reid, M and Schneiker, K. Strength and conditioning in tennis: current research and practice. J Sci Med Sport 11: 248–256, 2008.[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]

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