I bet you didn’t even notice that there weren’t a lot of tennis tournaments being played now and that most of these athletes have started their off-season tennis conditioning. If you are a high school or collegiate player, you might be playing some indoor tournaments here and there during the winter. Ultimately, you will be gearing towards the spring/summer season and fine-tuning your game.
The professionals have been winding their game down for some time now. The Davis Cup just ended yesterday with Spain winning. There have been a few tournaments here and there, but essentially most of your top players have been playing less to recover from the long season. Then, if they had any fire under their belly, they would begin to take a look at the season that was and examine what they need to do to improve their game.
I can’t help them with their top spin or their serve, but I can help with their fitness level, their speed, agility, and recovery from injuries. This is the time they need to start with a strength and speed program. They will probably have the rest of this month and a couple weeks in January before competitive play resumes as the pros will gear up for the Australian Open. If you are a high school tennis player, then you have a few more months to work on your fitness.
If I was working with a top level tennis player who just completed their season and wanted an off-season conditioning program for tennis, the first thing I would do would be to put the tennis player through a functional movement screen (FMS).
The FMS will help to identify inflexibilities and more importantly muscle imbalances that can cause issues with the athlete down the road. Tennis is a game that can cause some overdevelopment in the player’s dominant side. They serve and hit the ball with one arm a lot more than the other, so trying to get both sides as balanced as possible will be a big key into preventing injuries.
I don’t think you will ever be able to get the athlete truly balanced, but you have to try. The bigger the gap between strength levels of the sides, the better the chance the weaker side will just give out and cause an injury. Balance those things out and give yourself a fighting chance.
I would strength train the heck out of the core, using a lot of medicine ball and band work to emulate the twisting and torquing motion you do in tennis. Get the core to fire from both sides to strengthen that area so that you can really generate some power in your hits.
The legs would be on my list next. You need them strong and flexible. You will be on your legs a lot during a match and this strength will help you get from “point a” to “point b” more efficiently. Balance your leg work out with a little upper body, doing a pushing then a pulling movement. Strengthen the forearms to help with your grip and prevent tennis elbow and strengthen your rotator cuff.
Flexiblity is key in tennis. You are constantly moving quickly on the court and that can put your body in some uncompromising positions sometimes. You need to make sure your range of motion is as great as possible to be able to accommodate these positions. Also, the more flexible your upper body is, the better you will be able to put it in the mechanically right positions to hit the ball effectively.
Finally, a speed and conditioning program will really help the tennis player out with his off-season tennis conditioning. If you are quick, then the ability of you getting to most balls and returning them in functionally correct positions will really put your opponent on the defensive. Eventually, he/she will start getting frustrated and hopefully that will lead to mishits.
The strength you will gain will help with your explosiveness on the court. Click here to read the post I had written about improving your speed for tennis. In a nutshell, I would do very short, quick agility and quickness drills to emulate what is happening on the court. Speed can be just as valuable a weapon as a booming serve. You could also do these speed drills as a conditioning component as well. Do it for a duration of time, and allow each drill to last 5-10 (maybe up to 30) seconds, rest for 20-30 seconds (emulating the ending of a point), then hit it again.
I would probably develop a cardio base of doing some long runs first, then as the season gets closer, do some of the interval work I was talking about in the previous paragraph.
Obviously, being the fittest guy on the court won’t guarantee you wins if you don’t have the skill. But, if you do have skill, you do not want to neglect this piece of the training program. Andre Agassi really kick-started this trend and now a lot of your big-time tennis players have an awesome off-season tennis conditioning program. In this day and age, you need every advantage possible so don’t ignore this, get with a trainer, and get yourself prepped for your tennis season.