Over the last five years, there has been a major shift in the perception and practice of physical training and its relationship to on-court performance. Instead of looking at becoming “fit” as a means to an end, players are now looking for programs that will enhance actual tennis skills.
One common flaw to recent tennis performance training is to simply resist tennis-specific movements or skills. The thinking is that if you make these movements “harder,” the athlete will get stronger and more explosive in those movements. At first glance, this might seem “functional” for the game of tennis, but it can become problematic and even considered negligible. An example of this would be to resist the forehand, backhand or serve with a cable system. Since this is not how the racquet actually “feels” going through the stroke, this drill will create neural “confusion” and can alter the stroke mechanics. You would also be resisting an already over-utilized movement that competitive players are using hundreds of times every day. This will inevitably lead to an overuse injury, especially in players who are compensating through their stroke to begin with.
When designing tennis-specific training programs, you must take into consideration many other factors besides the sport of tennis. Tennis performance is the primary goal, but a quality program is derived from a quality assessment of what is needed. To get on the right track, you must ask yourself:
►What is the athlete lacking?
►Is it mobility or stability?
►Are speed and agility holding them back from being the player they could be?
►What about power and strength deficiencies?
►Are they injured a lot?
►Do they lose their intensity and wear out at the end of a match or tournament?
Once you ask these questions, you can begin to design a program with priorities. Priorities will keep you on track to do what is needed to enhance the physical attributes that comprise an athlete. After the athletic “weak links” are addressed, you can start to think about being more specific. You can develop conditioning protocols that mimic the start and stop of a match. You can implement exercises to improve rotational power for your serve. You can add any training that enhances the musculature, endurance and speed involved in tennis movements, not the actual tennis movements themselves. Once you start messing with the actual tennis movements, you have crossed a fine line that should only be crossed by a teaching pro. It is also important to note here that a teaching pro should not cross the line into performance training unless they have training in body biomechanics and how resistant force can impact functional movement.
The ankle and wrist weights, the cable attachments on racquets, and all the other circus-like balancing exercises while you hit a ball can look cool and specific, but they are far from what is needed to build a better-performing tennis player.