Tennis Conditioning (Part 1)

Factors to Consider in Developing a Tennis-Specific Tennis Conditioning Program

  1. Tennis is unpredictable with variability of point length and length of match times. While points last on average from three to 15 seconds depending on styles of play, court surfaces and playing conditions, players must prepare to play points that last for as little as one second to points that last well over one minute. The longest men’s point on record at a grand slam event between Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon (won incidentally by Simon) lasted one minute and 40 seconds and included a rally of 71 shots. Match duration also varies based on scoring formats, player matchups and competitive balance, playing styles, court surface, playing conditions, etc. with matches lasting less than one hour and matches lasting four or more hours. The longest match in tennis history between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut (won by Isner) lasted 11 hours, five minutes. Tennis is a game of intermittent play with periods of activity followed by breaks for recovery, collection of balls, change sides for service and return and change of ends during odd games and sets. Factoring in time between points, games, and sets (20 seconds between points, 90 seconds during changeovers and two minutes between sets), average work to rest ratios range from 1:2 to 1:5.
  2. In addition to a variability in point length and match duration, tennis is also unpredictable with variability in shot selection and tactics, court coverage, strategy, and choice of playing style, match tempo and duration, weather (climate), court surface and opponent playing style, strategy, shot selection and tactics. Players must respond to varying levels or degrees of pace, spin, and trajectory. There is a requirement to hit from different court positions, respond to balls hit from different angles and lines of direction, maintain or redirect ball path direction, hit balls in the air with volleys or after the bounce as the ball is rising, at peak height or dropping, hit balls at varying heights and distances (spacing) from the body, generate pace or take pace off the ball and maintain, change, increase and/or decrease spin and the type of spin.
  3. The game of tennis requires a considerable amount of dynamic court coverage with explosive starting and stopping, linear and multi-directional footwork patterns, acceleration, deceleration, and repeated short sprints up to an extreme distance of approximately 80 feet. Tennis includes an average of three to five changes of direction per point. With an average of 60 points per set, that amounts to 360 to 600 changes of direction per two-set match. On average, 70% of court movement is in a lateral direction, 20% in a forward direction and 10% in a backward direction. In an analysis of 2016 ATP singles playing data, the average court distance covered per point was 65 feet. The average court distance covered for points with rallies of five or more shots was 138 feet and the average court distance covered per match was 2.8 miles. On average the serve returner had to cover 10% more court distance per point (12% more if the first serve was put in play and 7% more for second-serve points). Although not always a correlation due to different playing styles and match ups, on average players covering more court distance lost 58% of points played.
  4. With periods of low and high periods of intensity, stop/start requirements of play and repeated short explosive bursts of energy in sprinting to the ball, stroke execution and recovery after the shot, tennis can be categorized as primarily an anaerobic sport. Tennis predominantly taps the ATP-PCr (phosphocreatine) system (the first and most immediate source for energy) and the anaerobic glycolysis system (the second source for short-term energy utilized as stores of phosphocreatine are depleted). There is also an aerobic component to the sport in recovery (and replenishment of energy resources) between points and after play and to maintain stamina (and the ability to repeatedly generate explosive actions) through the duration of match play. The mean maximum heart rate for competitive match play ranges from 60 to 80% (with heart rates reaching 95% of maximum heart rate during long and intense rallies). Elite male tennis players have VO2max levels above 60 milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min) with mean maximum VO2 levels ranging from 60 to 70% during competitive match play. Average blood lactate concentration levels range from 1.7 to 3.8 mmol and can increase to 8.6 mmol during high intensity play.  In terms of ventilatory zones, elite players generally spend 77% of match time at or below VT1 (aerobic threshold), 20% at a moderate to high level of exertion between VT1 and VT2 (anaerobic threshold) and 3% at a high level of intensity above anaerobic threshold.
  5. Tennis requires complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, endurance or stamina, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and explosive and reactive power. Success in tennis requires keen hand-eye coordination (particularly in the relationship between the hand and racquet face). A slight deviation in the angle and position of the racquet face at the point of contact can be the difference between hitting a shot two inches inside the line or two inches outside the line.
  6. Force production begins in the legs and is transferred throughout the body to the finer control muscles of the hand and wrist. Force is transferred through a kinetic chain involving many different body segments. Power is transferred in sequence from the feet in pushing off the ground to the lower legs, upper legs, hips, trunk, shoulders, upper arms, forearms, and hand(s). More body segments are engaged in an extended kinetic chain when the requirement is to generate high racquet head acceleration at the point of impact such as with the serve and groundstrokes. A reduced number of body segments operate more as a unit where more precision (and less racquet head acceleration) is required for strokes such as the volley. All tennis strokes and movement patterns follow a strength curve with descent (eccentric), amortization and ascent (concentric) phases of energy distribution. Tennis force production includes a stretch-shortening cycle of eccentric and concentric contractions, loading and unloading of weight distribution, horizontal and vertical linear momentum, and angular momentum.
  7. Footwork requires an explosive first step and an efficient, quick, and agile step pattern to the ball to facilitate the shot and in recovery after execution of the shot. It requires dynamic balance with a quiet upper body, head positioned within the shoulder triangle and centered over the hips, controlled center of gravity and a wide and low base of support.
  8. Multidirectional movement in tennis requires concentric strength (particularly in the propulsion or push-off phase), eccentric strength (most exemplified in deceleration) and stabilization strength (strength to stabilize the musculature of the trunk and lower extremities). Efficient movement in tennis requires hitting from open and closed positions and technical mastery of many different footwork patterns and steps including split, adjustment, shuffle, crossover, skip, gravity, drop, scissors kick, carioca, and backpedal steps.
  9. Tennis operates in multiple anatomical planes. In the sagittal plan, actions include flexion, extension and foot dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. Actions in the frontal plane include abduction, adduction, scapula elevation and depression and foot inversion and eversion. In the transverse plane, actions include rotation, hand pronation and supination and horizontal flexion and extension. Other multiplane actions include hand ulnar and radial deviation, thumb opposition and reposition and circumduction. Tennis requires execution of all five movement patterns – bending and lifting (e.g., squatting), single-leg movements (e.g., single-leg stance and lunging), pushing movements, pulling movement and rotational (spiral) movements.
  10. Muscles engaged in the first link of the kinetic chain include the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles -of the lower legs. Power and energy are next transmitted utilizing the hamstring and quadricep muscle groups of the upper legs and then transferred to the core muscles via the glute and other hip extensor and flexor muscles through hip flexion, extension, and rotation. The abdominals, obliques, latissimus dorsi and erector spinae are the main core or trunk muscles engaged in the next link of the kinetic chain. The abdominal muscles consist of the rectus abdominis transverse abdominis muscles. The kinetic chain then extends to the upper body.  The upper-body kinetic links include the major muscles of the chest, shoulders, upper back, and arms.  The main chest muscles are the pectorals. The shoulder muscles include the deltoids and rotator cuff muscles, and a group of four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) supporting the shoulder joint.  The main upper back muscles are the rhomboid and trapezius muscles.  The major muscles are the biceps and triceps in the upper arm and the flexor and extensor muscles in the lower arm or forearm. The fascial system (fibrous myofascial web) and other connective tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) also play an important role in the kinetic chain with proprioception (ability to sense and respond to stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium) and the distribution and transfer of elastic energy.

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