The Elite Approach to Tennis Strength Training

A well-designed tennis strength training program can work wonders for your game…

Long gone are the days when coaches believed all forms of strength training were detrimental to sports demanding finely-tuned skills.

While the wrong type of weight training CAN be a hindrance to your game, follow simple guidelines and the benefits can be immense…

  • Increased power in serves, forehands, backhands, volleys… in fact every type of shot.
  • Greater speed and acceleration around the court allowing you to get into position for more shots.
  • Improved muscular endurance helping you to maintain a high level of performance during tough rallies… even those at the end of the match.
  • Reduced occurrence of injuries from over-use and muscular imbalances in the body.

If you take the game seriously, a tennis strength training program should be high on your agenda.

It doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but it DOES need to more refined than those “off the shelf” programs found in every commercial fitness magazine.

Those enlightened enough to condition themselves for tennis (other than the pros), usually lift the typical ‘3 sets of 10’ in the weight room…

That’s not the best approach… not when strength training specifically for tennis takes no more effort and time.

But that gives you a competitive advantage.

Spend a little time understanding how to train optimally for the demands of your sport and you will reap the rewards on the court!

Periodization of Tennis Strength Training

If you haven’t heard the term before, “periodization” sounds complex. But it’s a very simple principle that separates strength training for sport from the countless bodybuilding and general fitness routines out there.

Periodization is simply a way to break a larger training regime into smaller chunks or periods. Each period might be a mini training program in and of itself lasting 6 weeks or more.

Each has its own objective and one period follows naturally on from the other.

Unlike many sports, tennis demands several different types of strength… in particular muscular endurance and explosive power. And before these can be developed to optimal levels, the athlete needs to first develop good foundational and maximum strength.

If you try and train for every type of strength at once you’ll end up with very little of anything – except fatigue!

So the best method is to focus on one type of strength in each separate phase. That way, you can easily maintain your gains during the competitive season.

There are no hard and fast rules to breaking a training program up into periods or phases.

The determining factor is when YOUR tournaments occur and when your season starts and ends.

Here are the 4 phases for this tennis strength training program example:

  • Off-Season – 6-8 weeks
  • Early Pre-Season – 6 weeks
  • Late Pre-Season – 6 weeks
  • In-Season – 3-4months

Each phase is covered in detail below.

The actual exercises, descriptions and routines for each phase are covered on a separate article…

But don’t go just yet!

It’s crucial to understand the bigger picture and how it all fits together. Read on…

Phase 1 – Foundational Tennis Strength Training

The objective of this 6 week phase is to build a solid base on which you build more intense, more tennis-specific fitness later.

Like all competitive sports, tennis places uneven demands on the body. You swing with one arm and one side of the body. Certain muscle groups are overworked while others are neglected.

Infamous over-use injuries like tennis elbow and damage to the rotator cuff muscles are less likely to occur in a balanced physique.

So our goal during this first phase is to prepare the ligaments, tendons and connective tissue for more strenuous activity to follow.

Here are the parameters for phase 1 of the tennis strength training routine:

  • Duration: 6-8 weeks
  • No. sessions: 2x week
  • No. exercises: 10-12
  • Resistance: 40-50% 1 Rep Max
  • Repetitions: 12-15
  • Rest between exercises: 90 secs
  • Rest between circuits: 2-3 mins
  • Speed of lifts: Smooth and controlled

Click here for the tennis weight training article that covers the specific exercises for this routine

Phase 2 – Maximum Tennis Strength Training

Now that you have a solid and well-rounded base of strength, you can move on to more intense sessions.

The objective of this 6 week phase is to build high levels of maximum strength. What exactly is maximum strength?

It’s simply the amount of force you can apply in one single, voluntary contraction.

A player who can leg press 500lbs for 1 repetition has greater maximal strength than a player who can press only 450lbs.

Why is maximum strength important to tennis players?

On it’s own it isn’t. But power, which can be a defining factor in the game, is a product of speed AND strength.

The more maximum strength you have the greater your potential for power.

As you’ll see in a moment, the next phase converts the gains made into strength into explosive power by adding an element of speed into the routine.

