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Dynamic Flexibility and Strength Training for Tennis

Authors:
  • United States Tennis Association

Abstract

A lot has been written over the last decade about both flexibility and strength training as each relates to the sport of tennis. The purpose of this article is to focus on the practical aspects of both and provide exercise recommendations that can be implemented with a minimum of equipment. The reason flexibility and strength exercises are combined in this article, is that both types of exercise go very much hand-in-hand. Our goal is to present an overview of some of the goals of a strength and conditioning program, outlining some of the necessary components to get your players performing their best on court. Before going further into the importance of strength and flexibility training it is important to define some common terms: Static Stretching – Stretching a muscle or muscle group until the player feels a slight tension and then holding that position for 15-30 seconds. Dynamic Warm-up / Dynamic Flexibility Training – A series of activities or exercises designed to increase body temperature and heart rate while stretching muscles through normal movement patterns. Strength Training – A type of progressive overload in which the player exercises against increased resistance. The goal can be to develop increased strength and/ or power. Conditioning –Training the energy systems of the body to be able to produce and utilize energy more efficiently. Movement Training – Specific drills and exercises designed to improve footwork, speed and the ability to change direction (agility) in ways that are important for tennis. Functional Training – Strength exercises that are specifically designed to mimic tennis movements/ skills and train the muscles in patterns that are used in tennis play.
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Dynamic Flexibility and Strength Training for Tennis
E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D.
Managing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s USA Tennis High
Performance Programme
A lot has been written over the last decade about both flexibility and strength training as
each relates to the sport of tennis. The purpose of this article is to focus on the practical
aspects of both and provide exercise recommendations that can be implemented with a
minimum of equipment. The reason flexibility and strength exercises are combined in
this article, is that both types of exercise go very much hand-in-hand. Our goal is to
present an overview of some of the goals of a strength and conditioning program,
outlining some of the necessary components to get your players performing their best
on court.
Before going further into the importance of strength and flexibility training it is important to
define some common terms:
Static Stretching Stretching a muscle or muscle group until the player feels a slight
tension and then holding that position for 15-30 seconds.
Dynamic Warm-up / Dynamic Flexibility Training A series of activities or exercises
designed to increase body temperature and heart rate while stretching muscles
through normal movement patterns.
Strength Training A type of progressive overload in which the player exercises against
increased resistance. The goal can be to develop increased strength and/ or power.
Conditioning Training the energy systems of the body to be able to produce and utilize
energy more efficiently.
Movement Training Specific drills and exercises designed to improve footwork, speed
and the ability to change direction (agility) in ways that are important for tennis.
Functional Training Strength exercises that are specifically designed to mimic tennis
movements/ skills and train the muscles in patterns that are used in tennis play.
DYNAMIC FLEXIBILITY
Recent research has shown us that a warm up containing dynamic flexibility exercises
and drills may be more productive than performing static stretching prior to a practice or
competition (Faigenbaum et. al. 2005, Young and Behm, 2003).
Dynamic flexibility involves performing controlled movement about a joint or joints
through a full range of motion. In tennis this would preferably be similar to the
movement patterns used in the sport. Clearly, the purpose of a warm-up is to prepare a
player for the movements and intensity they are about to perform. The benefits of
dynamic flexibility are as follows. It allows for:
1. The gradual and progressive warming of the body’s temperature and increase in
heart rate.
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2. A gradual increase in the elasticity of muscles and tendons by actively stretching
the muscle, using movement.
3. The incorporation of balance, coordination and strength components.
4. The incorporation of movement techniques that might otherwise require a
specialized practice session.
5. Developing coordination and readying the player mentally by focusing on specific
movement patterns and body control.
6. Using muscles in “patterns” that players might find themselves in during a
match.
A dynamic warm-up is an important component of any pre-practice or pre-competition
routine and should involve a gradual progression of basic skill movements to more
complex movements. A specific order of exercises will also assist in making sure all
major body parts are included. Typically, players should start with the larger muscle
groups and end with the smaller ones.
Any number of exercises can be incorporated into a dynamic warm-up, but several
routines using exercises presented in the USTA’s Dynamic Warm-Ups for Tennis DVD
(Human Kinetics, www.humankinetics.com) are outlined below.
