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Conditioning

Q. 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?

A. 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.

Q. I am a high school tennis coach and I would like to know what would be a recommended amount of running that we should do in practice. We do dynamic stretching and footwork but how much overall running should we do to be in good physical shape?

A. When training the players the USTA works with, we usually do some sort of "running" four to five times a week. The running session usually lasts between 20 – 40 minutes, but there is a lot of variety in the types of running we do.

You’ll note that we put running in quotation marks, because much of what we do is different from the long, slow distance running many tennis players are familiar with – there is some long distance running, but the “running” sessions also involve footwork/tennis agility work, or interval runs. The type of running depends upon the periodized strength and conditioning schedule of the player.

Generally, the long distance running and longer interval repeats (400s and 800s) are done during the preparation phase when you are getting ready for the season. Shorter, higher intensity intervals (20s, 40s, 60s, 100s, 200s, and 400s) and on-court footwork/tennis agility are the main focus during the pre-competition phase in the weeks leading up to main competition or competitions. During the competition phase of the season, on-court footwork/tennis agility is the “running” focus.

Recognizing that each player is an individual, we adjust the plan depending upon the player’s cardiovascular endurance, agility and their physical and physiological strengths and weaknesses.

Q. I have four kids ages 7, 9, 11, and 12. They all love tennis. I want to be able to provide them with every opportunity to be successful. How much, and what kind of physical training should I promote? Jog one mile per day? Hit for two hours per day? 60 sit-ups on the big ball per day? What do you think?

A. Thank you for the email. It is good to hear that your children love tennis – the vital thing is to have a program that is fun and enables them to develop into good players.

Your children are obviously of different ages and you do not say if they are girls or boys. If the older one is a girl she could be moving into puberty so it is especially important to make sure she has a good balanced schedule that takes into account her development.

It is always difficult to know whether a child will be successful – and all four of yours are still very young at the moment. However, what will help them most of all is to give them a good schedule where they play other sports and take part in physical activities that will help them develop basic sports skills. These are balance, coordination and agility.

In addition, they are all at the age when it is the best time to learn motor skills – the technique of different sports skills. If they take part in a wide range of sports and activities they do not really need specific physical training as you list it. The jogging would be for endurance – but this could also be done in a more fun way with another sport or activity. At this age sit ups are not necessary if the children have a varied and balanced program.

Any sport activity at this age should be fun so while hitting for two hours a day could be fun, it is a rather long time for a 7 or 9 year old - about an hour would be best for them.

Again, to take part in different activities other than tennis has actually been shown to help the development of tennis players. Concentrating on one sport at an early age is unlikely to be the best way to develop tennis players! If you follow a varied program with them all it is more likely they will become successful in sport – even if they decide on another sport than tennis!

Q. Our Tennis Club is adding a fitness center that will include some basic free weights and treadmills, among a few other equipment stations. Is there a source for promoting strength and/or flexibility exercises specifically useful in tennis stroke/movements? Illustrations would be great! We think it might be an incentive to relate a specific machine or a specific tennis stroke. Also, what age minimum would you recommend for users of machines? Thanks.

A. Great questions. I like your idea to have a card or drawing on the machines that links the exercises to the tennis strokes. Physical therapists, physical educators or strength coaches can help you make these links. These health professionals use functional anatomy to link stroke movements to similar exercise motions that use the same major muscle groups. If your club has a physical therapist ask him or her to help with this.

Many clinics have software programs that have high-resolution drawings of exercises that are used for exercise prescriptions. The muscular origins of strokes are, of course, much more complex than discrete movements. If you are interested in a more complete discussion of training issues in tennis see the books listed below.

Reid, M., Quinn, A. & Crespo, M. (2003) ITF Strength and Conditioning for Tennis. London: ITF.

Roetert, E.P, & Ellenbecker, T. (1998) Complete conditioning for tennis. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association all support resistance training for young people, if the programs are appropriately designed and supervised. I don’t think you can make a blanket statement without knowing about your orientation and supervision at your facility.

The same local professionals I recommended you talk with at the web sites of the organizations above can help you set a fitness center policy that is safe and open to interested young players.

Q. How do I increase court stamina and endurance to avoid becoming fatigued early on in matches?

A. 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.

Q. A little about me. I'm 50 years old and a state level player. I am just returning from a year-long illness and I no longer have the stamina to play more than one match a day (most tournaments schedule two). Any suggestions? I play doubles on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday and singles on Fridays. I am normally too tired or stiff to work out on off days. Is there a proven schedule of tennis and conditioning that will improve performance?

