PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the High Performance Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.
By Scott Riewald & Mike Nishihara, USTA Sports Science
Q: I've played tennis for almost two year. I feel that I need to get more strength and more fitness for the better on-court performance. I've never been to the weight room before, and I am a little bit over-weight. It seems that my abdominals needs more exercise. So I am a beginner of the strength training. Could you tell me how to start the strength training or give me some place to look?
A: Congratulations on “seeing the light” and recognizing that fitness and strength training are an important contributor to on-court performance. Strength and conditioning is one area where most tennis player can afford to put in a little more work. Any player can benefit by participating in a properly designed strength training program. As you will read in other parts of this column, tennis is a full body activity, and thus you need to train the muscles in the entire body. The core, which includes the abdominal muscles, is one of the more important areas to train since it links the upper and lower halves of the body.
Keep in mind that training the abdominal muscles will tone the abdominal muscles but this will not cause a spot reduction on the fat stores around the belly. Fat is reduced by a combination of maintaining a healthy diet and exercising. Then fat will be used up from all areas of the body.
For a beginner looking for resources on strength training, we recommend the book Core Performance, written by Mark Verstegen – Director of Athletes’ Performance. It gets into the many different components that make up an effective training plan, from diet to exercise, and is provides special considerations for the beginner athlete. The book can be purchased from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/157954908X/103-4651757-2125426?v=glance.
Q: Is it better for girls to use a smaller weight with more reps or larger weight with fewer repetitions?
A: There is no rule saying a female tennis player should lift lighter weights or do less strength training than a male. Many times males do lift heavier loads simply because they typically have a greater muscle mass. However, all tennis players can follow the same general guidelines - the number of sets and repetitions are similar for males and females, even if the loads are different. We always advise players who are just beginning a strength program, or are coming back to strength training after taking time off, to start by lifting lighter weights for a large number of repetitions (e.g. 1 to 3 sets of 15-25 repetitions).
This will build a strength base and promote muscular endurance. Only after that strength foundation is laid should the player proceed to combinations of repetitions and weights that promote maximal strength gains and power development. As with any exercise, both males and females should lift weights that are appropriate for their training status.
Do not hold contests with other players to see who can lift more weight or complete more repetitions. Work with a strength and conditioning coach to determine what training loads are appropriate for you given your training experience and develop a periodized training plan specifically tailored to your training goals..
Q: Whenever I start lifting weights for tennis, my serve becomes slower. Am I lifting too heavy or not stretching enough?
A: This is a difficult question to answer without knowing what you are doing in terms of your stretching and strength-training. It is possible that your strength training is impacting your serve, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to realize that the body goes through a period of adaptation when subjected to new stresses. If you suddenly ask your body to strength train, it will take some time for it to adapt to the new demands you are placing on it.
Over time, your body will become stronger and this can eventually translate into improved performance on the court – even an increase in serve speed. One rule of thumb to remember is that it is very difficult (if not impossible) to strength train with high intensity and simultaneously compete at your highest level. Also, make sure you are allowing your body adequate time to recover between strength training sessions. In general, you should allow at least 1-2 days rest before training a muscle group again.
We recommend working with a strength and conditioning specialist to design a program with you that provides proper recovery while still addressing your needs as a tennis player. The program he or she designs will likely focus on building endurance and basic strength first, followed by developing power and tennis specific strength. Emphasize strengthening the entire body with special emphasis on the legs, core, torso and shoulders.
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Scott Riewald, Ph.D., is the Sport Science Administrator for the High Performance Division of the USTA. Scott works closely with the Coaching Education and Strength and Conditioning staff within High Performance, as well as the USTA Sport Science Committee, to collect and disseminate information related to sport science and tennis. Scott is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach.
Mike Nishihara is the Strength and Conditioning Specialist for USA Tennis High Performance. Mike came to the USTA from the Saddlebrook Resort, where he was the Director of Fitness and Sport Conditioning. He brings with him over 15 years of experience as a strength and conditioning coach and has worked with the likes of Jennifer Capriati, James Blake, Chanda Rubin, Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis. Mike is responsible for planning and implementing physical training and testing programs for High Performance players.