Your strength training routine should be designed with one goal in mind: improve your tennis performance.
If your sport was powerlifting, your workout would emphasize heavyweights. But your sport is tennis and that means your workout should include exercises that prevent injury, improve your agility and increase your power.
Follow these 13 strength training tips to ensure your program suits your needs and helps you develop your tennis game.
1. Bodyweight First
If you can’t stabilize, control and move efficiently with only your body weight, you have no business using heavy external loads. And yet, many tennis players, despite their inability to move their body weight, still are eager to power lift.
Remember, some of the strongest athletes are gymnasts who spend most of their time manipulating their own bodies around the gym.
Before you turn to the bench press, work on stabilizing your shoulder girdle and core by completing push-ups.
A strength program in the beginning stages will likely involve no weights. Don’t fret. A body weight-focused program will work better and faster than one that relies primarily on weights and machines because muscle recruitment and control are far more important than maximal strength.
2. Train in a Standing Position
The majority of your training should take place on your feet because you spend most of your time playing in that position.
While there are exceptions to this rule, we always lose something when we go from a standing position to seated or lying down.
3. Train with Free Weights
I still see programs out there that include leg extensions and leg curls. Machines limit your range of motion and control the movement.
Machines can have some limited benefits for beginners, but you need to learn to stabilize and control your body in all three planes of motion simultaneously.
4. Use Multiple Joints
Single joint strength (e.g. leg extension machine, bicep curls) develops strength in the wrong areas. If your strength doesn’t transfer to the court, then what’s the point of having it?
Machines that isolate have a limited place in the preparation of a tennis player.
5. Train with Explosiveness
Some people feel that explosive moves are dangerous. If you want quick racquet speed and to hit with power, then training explosively is a must because it mimics what happens on court.
6. Train Movements, Not Muscle Groups
Isolated muscle group training (outside of rehabilitation) has no place in your routine. Focus on strengthening specific movements by using your body to work in an integrated fashion.
7. Train Unilaterally and Multi-planar
Most strength training programs train you in one plane (sagittal) with bilateral, or two, movements.
However, the majority of tennis takes place in all three planes simultaneously with many movements. Some 85 percent of the gait cycle (walking, running) is spent with one leg in the air. Most of the shots you play rely on the dominance of one leg.
All your leg training should include exercises such as split squats, step-ups, and lunge variations.
8. Use All Three Methods
A well-balanced workout should include dynamic effort, max strength and repeated effort exercises.
Traditional strength training programs have wrongly borrowed from outdated bodybuilding concepts and focused overwhelmingly on building max strength.
However, you need to remember that the most important factor is the rate of force production. In the world of sport, speed is king.
This method, known as dynamic effort, uses relatively lighter weights moved at max speed.
Your workout routine should also employ max strength exercises, which involves lifting heavy loads, and the so-called repeated efforts method, exercises that use multiple sets and reps.
Conventional wisdom tells us a training routine should progressively increase. But many folks don’t realize that a training program should also be progressively and periodically varied.
If you spend too much time on one program you’ll habituate to the positive aspects while accumulating the negative aspects. This creates performance plateaus and injury situations.
Keep things varied to keep your body guessing.
10. Avoid Mimicking Skills
Make sure the roles of strength and conditioning and skill training are separate. Overloading a technique affects the mechanics of the technique negatively.
If there is any danger that the training you are doing forces you to change your technique then stop immediately. Remember, the role of conditioning training is not skill training.
11. Balance Your Training
Make sure you address pushing and pulling on both horizontal and vertical planes and attempt to balance the loading.
If you’re bench-pressing 400 pounds, but can only do a chest-supported row with 50 pounds, your shoulder girdle is going to suffer.
If you can’t handle the same loads for two opposing movements, then increase the volume of the weaker movement by doing an extra exercise or an extra set or two.
12. Get Out of the Weight Room
Try some other forms of training such as sled dragging, uphill sprints or running stadium stairs. The more varied and interesting the workout, the better chance you’ll stick with the program.
13. Train the Antagonists
The speed of a serve or a forehand is determined largely by the ability of the antagonist (opposing muscle to main muscle) to eccentrically decelerate your joint action and prevent joint injury. If you can’t safely and effectively slow down an action, then it will not allow you to achieve full acceleration.