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Functional Lunging for Enhanced On-Court Performance

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM

(This article has been reprinted from the USTA High Performance Coaching Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 4/2000)

By Barrett Bugg

Barrett Bugg is a former Strength and Conditioning Coach for the USA Tennis Player Development Program. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Systematic strength and conditioning for tennis can dramatically improve a player's performance. As players strive to improve strength, explosive strength, balance/coordination, agility, power, and injury prevention capability, proper off-court training has become as important to many players as tennis play itself.

Lunges help to develop the entire lower body while addressing the strengthening needs of the torso. In tennis, movement becomes the highest priority since on-court movement occurs before all else. Although nothing improves tennis more than tennis itself, any player at any level needs to perform certain activities off the court to improve performance.

The use of the lunge can maximize the use of both the precise strength associated with balance and coordination, as well as the maximal explosive strength associated with most tennis movements. Lunges are a perfect addition to a player's strength program, but specificity for tennis includes much more than simply adding lunges to a program.

Function, or the manner in which the body performs its actions during actual tennis play, becomes an important consideration during on-court performance; in this case, the function of lunging. Take a low forehand volley, for instance. Since an ideal volleying position cannot be performed with a vertically "straight" back, a realistic volleying position will have a rounded lower back. Preferably, one applies this knowledge to the typical lunge to enhance the movement via a higher degree of specificity (see lunge variations below). Thus, every tennis coach needs to offer a functional strength and conditioning program in order to bridge the gap between on-court and off-court training.

Lunges come in many different forms and functions. The following lunges are examples of the diverse nature of the lunge and may be incorporated into a player?s strength program. Note that all of the following movements should be performed slowly and under full control, unless otherwise specified.

Lunge #1:
Perform a typical forward body weight lunge. At the bottom of the movement bend over with the legs lunging and the lower back bending (functional to tennis) as if picking up an object from the ground. Return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of sets and repetitions.

Lunge #2: Repeat Lunge #1 as described above except this time pick up a weighted (6-9lbs)-medicine ball. After returning to the starting position with the ball, have a partner set the ball at its original position. Repeat for the desired number of sets and repetitions.

Barrett Bugg training Rafael DeMesa using Lunge #3
Lunge #3: You will need two medicine balls (i.e. 6lbs and 8lbs) for this exercise. Repeat Lunge #2 as described above except this time pick up the heavier (8lbs) of the two medicine balls and return to the starting position. Have the partner set the ball at its original position and provide you with the lighter of the two balls (i.e. 6lbs). Lunge forward with the legs and bend with the lower back to place the medicine ball on the ground. Repeat for the desired number of sets and repetitions. Safely add a sport cord around the player for added resistance, assistance, and proprioceptive demand.

Lunge #4: Safely attach a sport cord to one side (at the hip) of the player. With the coach holding the opposite end of the sport cord (with the handles), perform forward lunges straight ahead and then backward lunges while perpendicular to the coach holding the sport cord handle (see diagram). Repeat for the desired number of sets and repetitions.

Lunge #5:
Hold a weight plate with your hands (try a 15-25lb plate for starters). While performing forward walking lunges, rotate to whichever side that is used to step (i.e. step with the left foot = rotate to left side). Alternate sides and repeat for the desired number of sets and repetitions.

Why should lunges be used as a training tool?

1. FUN!
2. Improved strength
3. Improved balance
4. Decreased injury potential

Since tennis is a sport of multiple planes, one should consider the use of multiplane activities for highest on-court carryover with regards to strength, agility, power, and injury prevention. Accounting for individual differences as well as minimizing weaknesses and optimizing strengths should be the center focus for any tennis player's strength and conditioning program.

Lunge variations to enhance specificity in tennis. NSCA Journal of Strength and Conditioning.

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