A. I, personally, have two answers for your first question. One – retire from competition. That, of course, does not mean you can’t still enjoy tennis recreationally. Two – improve your stamina by training.

As for your second question, is there a proven schedule of tennis and conditioning that will improve performance - no, it does not exist. Unfortunately, strength and conditioning training schedules are not like adjustable caps – “one size fits all.” An appropriate training schedule can be designed for each individual.

Is there proof that the training schedule will improve performance? Many variables contribute to performance, but consider the following. If you feel you lack the stamina to perform well, doesn’t it seem logical that improving your stamina will improve your performance? A certified strength and conditioning specialist can design a program for you to improve your stamina.

Make sure to warm up properly prior to activity and cool down and stretch after activity. Taking these steps may alleviate the stiffness you are experiencing and allow you to train to improve your stamina.

Q. How much exercise is too much for a "young" 74-year-old male do? I can jog a mile or more, run up a hill (not too steep and not too long), lift barbells, etc. But I don't know if I am building myself up or wearing myself down. Can you advise? Thanks, Bobby.

A. I believe that each individual has their own limits. At 74, you can probably do a lot more than many individuals half your age. In my opinion, if you feel good, you are probably doing the right amount of activity. If you are feeling pain, you may be doing too much.

As for anyone, regardless of age, exercise is usually more beneficial than being sedentary; however, there are risks associated. Always check with your doctor before starting new exercise regimens and seek medical advice if you have questions about activity and your health.

Q. I am a 44 yr. old female who coaches at the collegiate level. I run (3-5 miles daily) and lift weights (twice a week) to stay in shape and am also on the court usually 2-5 hourrs per day hitting with the players or giving lessons. My question is that I am constantly sore in my upper legs and elbow area. I have been a runner for the past 18 years and played tennis all my life, so I don't understand why I am constantly sore. I feel I should be past that stage! The soreness seems to have gotten worse this last year. Is this just all part of aging , or am I out of shape?

A. As someone that just turned 44, I am envious that you have the time, energy, and discipline to devote to tennis and fitness. First of all, considering your activity level, I would feel pretty confident in saying you are probably not out of shape. So, is the soreness just a part of aging? Maybe. Maybe, in that all the activity has contributed to overuse injuries. Time, not age, and the activity or activities has produced overuse injuries. For example, it is not unusual to see overuse injuries in junior tennis players.

The soreness you feel describes what accompanies overuse injuries – probably mild muscle spasms and tendonitis. Instead of running 3-5 miles daily, mix in some lower impact or non weight bearing cardio like biking and swimming.

Make sure to warm up properly and cool down and stretch well after activity. These steps alone may alleviate your problems.

As for your elbow, many factors may contribute to the pain – grip size, string tension and/or stiffness, racquet stiffness, technique, forearm strength, flexibility of the wrist, overuse.

From the fitness standpoint, strengthening your forearms may assist in alleviating the elbow pain. Stretching the muscles of the forearm and increasing the flexibility of the wrist may also help.

Q. I'm a 12-year-old with ambitions to become a professional tennis player. I've been playing for several years and know the importance of conditioning and physical fitness. When I ask tennis coaches about a workout plan, they say, "physical trainers are the best at helping with that." Information on the internet is so biased and contradictory, I don't know what to do. Is there a particular program that aspiring juniors can contact about this?

A. You have smart enlightened tennis coaches. Tennis coaches are usually good tennis players that understand the game and can teach tennis technique and strategy along with the many important life lessons associated with the sport. In short, they are tennis experts.

The best place to seek strength and conditioning information is from a strength and conditioning expert. These individuals are usually certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and are called Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

There are other fitness certifying bodies with other certifications but, in my opinion, the CSCS certification through the NSCA is the best and only truly recognized certification by people “in the know” for fitness professionals involved with athletes.

So, your first step should be to find a CSCS in your area that has an appreciation and understanding of the game of tennis. They don’t have to be tennis players but they should have an understanding of the physical demands of the game.

Your observations of the information on the internet are astute, yet not surprising. Why does the information out there seem biased and contradictory?