The same holds true for strength endurance…

The greater your strength is initially, the more of it you can potentially apply over a prolonged period.

This principle of building maximal strength first is used the world over by elite athletes and coaches and not just for tennis of course.

Here are the parameters for phase 2 of the tennis strength training routine:

  • Duration: 6 weeks
  • No. sessions: 2-3x week
  • No. exercises: 6-8
  • Resistance: 80-90% 1 rep max
  • Repetitions: 4-8
  • No. sets: 3-4
  • Speed of movements: Smooth/controlled

Click here for the routine and exercises for this phase of the tennis weight training program

Phase 3 – Convert to Power & Strength Endurance

On its own maximal strength is not much use for the tennis player. Unless you can apply a high proportion of that strength quickly (explosive power) and over a prolonged period (muscular endurance), you won’t see a great deal of improvement on the court.

It’s during this phase that more and more tennis-specific exercises are incorporated… exercises that mirror the movement patterns of the game as closely as possible.

To develop explosive power, it’s crucial that exercises are performed explosively. As a result, the resistances must be reduced. Lifting heavy weights near one rep max, won’t allow the neural adaptations to take place that occur with quick, dynamic movement.

There are several different modes of power training – one of the most effective and widely used is plyometric training. Plyometrics helps to increase the speed of contraction, which in turn helps generate more powerful contractions. The result is harder shots and greater speed and acceleration around the court.

For the lower body, plyometrics is very similar to jump training. For the upper body power, medicine balls are one of the most effective training tools a tennis player can use.

Before you undertake a plyometric program, it’s important you have an excellent base of strength. Do NOT jump straight to this phase of the tennis strength training plan.

Here are the parameters for using plyometrics:

  • Duration: 4-8 weeks
  • No. sessions: 1-2x week
  • No. exercises: 2-3
  • Resistance: bodyweight
  • Repetitions: 10-12
  • Rest between exercises: 3-4 minutes
  • Speed of movements: Explosive

As well as power, tennis also demands excellent strength endurance. During a long rally, or even a tough game, the ability to apply the same force over and over is a measure of your muscular endurance.

So in this phase of the tennis strength training program it’s important to develop both explosive power AND strength endurance. This requires 3-4 sessions per week for 4-6 weeks and should be timed so that the end of the phase occurs just as the competitive season begins.

To maintain power and strength ednurance through the competitive season requires fewer sessions each week.

One of the most effective ways to develop strength endurance is through circuit training.

Here are the parameters for circuit training:

  • Duration: 4-8 weeks
  • No. sessions: 1-2x week
  • No. exercises: 10-12
  • Resistance: bodyweight or 40-50% 1 rep max
  • Repetitions: 10-20
  • No. circuits: 2-3
  • Rest between exercises: 30-60 secs
  • Rest between circuits: 2-3 mins
  • Speed of movements: Quick

Click here for the routine and exercises for this phase of the tennis strength training program

Special Considerations in Tennis Strength Training

In sports like tennis and golf, overuse injuries of the wrist, elbow and rotator cuff muscles are all too common.

Most weight training exercises predominantly target the larger muscles groups. So while they get stronger and stronger, the smaller, more isolated muscles get neglected…

That doesn’t normally cause a problem until you expose your body to thousands of repetitive movements that incorporate the larger AND the smaller muscle groups – like a forehand drive for example.

So while you hit harder and harder shots (as the strength in your large muscles groups increases), those finer muscles are placed under a disproportionate amount of stress.

The best way to compensate for this is to target and isolate those smaller muscle groups beforethey become over-worked.

By adding a few choice exercises for the forearm and rotator cuff muscles to your tennis strength training program, you can significantly reduce the occurrence of stress injuries in these areas.

You can start these exercises at any time or phase during the entire program. You can perform them at the end of a session or for 10-15 minutes on separate days.

Click here for some specific forearm, wrist and rotator cuff exercises

So there you have it…

The basis of a professional-standard, tennis strength program that can work wonders for your game. It may take a little more planning initially then a general weight lifting routine, but it takes no more time to perform.