Strength Training for the Modern Tennis Athlete
The physical demands of tennis have changed over the past 10 years, as players are required to hit the balls much harder and move more quickly and explosively. The body needs to be better conditioned to generate more power and perform at these faster paces. With the number of tennis players in the United States nearing 18 million and growing, these increased demands present an increased risk of injuries.
Weakness and Injury Risk in Tennis
Strength and conditioning play a pivotal role in injury prevention. Unfortunately, the tennis athlete is not always prepared to handle the demands of their sport. Poor posture, weak cores, limited range of motion in joints, and strength imbalances exhibited throughout their bodies are a few liabilities linked to injury.
A strength imbalance means that one group of muscles acting at a joint is considerably stronger or weaker than the other muscle groups that work at that joint. For example, due to the combination of sitting, electronics, and tennis itself, the muscles that internally rotate the shoulder are usually extremely strong, and the external rotators are weak in comparison. This imbalance may cause the shoulder joint to move abnormally, which could lead to injury. Training all of the muscle groups around the joint instead of just the “functional” tennis muscles will help reduce injury, promote proper joint function, and keep the athlete on the court longer.
The Core and the Kinetic Chain
Core strength is another key element that should be in every tennis player’s strength program. Our core includes all of the muscles in our midsections, including the front, back and sides. The core also includes the traverse abdominis, erector spinae, obliques, and your lower lats. These muscles work as stabilizers for the entire body. If they are too weak, it may result in lower back pain and tendonitis. Ten years ago, tendonitis presented itself as the primary injury in tennis players, but we now realize that it is just a symptom of muscular instability in the shoulder, or weakness in the core of the body. Keeping these core muscles strong can do wonders for your posture and help give you more strength in other exercises.
Our bodies are made up of a series of successively arranged joints and segments that have an effect on one another during movement. When one is in motion, it creates a chain of events that affects the movement of neighboring joints and segments constituting a kinetic chain.
In tennis, this chain allows power to be transferred through the body and into the racquet. Our core is an important link in this movement chain, since it is one of the main force transfer points between your hips and the racquet. If that link breaks, or becomes weaker over the course of a practice or a match, the other links in the chain will be forced to handle the extra stressors that the core couldn’t handle. To be effective, tennis players must consistently train the core of the body to be able to generate the power and balance that is needed . Next time you watch Andy Murray hit a baseline forehand, watch how he uses his entire body to generate power rather than just his arms.
Mobility Concerns for Tennis
The third area that players typically need to develop is mobility. One of the areas commonly identified as a weakness in today’s players is lack of mobility, predominantly in the shoulders, hips and lower back. Lack of mobility will cause forces to concentrate at specific points in their joints during a swing instead of moving through a complete range of motion. This places added stress on the other structures around the joint, possibly leading to injury.
Mobility training should be a part of any proper strength and conditioning program. Static stretching is no longer the gold standard, and hasn’t been for quite some time. Proper mobility programs involve performing dynamic movements, in which players stretch while moving in ways they might on the court. This allows the athlete to warm up while improving mobility. The hip flow or something similar should be included in every athlete’s training plan.
Training for a Stronger Tennis Game
Injuries can be very damaging to a player’s season. An injury occurring at the wrong time can result in a loss of practice time or even cost them their season. Consequently, every coach and player should seek out all possible methods to minimize the risk of injury.
Proper conditioning, core strength, and mobility are the three main areas that should be the focus of a tennis strength program. Making sure to strengthen all muscles of the body and not just those that make sense for tennis will allow the athlete to maintain relatively normal ranges of motion and reduce the risk of injury. Unfortunately, not all injuries can be eliminated, but by following these basic points, their incidence can be diminished.
Below is a five-week training program that I have written for you to use as a guide.
And here are some demonstrations of the ab complexes in the program. Have fun and play hard!
How full is your range of motion?