The answer is that there is not a single strength and conditioning program that works for all tennis players. A good tennis based strength and conditioning program will address the player’s individual tennis fitness strengths and weaknesses. Since everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are different, there cannot be one program for all tennis players.

Your age and physical development must also be considered. An advanced program (probably more important later in your playing “career”) will also address your tournament schedule, playing style, and playing surface of upcoming tournaments.

Q. I read on Webmd.com that USTA put out a booklet on warm-up exercises. Where can I get this?

A. The USTA has produced a DVD on Dynamic Tennis Warm-ups in conjunction with Human Kinetics. This DVD outlines the importance of a dynamic warm-up for tennis players and presents 30 different exercises, as part of three warm-up routines, that can be incorporated into an effective warm-up.

You can also download dynamic warm-up exercise descriptions, as well as other strength and conditioning exercises, from the USTA Player Development website. These exercise descriptions can be found under the Sport Science - Strength and Conditioning link.

Q. I'm 43 yrs old and am playing a few tournaments this summer (singles) and am interested in any ideas on what kind of exercising should I be focused on a couple of weeks leading up to tournament - and how much tapering off of exercise would be good a couple of days before the tournament.

I'm in pretty good shape - I currently work out 6 days/week mixing strength training with cardio, in addition to playing tennis 2 to 3 times per week. I still get sore often (I think due to my age) but I counter that by stretching often. Anyway - any ideas?

A. The closer you get to a tournament you want to peak for, the more tennis specific your training should be. Your cardio work should be tennis speed specific involving changes in direction and appropriate work to rest ratios (work 10-20 seconds:rest 20-25 seconds).

Taper the cardio/speed work a couple of days before the tournament by shortening the duration of the sessions. Your strength program should involve total body strength training and tennis specific pre-habilitation strength training (focused on rotator cuff, wrist/forearm, core, and functional lower and upper body strength). The strength program should also taper (lower intensity – light weight, high repetition) and no lifting needs to be done the day before competition.

Log onto www.playerdevelopment.usta.com and select the Strength and Conditioning link to access exercises you can perform to build strength in areas important to tennis as well as prevent injury.

Q. I was wondering if there are certain things I can do to increase my acceleration and agility. I am pretty muscular and I'm fast for my size, but I am almost at 0% for retrieving lobs when I'm up at the net. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A. Good acceleration involves being fast/ generating speed in the shortest amount of time possible. Good agility involves acceleration, deceleration, and acceleration again – it involves speedy changes in direction and dynamic balance. There are exercises and drills that address improving acceleration and agility, but from your preceding statement, you may want to focus on a couple of other areas.

If you’re speedy and you’re almost always getting beat by the lob, there are a few things to consider. First of all, perhaps your opponents possess excellent top spin lobs. Secondly, you may be too close to the net. Thirdly, you may need to work on your reaction and response time – quickness.

The best way to work on reaction/response time is with on court drills that utilize a tennis ball as a cue. A partner, coach or teaching pro should force you to react to a tennis ball in random situations. For example, perform the V-Volley Drill (Movement Training exercise #14 on the USTA player Development Strength and Conditioning site) or a variation of this drill, responding to a coach’s cues about where to move. This will help improve reaction time and the footwork necessary to get to balls, including lobs. Repetition is the key. Reaction and response should become as automatic as possible.

Q. Your feature on functional lunges was great, but because of prior meniscus surgery I've been told by my orthopedist not to do a) lunges or b) leg extensions. What other exercises can I do that would achieve the same or similar lower leg strength and body balance. By the way, I am a 61 year-old male playing at a 4.5 level.

A. I would not try any new exercises before clearing them with your surgeon. He/she is the one who has seen the inside of your joints and knows the most about your particular situation. I would recommend that you ask him/her if you could half—squats, leg presses with low weight, and climb stairs as substitute exercises.

Q. I would like to know a safe exercise for the legs that will not hurt the knees but will strengthen the legs. I have problems getting fatigued legs in a long match from the knee bends used when serving.

A. Most traditional exercises for the legs are safe for the joints of the leg if done with correct technique. The most common leg strengthening exercises are squats, leg presses, lunges, knee extensions. See a certified strength coach for more specific exercise programming. The premier professional organizations in exercise science that have independent, rigorous certification arms are the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (www.nsca-lift.org).

Q. I coach high school tennis. Some of our adolescent athletes struggle with balance. What exercises and/or drills would you recommend?