Sample Routine I Sample Routine II Sample Routine III
Glute Bridges Monster Walks Quadruped Exercise
Scorpions Leg Cross Overs Crossover Skipping
Backward Lunge & Twist Arm Hugs Lateral Leg Swings
Arm Swings Pillar Skipping Low to High Chops
Knee Hug Lunges Sidelying Hip Abduction Caterpillar
Handwalks Lateral Skipping Alley Hops
Straight Leg March Lateral Lunge Trunk Rotations
Skipping Hip Crossover Lateral Reach
Shoulder External Rotation Rapid Rotations Lateral Bridge
Butt Kicks Marching Forward Lunge
Table 1. Samples of a dynamic warm-up
It is recommended that players take approximately 10 minutes before practice or
competition to perform these dynamic warm-up exercises. The exercises only need to be
performed for 30 seconds but players should only take short rests between them.
But what about static stretching? Do tennis players still need to include this as part of
their training? The answer is YES! Static stretching is necessary to maintain normal
range of motion around joints. In fact, because tennis player characteristically become
tight in specific muscle groups due to the repetition of certain movement patterns, static
stretching can help reduce the effects of this adaptive tightness, thus helping to prevent
injury. There is a proper time to stretch, however, and it is not right before a
competition. Recent research studies have even indicated temporary decreases in
muscle strength (Behm et. al., 2001, Fowles et. al., 2000, Guissard and Duchanteau,
2004, Nelson et. al, 2004) and power (Young and Behm, 2003) immediately after static
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stretching. These effects can last for as long as 60-120 minutes after the stretching has
occurred. Therefore, if players still feel they should stretch before a match, they should
complete their stretching routines at least 60 minutes before the start of their match.
Many tennis players could benefit from increased flexibility in the following areas:
Calf muscles
Hip flexors
Shoulder External Rotators (improving internal rotation)
Lower back muscles
However, when possible a full body flexibility plan is recommended to maintain range of
motion about all joints in the body and optimise on-court performance.
STRENGTH TRAINING
Similar to the field of flexibility, strength training has seen some considerable changes
over the past decade. Look at today’s player as well as the demands of the game and
you will quickly realize a player needs both power and endurance to succeed at the
highest levels. In addition, players need to avoid injuries that would keep them from
being able to practice or compete. As a result, strength training has become more
functionally based and sport-specific; there has been a movement away from a “body-
builder strength-training” mentality and the focus is now more on incorporating tennis-
specific exercises integrated with an injury prevention program.
Any strength training programme should have two distinct, but equally important,
components: training for injury prevention and training for performance enhancement.
Because of the unbalanced nature of the sport, tennis produces players with noticeable
strength imbalances throughout the body. It is paramount that players address these
imbalances to ensure proper joint function and minimise the risk of injury. In particular,
tennis players need to focus on developing strength in the following areas:
External rotators of the shoulder.
Hip extensors and hip abductors.
Upper back muscles that stabilise the shoulder blades.
Core musculature, particularly the lower back muscles.
The player’s goal in strengthening these areas should be to build a base level of
muscular endurance by performing several sets of 15-25 repetitions using moderate
levels of resistance. This foundation of strength should be developed first, addressing
strength imbalances before engaging in exercises and drills that will build maximum
strength or power.
Many of the strength training methods used effectively in tennis involve multi-joint
exercises that complement the needs of the player. When designing a strength training
program, we focus on areas of the body that are most commonly injured in the
competitive player as well as those body parts that require explosive strength or
muscular endurance. Key areas in high performance players include the shoulder, low
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back, wrist, elbow and hamstrings and some sample exercises that can be used to train
these areas are listed at the end of this article.
TRAINING PROGRESSION
It is unsafe and unreasonable to expect a player who has never engaged in strength
training before to immediately be able to perform high intensity exercises. There is a
progression every player should follow, regardless of how talented they are on the
tennis court. The first step should be to build a baseline level of muscle strength and
endurance. This is accomplished by lifting moderate weights for a large number of
repetitions. For some players, those who are young and/or are recovering from an injury,
the training progression may end right here at least until the player has hit puberty or
gotten over the injury. For others, after a base of strength is developed, the player can
then move more toward building maximal strength and power, using higher intensity
plyometric exercises and possibly Olympic lifts to boost performance. As a final step,
the player engages in more tennis specific activities that model the movement patterns
and coordination a player needs on court. While each of these phases are appropriate at
specific times in a player’s physical development, they should also be included at
various times throughout a training year a process know as periodisation. Keep in
mind that strength training is a long term commitment. What a player does today will
help today, but the true rewards will come from making this an integrated part of an
overall training plan.
