Physical training to prepare for the complexity and variability of the game of tennis needs to include the following components.
- Exercises to stabilize and strengthen the shoulder and the glide and ball-and-socket functions of the shoulder
- Extended kinetic chain (whole body movement), integrated compound exercises
- Exercises to stabilize and strengthen the core
- Exercises to build foundational leg (lower body) strength
- Exercises to build explosive power in the legs to enhance ground force (push-off) in the first kinetic chain link
- Movement patterns to improve dynamic balance, coordination, agility, speed, and quickness (particularly in the first step to the ball), acceleration and deceleration plus adaptive and reactive movement patterns to simulate variability of play
- Exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion
- Unilateral (both contralateral and ipsilateral)/offset patterns and exercises to correct strength imbalances and increase core stability, strength and dynamic balance through anti-rotation, torsional buttressing of the core muscles to support offset weight loads and to maintain position, posture, and balance plus other applicable exercises to address imbalances in muscle length tension relationship (inherent in the nature of the game with one-arm dominance and the requirement for a lower center of gravity)
- Steady-state and interval-based cardio training to improve stamina and endurance
- Dynamic stretching exercises (mimicking the movements patterns of tennis) to warm and prepare the body for more strenuous effort prior to the start of workouts and static, myofascial (with foam roller or ball), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) hold-relax, contract-relax and/or hold-relax with agonist contraction) and/or active isolated stretching (AIS) stretch-based exercises to be performed at the conclusion of workouts
There should be an emphasis on vertical-based exercises from both universal athletic and split-stance positions and compound (multi-joint) exercises (versus isolation exercises). A tennis conditioning program should encompass the 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 and should be progressive with a linear and/or undulating progression in frequency, volume, load, repetitions, intensity and/or difficulty. Exercises should simulate specific tennis work intervals and work-to-rest ratios. The program should include scheduled days (times) for rest and recovery (active recovery) but not extended gaps in training with the risk for loss of gains (as per the theory of use and disuse). Ideally, the program should include a periodization schedule with a preparation phase, pre-competition phase and a competition phase. In general, the workouts should begin in the preparation phase with a high-volume workload and a low level of intensity and complexity and end prior to competition with a high level of intensity and complexity and a low-volume workload.
What does this all mean?
- Tennis is a complex sport with many variables.
- Tennis players should train for all contingencies.
- Tennis is an anaerobic sport requiring a series of intermittent short explosive sprints.
- Tennis players need a strong foundational level of strength to execute stroke and movement patterns.
- Tennis players need an aerobic base to help with recovery and to sustain effort.