A. There are a number of things you can do to help improve balance. Before listing exercises and drills your players can do, recognize that there are two types of balance.

• Static balance, or balance without movement, and

• Dynamic balance, or balance with movement.

Dynamic balance is most important for tennis player, so many of the balance drills you do with your players should involve some movement.

The first step towards developing better balance is to strengthen the muscles that surround the core of the body. Medicine ball exercises that involve catching and returning the medicine ball are very good at developing core strength in addition dynamic balance.

Low intensity plyometric exercises like alley hops, hexagon drills, hopping back in forth over the line as fast as you can (both in a forward backward direction and from sided to side) all will help to improve dynamic balance.

• Alley hops are performed by jumping forward and to the side from one side of the doubles alley to the other. Land and push off with one foot. Make sure to “stick the landing” and gain your balance before pushing off the ground again. Start at the baseline and jump your way to the net.

• Make a hexagon on the floor using duct tape. Each side should be 24 inches long. Start by standing inside the hexagon, jump over one side of the hexagon and back to the middle. Repeat this over the next side and make your ways around the hexagon. Keep the knees bent, your weight on the balls of your feet and do this exercise as fast as you can. Perform 3-5 sets with a minimum of 30 seconds rest between each. To increase the difficulty of the exercise, place cones on each side of he hexagon to jump over.

• Hopping over the line drills should be performed jumping back and forth over the baseline as fast as you can for a period of 4-10 seconds. Rest for twice as long as you exercise and repeat the drill from 2-5 times. You can also do this by jumping from side to side over the line. Rest for at least 30 seconds between “sets.”

These are just several of the exercises you can do, but should get you on your way to developing greater dynamic balance.

Q. Is it bad to run more long distance (miles), than running short sprints, when training for tennis?

A. There are several things to consider when running to train for tennis.

First, to train in the most effectively for tennis you first need to think about the physical and physiological demands of a match. This should guide your training. As you are likely aware, a typical tennis match requires numerous short bursts of energy and speed. The body taps into the anaerobic (without oxygen) energy system to supply the energy needed for this type of short duration, high-intensity movement. At the same time, a player must exhibit endurance and be able to make these short bursts over and over again. This requires a well-developed aerobic (with oxygen) energy system to replenish the energy that is used during each point.

The second point to consider is the load placed on the legs. Because players’ legs take a pounding on the court it is often appropriate to cross train and have the players ride a bike or swim to develop their aerobic base.

As a result, we recommend some endurance training (aerobic) for tennis players combined with a large amount of short interval, higher-intensity work to best condition a tennis player.

Every player is different and therefore one training model is not appropriate for every player. One player may have a well developed aerobic system and needs to better develop the anaerobic side. Another player may need more aerobic conditioning.

Q. I would like to know a safe exercise for the legs that will not hurt the knees but will strengthen the legs. I have problems getting fatigued legs in a long match from the knee bends used when serving.

A. When people think about leg exercises they typically think about “extensor exercises” or muscles that involve straightening out the leg. There are very few of these types of leg exercises that do not involve using the knees. However, some place less stress on the knee joint than others. A good place to start when performing extensor exercises is by using your own body weight as the resistance. Two good body weight exercises are squats and lunges. One point to keep in mind, though, when performing any squat, even with body weight, is that you do not want the knees to move in front of the feet. This places more stress on the knees than if the knees stay back. The same holds true for the lead leg on the lunge.

Another extensor exercise you can do is the leg press – this is done on a machine and it is possible to lift weights that are actually lower than body weight, thereby reducing the stress placed on the knees even further.

On exercise that helps build strength at the hip, and also improves lower body stability, is what we call the monster walk. You can purchase short loops of elastic band from many health and fitness stores. Place the loop around the ankles so that there is some tension in the band when the feet are slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Without releasing the tension in the band, take a small, 6-inch step to the right, leading with the right foot and following with the left. Repeat these small steps as you walk from singles sideline to singles sideline. Rest for 15 seconds and then reverse the direction. As you get stronger you can increase the number of times you walk across the court.

Other exercises like leg curls, calf raises or any hip exercises can also be done with little stress placed on the knee.

Q. What is the best way to improve and increase my stamina and endurance as we head into the hazy, hot, and humid days of summer? Bear in mind, I'm 45 years old but still very fit and competitive. Q2: I haven't seen any articles concerning weight training for the serious senior players. Please help us out!