WORKING WITH YOUNGER PLAYERS
Strength training can be safely used with adolescent and preadolescent tennis players
provided that proper exercise technique is taught to the players and EVERY exercise
session is supervised by a qualified strength and conditioning coach (Faigenbaum et. al,
1996, American Academy of Paediatrics, 2001). However, certain guidelines should be
followed. The focus of a strength training programme should be on developing muscle
endurance and a base of strength. This can include some low level plyometric exercises,
but high intensity power training should not be used until after the player has gone
through puberty. Until this time, power training provides minimal benefit since players
do not produce the anabolic steroids (like testosterone) that will lead to significant
increases in muscle mass and power. Other safety precautions that should be followed
with younger players include:
Make sure players have the emotional maturity to be able to follow instructions
and understand the goals of strength training.
Do not encourage competition between players.
Similarly, do not have athletes attempt to lift maximal loads. Player should
perform multiple sets of 15-25 repetitions per set.
Do not have players perform overhead lifts.
Use body weight (or less) in many of the exercises you use.
Always emphasise proper technique on every repetition of every set.
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TRAINING WITHOUT “EQUIPMENT”
One of the problems players face when trying to maintain a strength and conditioning
programme is having only limited access to equipment. While well-equipped training
facilities offer some advantages to a player, there are plenty of ways to perform strength
training and conditioning exercises using “other means”. Think of the training tools that
can easily fit into a travel bag. Elastic bands can be used to help develop strength in the
legs, particularly the hip abductors. Stretch cords can be used for training the rotator
cuff and upper back muscles. Small medicine balls can be used to train the core and/or
explosive power in different body parts. Cones can be used to set up movement and
agility drills on court. Use a player’s body weight, or resistance applied by another
player, to provide the stimulus for strength development. The possibilities are endless
be creative and don’t get into the habit of thinking that every exercise has to be
performed on a weight “machine” or use a piece of equipment.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER ON-COURT
Below are some exercises you can use to develop strength in the players you work with,
and none of them require the use of special equipment. The exercises listed are
organised from the larger body parts to the smaller body parts and also start with lower
intensity dynamic flexibility exercises and increase in intensity with a larger strength
component.
EXERCISES FOR TENNIS
General/Overall Body
Jogging
Side Shuffle
Carioca
High Knees Marching (arms and no arms)
High Knees
Heel Kicks
Back/Trunk
Standing Trunk Rotations
Standing Trunk Rotations with Pivot
Standing Trunk Rotations into Lunge
High Knee Trunk Rotations
Supine Bent Knee Crossover
Supine Straight Leg Crossover
Prone Leg Over
Prone Press-Up
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Hips/Quadriceps
Leg Cradle
Walking Knee to Chest
Forward Hurdle
Backward Hurdle
Over and Under
Forward Lunge
Forward Lunge with Forearm to Instep
Backward Lunge
Ready position Side Steps
Speed Skating
Hamstrings
Inverted Toe Touch (Hole in One)
Caterpillar/Hand Walk
Ankle
Toe Walk
Heel Walk
Ankle Circles
Neck/Shoulders
Lateral Flexion Ear to Shoulder
Neck Rotation Chin to Shoulder
Neck Flexion Chin to Chest
Shoulder Shrugs
Arm Hugs
Mini Arm Circles
Full Range Arm Circles
90-90 Internal/External Rotation
Medicine Ball Combination Exercises
Service and Overheads
Groundstrokes
Volleys
REFERENCES
American Academy of Paediatrics. (2001). Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 107
(6), 1470-72.
Behm, D.G., Button, D.C., and Butt, J.C. (2001). Factors affecting force loss with prolonged stretching. Can
J Appl Physiol, 26 (3), 261-72.
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Faigenbaum, A. D., Bellucci, M., Bernieri, A., Bakker, B., and Hoorens, K. (2005). Acute effects of different
warm-up protocols on fitness performance in children. J Strength and Cond. Res, 19 (2), 376-381.
Faigenbaum, A.D., Kraemer, W., et. al. (1996). Youth resistance training: Position statement paper and
literature review. Strength and Cond, 18, 62-71.
Fowles, J.R., Sale, D.G., and MacDougall, J.D. (2000). Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human
plantarflexors. J Appl Physiol, 89 (3), 1179-88.
Guissard, N. and Duchateau, J. (2004). Effect of static stretch training on neural and mechanical properties
of the human plantar-flexor muscles. Muscle Nerve, 29 (2), 248-55.
Nelson, A.G., Kokkonen, J., and Arnall, D.A. (2005). Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength
endurance performance. J Strength Cond Res, 19 (2), 338-43.
