In modern tennis athleticism is becoming more and more important. In order to succeed in the future, top players will have to have above average capabilities in the areas of physical fitness and coordination. This can only be accomplished by focusing on these areas early on in the training of young players.
Of special importance is the development of a broad athletic base. Before and during the technical training phase a solid general athletic education is essential. Just as a house needs a solid foundation, so do top level athletic performances.
The integration of coordination and condition training is a must in all phases of the development of top players. By observing the movements of a player on the court and by posing the question, what is required of a player, we can come up with the following answer: A player needs to: make constant explosive movements on court, run quickly to the ball, slow down and stop, hit the ball fast and with control, start quickly, constantly change direction, and jump. This must be done very often and over a period of 1 to 3 hours with several pauses in between.
Taking this into consideration it becomes clear that tennis players need to be trained in all of the different aspects of physical fitness: speed, strength, endurance, agility flexibility and coordination. Due to the many different factors which need to be considered it is difficult to plan and implement a good training program. The objective of this article will be to provide you with several ideas on how this can be done. I will specifically focus on answering the following question: Which physical attributes need to be developed first by the player in order to be able to run faster and hit the ball harder?
Almost all muscles are involved in running or in hitting. In order to be able to run quickly to the ball and hit it hard with control, the player needs to be able to coordinate all muscles involved. Knebel divides the body into different functional-circles. Each circle represents a partial system which is strongly related to its neighboring functional-circle.
THE FUNCTIONAL-CIRCLE PRINCIPLE
Functional circle 1: Head and vertebrae of the neck, vertebraes of the breast up to the 5th thoracic vertebra. Functional circle 2: Vertebrae of the breast area from the 5th to the 12th thoracic vertebra plus the lower back and hips. Functional circle 3: The lower back and lower extremities. Functional circle 4: The shoulders, scapula and upper extremities. Although the parts in each circle are listed separately, they form a functional unit. The coordinated movement of each muscle as part of a biomechanical chain is very important in achieving the quality of movement. As in most athletic movements, the movements in tennis begin from low to high. Running, throwing and jumping are essential components of tennis, and should be taught and trained throughout the player’s careers.
They are essential for the development of a player. The functional-circle 3 (lower back and lower extremities) plays a central role. The energy created through the movements in this functional-circle is usually transfered to the upper functional-circles. The optimal training of the functional-circle 3 (lower back and extremities) is extremely important for the tennis player, since this muscle group is the energy centre for many specific tennis movements.
WHICH EXERCISES WILL AID IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LOWER BACK AND EXTREMITIES?
A variety of jumps are the main tools which are used to improve the jumping ability of the players. The exercises may include the following: l Over a line with both legs, back and forth. l Over a line with both legs, left and right. l From the net to the baseline jumping with both legs. l Over a line with one leg, left and right. l In the alley zig zag from net to the baseline. l Jump rope with several variations (both legs, alternating legs, one leg right, one leg left, forwards and backwards, apart and together). Different types of jumps: l A quick jump with a small angle on the knee in order to improve the reaction speed. l Jumping high and far (larger angle of the knee) to improve the amplitude. In order to perform these exercises with the necessary quality, it is important to achieve stability in the lower limb and to limit arm movement.
TRAINING THE UPPER BODY
The training of the upper body (functional circle 1, 2 and 4) is often neglected in tennis. However, the muscles of the mid section are very important in the effective execution of several movements. In addition a strong mid section is essential in keeping the body injury free. Injuries to the lower back due to weak abdominal and shortened back muscles are very common in tennis players. Strengthening and stretching the upper body is essential in achieving effective movements and a healthy tennis player. Which exercises help improve the muscle structure of functional-circles 1, 2 and 4? Training of the back and abdominal muscles should be an integral part of the daily training. The upper body needs a strong midsection to support it. Exercises using the elastic band are very useful to strengthen the shoulder muscles (scapula) and stretching of the chest muscles (pectoralsis):
Pulling the elastic band in two directions. This exercise has a great relationship with the movement of the serve. l Back exercises to strengthen the whole dorsal area. The upper body, the hips and the legs stabilisze the movement. The stability comes from the strengthening of the muscles on the one hand and from the coordination of the muscles on the other, with the ability to balance being very important. Stability will only be achieved with all athletic factors working together.
STRENGTH AND BALANCE
Which exercises will improve strength-based balance? We can mention several examples: l Climbing wood: Player stands on small wooden boxes. He/she changes the position of the boxes and tries to step on them while keeping balanced. l Agility board: Player stands on an agility board trying to maintain his/her balance. l Jump and stop on one leg: Player performs several jumps. He/she has to stop on one leg and balance holding that position.