A. As we progress in age, it is important to always check with a physician prior to starting any new conditioning regimen or even adding anything new to an existing program. Otherwise, strength and conditioning programs do not need to vary much for seniors compared to the programs typically designed for younger players. There are a couple of points to consider, however.

Theoretically, the older the individual, the lower the predicted maximum heart rate for the individual. Thus, when training to boost one’s endurance, the training zone as described by a percentage of heart rate will be lower than that of a younger individual. That being said, I am partial to interval and fartlek training when seeking to improve endurance for tennis.

Interval training refers to sprints and runs interspersed with appropriately prescribed rest periods (i.e.running 200 meters with rest periods of about 60-90 seconds). Fartlek training refers to rhythmic activity interspersed with short bursts of speed (i.e. sprint 40 yards, jog 40 yards, shuffle 20 yards, repeat).

If the heat index in your area makes running outdoors hazardous, you may consider indoor treadmill running or riding a stationary bike. Many stationary bikes offer good programs for developing endurance for tennis. Consider the programs labeled “random” or “interval.”

For the serious senior player interested in peaking strength and power for a designated tournament, the strength program should resemble the strength program for any other serious tennis player. The program should focus on full-body strengthening. Emphasis should be given to the core (abdominal and low back region), shoulder (rotator cuff muscles and scapular stabilization), forearm/wrists, and the legs. A National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.) can assist you in designing a periodized strength-training program.

Q. Strong legs are essential for tennis. I have a 10-year-old daughter and she has been playing tennis for three years now. What leg exercises do you recommend that are safe for 10-year-old girl?

A. Anthony, thank you for your question. You are correct in your statement that leg strength is important for tennis performance. For your daughter, who is 10 years old, you should be focusing on exercises that build stability and endurance. Keep in mind that the majority of the strength gains you will see at 10 years old come because of improved coordination and communication between the brain and the muscles – not because of added muscle mass.

Some basic leg exercises your daughter would likely benefit from include lunges, monster walks, and three cone touches. All of these can be found on the USTA Player Development website.

Strive to have her complete 2-3 sets of 15-25 repetitions of each exercise to build endurance. Also, I encourage you to have your daughter engage in some agility exercises several times per week that require her to change direction and react quickly. This will build balance and coordination throughout the body while also developing leg strength to decelerate and accelerate quickly.

Remember, all this is being done to set the stage for the strength gains she can make as she gets older, after she goes through puberty. Another good way to build leg strength and coordination is to just let her play – not necessarily tennis, but to play/run/jump/etc with her friends.

Participating in a wide range of sports and activities at a young age develops an athleticism that has helped many tennis players achieve success on the court later in their development.

Q. I stopped playing tennis about six months ago, and I will like to play again in shortly. What conditioning should I do, weight lifting, repetitions, etc. to get my body ready?

A. One of the worst things you can do when starting up an exercise program or coming back after a long time off is to do “too much, too soon.” It is important to build into an exercise program, and not just jump into things going full bore. It is very easy to put too much stress on the body when you suddenly change your training routine, especially when you are eager to do something you love – like playing tennis.

One of the key principles in training is the Principle of Progressive Overload. This principle states you should increase the demands you place on the body slowly over time. Your body is amazing in that it is able to adapt to a wide range of demands that are placed on it – think about how when you lift weights your body adapts and you can lift increasingly heavier loads. However, when these demands are too large initially, or increase too rapidly injury is a likely outcome.

A good suggestion when re-starting a program is to first get an evaluation by a medical professional, clearing you to engage in a training program. With that in hand, you should focus on building endurance and a base level of cardiovascular fitness. While you may start off be performing a low level activity, like walking for 15 minutes, several times per week, set a goal for eventually engaging in some type of aerobic activity every day.

Increase the amount of time you spend doing this type of training about 5-10% each week. If you go for 30 minute walks 3 times a week, next week walk for 33 minutes each time, and 37 minutes the next week. Increase things gradually.

Weight training should be approached in the same way. Focus on building muscular endurance throughout the body but also take special care to target areas that can assist with injury prevention (e.g. upper back, rotator cuff, core, and legs). This means using low levels of resistance while performing 15-25 repetitions of each exercise.

You will also benefit by starting a regular stretching routine. Stretch every day of possible, focusing on the muscles of the legs, hips, chest and upper back.

