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Ask the High Performance Lab -- June 21

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM

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
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. 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.

Q: I am a BIG believer in strength training and any kind of workout that gets those feet moving. I have a 13 yr. old daughter who is an avid tennis player. The last few months, she has said that her feet just do not move. My question is, “Is there a place that strictly works on tennis movement, strength training and all that you need to prepare yourself for your tennis game?”

-- Lorraine M. Abajian, Millwood, NY

Nishihara: As the former strength and conditioning coach for Martina Hingis, I believe you can find tennis specific fitness training (including movement training) at many resorts, academies, and camps that offer large tennis programs. My suggestion would be to attend one of the larger programs located around the country and look for a strength and conditioning coach certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a C.S.C.S. (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist).

Q: Is there a book on footwork drills that you would recommend?

-- Jeanne Kady, Upper Holland, PA

Nishihara: A couple of books I’d recommend that include footwork drills:

  • Complete Conditioning for Tennis by the USTA
  • Power Tennis Training by Donald Chu

Both books can be purchased through Human Kinetics at 1-800-747-4457.

Q1: 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.

-- Paul Barrera, Norfolk, VA

Q2: I haven't seen any articles concerning weight training for the serious senior players. Please help us out!

-- James Fowler, Cheyenne, WY

Nishihara: 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: What exercises do you recommend for the type of footwork needed on the court?

-- Suzanne, River Ridge, LA

Nishihara: Do drills that incorporate the footwork used during tennis. Also, incorporate the work to rest ratio experienced during tennis (typically 1:2 or 1:3); drills should last about 10-20 seconds interspersed with bouts of rest of about 25 seconds. Concentrate on making the first step when changing direction explosive.

Studies reveal that the average distance moved per stroke during a tennis match is only about three yards. So, you don’t need the speed of a 100-meter sprinter. You need to develop speed over a short distance with the ability to change direction quickly. If you can react with an explosive first step and recover quickly as well, you should be quick on the court.

When possible, use a tennis ball to react to since the ball is what you react to in a tennis match, not hands, finger points, whistles, lights, bells, or shouts. Focus on the ball, read its speed, spin, and direction and attack it with your feet. Train accordingly and your tennis footwork should improve.

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