For the first time in years, I am pumped about a performance goal. So pumped that I just contemplated having a hard boiled egg as a snack. I didn’t. But I did read through some research journals to help me create a new tennis conditioning workout to add to my tennis preparation plan. I know that ultimately the quality of my game is going to be the biggest determinant of how well I perform on the court this summer, but I also know that I can significantly up my game by being strong and fast enough to get to more shots, and by being fit enough to do so throughout the match. This is the stuff that training provides. Training also has a side-benefit of reducing ones risk of injury.
I am working on improving my tennis ability with a great coach and depending when you talk to me, I’m either excited or frustrated by my progress. I do seem to be getting better, which is cool because I want to start playing tournaments this summer. In fact I’ve even got eyes toward playing in the Canadian Senior Nationals toward the end of the summer, which is conveniently located in Ottawa this year. I haven’t committed to that yet as I want my forehand to be more consistent. What I have committed to is training as though I’m going. Both on the court and off.
What does that entail? What does one do to train for tennis domination? How does one train to be able to return those shots that seem unreturnable? What does a training plan include that allows one to be as fast and reactive in the last point as in the first? Here’s the plan that I am following:
Strength, power, and movement
For the past few months I have been working out in the gym three times per week (up from two) for between 45 minutes and an hour. My workouts start with a dynamic warm-up designed to address movement limitations as well as to get my body ready for the job ahead. Then it’s time for a combination of power and agility. There are a lot of options I program in this section, but most recently I’ve been doing single leg lateral hops, medicine ball slams, and power cleans. After that, I move into the strength section where I build the foundation of strength that will support my body on the court. Currently I’m doing rear foot elevated split squats, one arm kettlebell rows, Pallof presses, deadlifts, cable presses, and single-leg lowering. I either finish with a few stretches, or I do some tennis-specific intervals for conditioning.
That’s what I was doing for the off-season, but now that the outdoor courts are open and I’m playing more, I’m about to drop down to 2 days per week in the gym and adjust my focus from a bit less strength (although it is still a big part) in favour of more core and power work. The reason I’m dropping to 2 days per week is because I’m spending much more time on the court than I was, and I need to be sure that I still give my body adequate time to recover. This is important for everyone, but even more so for those of us who are over forty.
Tennis specific intervals for conditioning
This is the stuff that I developed from reading about game statistics. More specifically, I found an amazing analysis of tennis match play in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. Here are the points that I found to be particularly relevant to the development of a conditioning program for tennis:
- Points are typically 4 to 10 seconds long with 10 to 20 seconds of recovery, with longer recovery bouts in the 60 to 90 seconds range
- The work to rest ratio is between 1.7 and 3.4, which I interpret to mean 1:2 is a good approximation. Note: this is where many people err in building their conditioning programs. They don’t provide adequate rest. That seems like a good idea to some as it seems like you work harder. But do you? Or do you just work slower? More is not always better, but better always is.
- 80% of strokes are within 2.5m of ready position, and there are 4 direction changes in the average point.
From that study, I created two conditioning workouts for myself: one is brief and I do it after one of my gym workouts; the other is a bit longer and I do it as a separate workout on the court after doing a tennis-specific dynamic-warmup (below this paragraph) and a few serves. Having two different conditioning workouts makes sense to me, with one focusing on the short points, and the other focusing on longer points. Although relative to the intervals I program for other sports, neither is long. Here are the two conditioning workouts:
Day 1: Post-gym workout
6 bouts of 5 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest
60 seconds rest
I do this on the slideboard and focus on trying to get as many strides in as I can. It’s easy to look at this and think 5 seconds of work is nothing. But look at it another way: how important is it to explode with those first two steps? Short bursts where you push yourself to be as fast as possible (which means you need rest) are huge helpers with that.
Over the course of May and June, the 6 bouts increases to 8 then 10, then 12.
Day 2: On-Court Conditioning
8 bouts of 10 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest
90 seconds rest
repeat two more times (3 rounds)
I set up one cone at the middle of the baseline, another 3 meters toward the sideline, and another on the sideline (singles). Of the 8 bouts, I do 3 moving to the forehand and shuffling back, 3 moving to the backhand and shuffling back, and 2 moving in for a short ball then back-pedalling. I finish each bout by going the full distance from the ready position to the sideline instead of just the 3m. Over the course of May and June, I increase from 3 to 4 to 5 rounds.
Skill training and practice
Currently I am on court three to four times per week, with one lesson each week and then playing and/or practising with other players two to three times per week. I’m trying to balance enough tennis time to improve, with enough non-tennis time so that I don’t end up with an overuse injury. I am also going through some “inner game” issues, which I will share in a separate post – the brain really is amazing in both a good and bad way!
Rest and recovery
If you add up all of the training in my plan above, you get to 7 training sessions per week. I am a believer in a day of rest, which means in order to get my full training plan in, I will need to double up at least one day per week. So far I find this very doable, and will often either do a workout at noon and then play in the evening, or I will play twice on a weekend day. Given that of the time I only get 45 to 60 minutes of court time at the club, booking two games in a day will theoretically give me a taste of tournament play where matches may be longer.
For me the day of rest doesn’t have to be completely without activity, but I believe it should be with low intensity and different activity. I typically go for a bike ride or a nature walk on my recovery day.
I eat relatively well most of the time, and maintain a body fat level that I think provides a good balance between performance and enjoyment. I may change my tune over the next month and tighten up my diet a bit to include fewer indulgences, but for now that is not part of my plan. I do, however, take a post-workout recovery drink during my gym workouts, and between tennis games if I am doubling up. I mix water with a powder that is 2:1 carbohydrate to protein and has just under 200 calories per serving.
That’s my game plan for the summer. I’ll be sure to update this post at the end of the summer with my progress. Or at least if I do well, I will.
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Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer specializing in sports performance and training around injuries.