Finally, once you do step back on the court, take the same progressive approach. Do not go out and play every day for an hour. Start by playing 1-2 times per week and build up the amount you are playing a little bit each week.

Taking this approach when re-starting your exercise will help you get your body ready to play tennis while reducing the risk of injury.

Q. What type of training, and how much of it, is appropriate for my son or daughter?

A. For the record, this is a “made up” question but it reflects a wide range of questions we commonly receive for the “Ask the Expert” column. The Sport Science Department receives a number of questions each month related to training for young payers and what is appropriate for their stage of development.

These questions are frequently posed something like this:

“Are there certain exercises my 10 year old daughter should be doing to improve her strength?” or “My 12 year-old son practices four hours each day. Is this too much training, or is it not enough?”

These are difficult questions to answer because the response will likely differ depending on the specific needs, and the development, of the individual player. There can be large differences in players as it relates to the physical, mental and emotional development.

For example, did you know that in a group of three 12-year olds, one may have the physical development of an “average” 12-year old, but another may also have the physical development of a 14-year old, and the third may have the maturity of a boy who is 10? The response to the above questions would differ for each of these boys.

Despite the many potential differences, players do develop in much the same way – in other words, there are phases that all players go through. Consequently, there are some general guidelines that can be provided to help coaches, parents and players navigate the developmental pathway.

Additionally, there are what we call “Windows of Opportunity” during which players can make rapid gains in certain skills and abilities. These windows open and close in different phases of development and it is important to take advantage of them when they are open, for two reasons.

One is that the player will make faster progress in a skill or ability when the window is open, and secondly, if a window is missed, it may never be possible to make up for that lost “opportunity”.

Recently the USTA’s Coaching Education Department developed a poster that outlines the “Progressive Development of a High Performance Player.”

This document presents developmentally-specific guidelines on what should be targeted at each stage of a player’s development. These guidelines include the physical, mental and emotional, technical, and tactical skills that are important to work on in each phase. The chart also provides information on the volume and type of competition and training that is appropriate for players of different ages.

These guidelines can help answer some of the questions about what is best for your son or daughter - like those presented at the start of this column. The information contained in the chart can help guide the content and scope of what is appropriate as a player grows and develops.

We encourage you to download the “Progressive Development of a High Performance Player” chart from the Player Development website. Use this information to help better understand the growth and development process and how tennis training can be maximized and made appropriate for every player.

Q. I stopped playing tennis about six months ago, and I will like to play again in shortly. What conditioning should I do, weight lifting, repetitions, etc. to get my body ready?

A. One of the worst things you can do when starting up an exercise program or coming back after a long time off is to do “too much, too soon.” It is important to build into an exercise program, and not just jump into things going full bore. It is very easy to put too much stress on the body when you suddenly change your training routine, especially when you are eager to do something you love – like playing tennis.

One of the key principles in training is the Principle of Progressive Overload. This principle states you should increase the demands you place on the body slowly over time. Your body is amazing in that it is able to adapt to a wide range of demands that are placed on it – think about how when you lift weights your body adapts and you can lift increasingly heavier loads. However, when these demands are too large initially, or increase too rapidly injury is a likely outcome.

A good suggestion when re-starting a program is to first get an evaluation by a medical professional, clearing you to engage in a training program. With that in hand, you should focus on building endurance and a base level of cardiovascular fitness. While you may start off be performing a low level activity, like walking for 15 minutes, several times per week, set a goal for eventually engaging in some type of aerobic activity every day.

Increase the amount of time you spend doing this type of training about 5-10% each week. If you go for 30 minute walks 3 times a week, next week walk for 33 minutes each time, and 37 minutes the next week. Increase things gradually.

Weight training should be approached in the same way. Focus on building muscular endurance throughout the body but also take special care to target areas that can assist with injury prevention (e.g. upper back, rotator cuff, core, and legs). This means using low levels of resistance while performing 15-25 repetitions of each exercise.

You will also benefit by starting a regular stretching routine. Stretch every day of possible, focusing on the muscles of the legs, hips, chest and upper back.

Finally, once you do step back on the court, take the same progressive approach. Do not go out and play every day for an hour. Start by playing 1-2 times per week and build up the amount you are playing a little bit each week.

Taking this approach when re-starting your exercise will help you get your body ready to play tennis while reducing the risk of injury.

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