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Ask the Lab: Endurance

Figure 1 - Spider Drill
Figure 1 - Spider Drill

PLEASE NOTE: The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

From: Lee H., New Orleans, LA: How do I increase court stamina and endurance to avoid becoming fatigued early on in matches?

Dr. Mark Kovacs: Lee, increasing on-court endurance is an important physical component to being a successful tennis player. When choosing endurance exercises, it is important to understand that tennis requires a specific type of endurance - which is different than most other sports. Running a marathon is very different to playing three or five sets of tennis. Although they may take a similar time to complete, the marathon requires a slow relatively consistent pace; whereas, tennis requires the repetition of hundreds of short explosive movements. We know from the tennis literature that most tennis points last less than 10 seconds with very few points lasting more than 30 seconds. Each point typically has multiple changes of direction requiring quick starts and stops and many of the movements are lateral (side to side).

Running long slow distances may have some benefit during different times throughout your tennis season, but it is less specific than running at a very high intensity (similar intensity or higher than that seen during tennis play) for short distances that require you to change directions often (i.e. every 5-20 yards). It is also important to take into account the work to rest ratio when training for tennis endurance. To train appropriately, the athletes should perform their work intervals anywhere between 5-45 seconds using a work-to-rest interval of either 1:2 or 1:3 to train for endurance. An example would be performing a 20 second sprint followed by a rest period of 60 seconds (work:rest ratio of 1:3). You may be familiar with the traditional tennis speed and agility drill “the spider drill”. This can also be used to train tennis endurance by using a tennis specific work:rest ratio. Figure 1 describes the spider drill. A possible training program could include 40-60 seconds recovery between each repetition. The number of repetitions will be specific to an athlete’s level, age and training goals. However, performing 5-10 repetitions in a session is a possible starting point for a training prescription. Many other on-court drills can be used to train for tennis endurance, but the important consideration is using time frames that are specific to tennis.

If you have access to a heart rate monitor it is also advisable to work in a range between 65-85% of maximum heart rate (which can be estimated by subtracting the athletes age from 220). It is also beneficial to recover below 60% of maximum before completing the next repetition.

An example would be a 30 year old athlete would have an estimated maximum heart rate of 190 beats per minute [220- 30 (age)].

To determine the range between 65%-85%

65% = 190 X .65 = 124 beats per minute

85% = 190 X .85 = 162 beats per minute

Recovery to <60% = <114 beats per minute

Hopefully this provides some practical information to help improve your tennis specific endurance. Good luck with your training.

About the Author:
Mark Kovacs, PhD, CSCS, is the USTA Manager of Sport Science and is a tennis researcher, certified strength and conditioning specialist and certified tennis professional. He was a former tennis All-American and NCAA champion. The USTA Sport Science department is responsible for testing, training and tracking top junior and professional tennis players as well as producing, evaluating and disseminating sport science and sport medicine information relevant to tennis.

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