If someone asks you to play tennis wearing ankle weights, run away as fast as you can while you are still able. Remarkably, some tennis coaches have their young students use external weights, such as ankle weights, weighted vests and weighted rackets. This dangerous practice will undermine performance, as well as often permanently harm the growing and vulnerable joints, tendons and ligaments of children, especially between the ages of eight and 14 when these athletes are going through their peak height velocity growth stage.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American College of Sports Medicine, and The National Strength and Conditioning Association all support strength training for kids ... if done properly. They all, however, warn of the perils of wearing or carrying external weights while performing running jumping or throwing movements.
This is because even a small weight as little as two pounds worn on an ankle for example, can produce an enormous amount of external force while running. While these forces will strengthen the front quadriceps muscles [which is the compelling argument for wearing the weights] they will do so unevenly. Note that most young players are already too "quad dominant." The hamstrings will not strengthen, which will result in increased asymmetry and greater injury risk. Hip flexors, another common problem area for young athletes who sit in school all day, will be stressed. Moreover, the athlete's knees will be asked to bear greater forces than what they are designed to normally withstand. The results, if you are lucky will be functional limitations because of the strength imbalances as well as the the neural confusion created. If you are less fortunate, then you will be injured.
Weighted vests and weighted rackets worn while playing tennis invite similar consequences and injuries to the lower back, T-spine and shoulders of young athletes.
If players do not "own" the movements, then it is detrimental to add external load. Even with perfect movement patterns, I question the need to add weight since that is not what the racket is going to feel like in a match, so why train it that way?
The Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians asks them to "First ... Do No Harm ..." That's sound advice for tennis coaches to consider before asking young athletes to engage in harmful practices such as wearing ankle weights.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.