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Question: What kinds of strength (lifting weights) and flexibility (stretching) exercises are there? And how does agility and reaction time play a big part in tennis.
Dr. Riewald: There are a number of strength and conditioning exercises and stretches that can be used to reduce the risks of injury when playing tennis while enhancing performance. There are entire books written on this topic and I can recommend several for you to peruse:
- Complete Conditioning for Tennis – written by the USTA and published by Human Kinetics
- Strength and Conditioning for Tennis – published by the ITF
Also, look at the USTA Strength and Conditioning website for a list of movement drills as well as dynamic warm-up and strengthening exercises (and soon a number of stretches) specifically designed to be performed on court with minimal equipment.
As far as agility and reaction time are concerned, they are both critical to tennis performance. The ability to change direction quickly and efficiently (agility) and react to your opponent quickly will give you extra time to position yourself for your shot.
Having good agility and reaction/ anticipation could be the difference between getting to a ball and not getting there, or between being able to take control of a point as opposed to having to hit a defensive shot. Strength and power development are essential for being able to decelerate and accelerate effectively – needed when changing direction.
To improve reaction time, learn to read the cues your opponent gives off to help anticipate the shot you will see – watch the arm and the racket, for example. Also, take advantage of the court geometry and your knowledge of a player’s tendencies to whittle down the list of possible options he or she has available.
The fewer options your mind has to choose from, the quicker you will be able to react. Does your opponent consistently hit a slice serve on the second serve? Do you really have to cover the entire court when you pull your opponent out wide?
Improving your strength and power will help you improve agility and decrease your response time. However, you can also improve reaction time and anticipation without getting any stronger simply by knowing possible outcomes and eliminating unlikely scenarios.
Question: How do I increase court stamina and endurance to avoid becoming fatigued early on in matches?
Dr. Riewald: First, check with your doctor to make sure the fatigue you are experiencing is not related to a medical condition. Assuming it is not, players who find they fatigue early in matches should most likely need in increase the amount of aerobic, or endurance, training they do. This can include building muscular endurance, which is done by performing 2-3 sets of your strengthening exercises using a low level of resistance and completing 15-25 repetitions per set.
More likely, though, you will also want to improve your cardiovascular endurance, as this relates to your body’s ability to supply enough oxygen to your working muscles. Endurance training builds you aerobic capacity and enhances the oxygen delivery process in a multitude of ways, from increasing the amount of blood pumped with each heart beat to how well your muscles extract the oxygen from the blood. You should engage in 3-4 aerobic training sessions per week.
A couple of these can focus on what we’ll call long slow distance training (something like jogging several miles at a consistent pace or going for a steady bike ride). Recognize, however, that it has often been said that long slow distance training teaches your body to run long and slow.
Tennis, as you know, is a game of energy bursts. Incorporate at least one interval training session into your week. This can take the form of hitting the “random” button on the stationary bike, or performing repeats of shorter, higher intensity movement drills on court, while making sure to take enough rest (take about 2-3 seconds of rest for every second you exercise).
The bottom line is you want to vary the intensity, alternating periods of work with periods of relative rest. This approach will help improve your endurance and delay your on-court fatigue.
About the Author:
The answers to this week's column come from Scott Riewald, PhD. Dr. Riewald is the USTA Administrator of Sport Science, he reports to Paul Lubbers, Director of Coaching Education. Dr. Riewald and the Sport Science staff work with Coaching Education to provide information to the coaches of top American players through seminars, workshops and newsletters.
Past Riewald Columns:
Knee Problems & Tennis Elbow
Strength & Flexibility Exercises
Playing in the Sun & Jumping Rope
Banned Substances & Youth Strength Training