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Ask the High Performance Lab -- Feb. 7

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM
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.

The answers to these questions are provided by Mike Nishihara, the Strength and Conditioning Specialist for USA Tennis High Performance and Scott Riewald, Ph.D., 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 Certifie© USTA
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.

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.

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.

Mike Nishihara has been named Strength and Conditioning Coach for the USA Tennis High Performance program. Nishihara is based at the USA Tennis High Performance Training Center in Key Biscayne, Fla. © USTA
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.

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