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Ask the Lab: Strong Legs & Exercise Programs

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.

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    From Anthony Sadiq of Frisco, Texas: 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? 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.

    From Henry Morin: 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?

    USTA.com Health and Fitness Team: 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.

    USTA.com Health and Fitness Team:


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