Won’t Playing Tennis Get Me In Shape For Tennis?

Why would someone need to do strength and conditioning in order to get in good tennis condition? Isn’t playing and practicing for tennis supposed to be the best way to get in shape for and fit for tennis? That may seem quite logical at first glance. Unfortunately, even players who train 5+ hours a day without doing other tennis specific physical conditioning may be in extremely poor match playing condition.   I am aware that this seems strange, but players who only practice and play tennis are in no way improving their physical fitness for tennis.  Will all types of off court physical training help my tennis?

After being extremely tired, overpowered, and or not able to effectively run down balls, players oftentimes come to the harsh conclusion that their fitness levels are just not allowing them to advance to the next level.  At that point of realization, a tennis player can choose to take several different paths. Some will lead them to extreme success and others will cause little or no improvement, or possible injury. Here we are going to look at three different training scenarios and their potential to either help or hinder performance.

Example 1:

A player may choose to run 3-5 miles/3-5x a week in an effort to gain more endurance and become more fit.  By doing this, the player may believe that they will have more stamina and a greater ability to endure long matches.  The reality of what players are actually doing is harsh.  Running these long distances will train players to move slower. How is this so? Well, all exercise physiologists and certified strength and conditioning specialists are well aware of the S.A.I.D. Principle.  S.A.I.D. is the acronym for specific adaptions to imposed demands.  All fine and good, but what the heck am I saying??? Simply stated, it means that you should train as you would play. Running 3-5 miles at a continuous pace, in a straight line, with no rest will train the legs to move slowly and the heart to beat at a continuous tempo.  A tennis match consists of many points that seldom last for more than 25 seconds  and have a rest period of 25 seconds between points and 90 seconds during changeovers. Therefore, doing repeated interval runs of 100-400 yard distances  with repeated agility work of (10-40 seconds) would be the best approach for the necessities of tennis. (anaerobic endurance, speed, heart rate spikes)

Example 2:

A player heads to the weight room and begins doing several machine exercises in an attempt to somehow magically  hit the tennis ball harder and handle pace better.  Although machines may have some place in a beginning strength program, they will not translate into the type of functional strength necessary for tennis.  Unfortunately, machines dictate a players range and motion of movements. Unlike machines, tennis strokes use many different muscles in various planes of movement.  A better idea for gaining functional strength for tennis is the usage of free weights and medicine balls, which will allow the user to utilize their own particular range of motion and several muscle groups that are specific to tennis during an exercise.

Example 3:

I know so many players who read about their favorite tennis professional and then over zealously attempted to copy an exact routine.  The player does this with the intention of getting into shape quickly. Unfortunately, they are usually not anywhere close to the fitness levels of Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. Therefore,  copying one’s favorite players routine can at best lead to muscle staleness and at worst can lead to burnout or injury.  One should begin a program at their own pace. Preferably, they would want a customized or semi-customized program created for them after taking a fitness for tennis test.  Training should be tennis specific, specific to the players playing style, and specific to the players needs.

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