Dear Coach: Need Help Writing Workouts For a Tennis Player

This week Coach Tom helps us figure out how to program workouts for a sport-specific athlete trying to build power and endurance. In this case it’s tennis, but it could work for any sport.

Dear Coach,

I’m doing a periodisation plan for an elite tennis player, but am struggling to find good power endurance exercises for the upper body!


Dear Jo,

First of all, let me commend you on your desire to make this elite tennis player even better. I am sure they appreciate that!

Regarding the implementation of upper-body exercises to enhance the power and endurance of your athlete, let’s simplify your pursuit by what we currently know: They are an elite tennis player. They are highly skilled, competitive and experienced in the upper-level of competition. Therefore, they “have it” already, but you want to improve it or at least maintain it.

Power is force-time dependent. That is, maximal power is the ability to apply the greatest force in the least amount of time. Imagine, POW! Endurance refers to the ability to repeatedly exert appropriate force over an extended period of time. You want wear your opponent out.

Power-endurance would therefore be the ability to exert maximal force over the entire length of a tennis match. Imagine, POW! POW! POW! POW! POW!

So, here is how you can help your elite player:

Power is best developed by increasing muscular strength (the force component) and applying this force as fast as possible (practicing skills EXACTLY as needed in high-level competition). So, you need to increase their upper-body muscular strength and hone/refine tennis skills.

Endurance is developed by repetitive performance of the desired skills and training the body’s energy system(s) responsible for executing those desired skills. That is, 1) practice, practice, practice what you want to see in competitions and 2) implement a “conditioning” program that improves the energy system(s) responsible for the execution of those skills.

How do you develop strength? Understand that hitting a tennis ball with maximum velocity is contingent on total-body strength. Force is generated through the ground from the legs, then through the torso, and finally through the arms. Therefore, make sure to also strengthen the lower body, mid-section (abdominals & low back), along with the upper body via comprehensive strength training protocols.

How do you develop endurance? As previously mentioned, 1) repetitive practice of the skills need in competition (which may be many!) and 2) energy system improvement. Tennis is one of those sports where hundreds of quick/explosive actions are required over an entire match. Perform TENNIS skill drills and TENNIS-specific agility runs of :05 to :15 to develop quickness and explosiveness and longer, interval-type runs of :30 to 1:30 to enhance general endurance qualities.


Tennis skill drills:

Bouts = 30+

Work time = :05 to :10

Rest between bouts = :15 to :40, depending on their level of fitness

Tennis-specific agility runs:

Bouts = 15+

Work time = :10 to :15

Rest between bouts = :30 to 1:00, depending on their level of fitness

Interval runs:

Bouts = 10+

Work time = :30 to 1:30

Rest between bouts = 1:00 to 3:00, depending on their level of fitness

Understand there are numerous protocols and scripts to increase strength and endurance. Don’t let “periodisation” and its nomenclature (e.g., macrocycle, mesocycle, power-endurance, speed-endurance, starting-strength, etc.) confuse you. They are simply fancy words used to describe a sensible plan of training that addresses overload, adaptation, and recovery with a variety of exercise modes and protocols. As you now know, it can be overwhelming.

To keep it simple and workable, make sure your elite player is exposed to the following to maximize their power-endurance:

  • Total-body strength training.
  • Repetitive practice of tennis skill drills.
  • Tennis-specific agility drills.
  • Interval runs for general endurance.

Let us know how it goes!

Coach Tom Kelso

(Click here for articles by Coach Tom)

Leave a Comment

Do Not Sell My Personal Information