Reid, M., Quinn, A., and Crespo, M. (2003). Strength and Conditioning for Tennis. International Tennis
Federation,
Young, W.B., and Behm, D.G. (2003). Effects of running, static stretching and practice jumps on explosive
force production and jumping performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 43 (1), 21-7.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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This study gives an overall view of the present national and international state of strength training for children and adolescents with special consideration of the possibilities to train the strength, the incidence of injuries, over- and wrong stress and the appropriate organisation of strength training with children and adolescents.
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The purpose of this study was to assess strength performance after an acute bout of maximally tolerable passive stretch (PS(max)) in human subjects. Ten young adults (6 men and 4 women) underwent 30 min of cyclical PS(max) (13 stretches of 135 s each over 33 min) and a similar control period (Con) of no stretch of the ankle plantarflexors. Measures of isometric strength (maximal voluntary contraction), with twitch interpolation and electromyography, and twitch characteristics were assessed before (Pre), immediately after (Post), and at 5, 15, 30, 45, and 60 min after PS(max) or Con. Compared with Pre, maximal voluntary contraction was decreased at Post (28%) and at 5 (21%), 15 (13%), 30 (12%), 45 (10%), and 60 (9%) min after PS(max) (P < 0.05). Motor unit activation and electromyogram were significantly depressed after PS(max) but had recovered by 15 min. An additional testing trial confirmed that the torque-joint angle relation may have been temporarily altered, but at Post only. These data indicate that prolonged stretching of a single muscle decreases voluntary strength for up to 1 h after the stretch as a result of impaired activation and contractile force in the early phase of deficit and by impaired contractile force throughout the entire period of deficit.
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the factors underlying the force loss occurring after prolonged, static, passive stretching. Subjects were tested before and 5-10 min following 20 min of static, passive stretching of the quadriceps (N=12) or a similar period of no stretch (control, N=6). Measurements included isometric maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) force, surface integrated electromyographic (iEMG) activity of the quadriceps and hamstrings, evoked contractile properties (twitch and tetanic force), and quadriceps inactivation as measured by the interpolated twitch technique (ITT). Following stretching, there was a significant 12% decrement in MVC with no significant changes in the control group. Muscle inactivation as measured by the ITT and iEMG increased by 2.8% and 20.2%, respectively. While twitch forces significantly decreased 11.7%, there was no change in tetanic force post-stretch. Although possible increases in muscle compliance affected twitch force, a lack of tetanic force change would suggest that post-stretch force decrements are more affected by muscle inactivation than changes in muscle elasticity.
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The interaction between running, stretching and practice jumps during warm-up for jumping tests has not been investigated. The purpose of the present study was to compare the effects of running, static stretching of the leg extensors and practice jumps on explosive force production and jumping performance. Sixteen volunteers (13 male and 3 female) participated in five different warm-ups in a randomised order prior to the performance of two jumping tests. The warm-ups were control, 4 min run, static stretch, run + stretch, and run + stretch + practice jumps. After a 2 min rest, a concentric jump and a drop jump were performed, which yielded 6 variables expressing fast force production and jumping performance of the leg extensor muscles (concentric jump height, peak force, rate of force developed, drop jump height, contact time and height/time). Generally the stretching warm-up produced the lowest values and the run or run + stretch + jumps warm-ups produced the highest values of explosive force production. There were no significant differences (p<0.05) between the control and run + stretch warm-ups, whereas the run yielded significantly better scores than the run + stretch warm-up for drop jump height (3.2%), concentric jump height (3.4%) and peak concentric force (2.7%) and rate of force developed (15.4%). The results indicated that submaximum running and practice jumps had a positive effect whereas static stretching had a negative influence on explosive force and jumping performance. It was suggested that an alternative for static stretching should be considered in warm-ups prior to power activities.
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To determine the contributions of neural and mechanical mechanisms to the limits in the range of motion (ROM) about a joint, we studied the effects of 30 sessions of static stretch training on the characteristics of the plantar-flexor muscles in 12 subjects. Changes in the maximal ankle dorsiflexion and the torque produced during passive stretching at various ankle angles, as well as maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) and electrically induced contractions, were recorded after 10, 20, and 30 sessions, and 1 month after the end of the training program. Reflex activities were tested by recording the Hoffmann reflex (H reflex) and tendon reflex (T reflex) in the soleus muscle. Training caused a 30.8% (P < 0.01) increase in the maximal ankle dorsiflexion. This improved flexibility was associated (r(2) = 0.88; P < 0.001) with a decrease in muscle passive stiffness and, after the first 10 sessions only, with a small increase in passive torque at maximal dorsiflexion. Furthermore, both the H- and T-reflex amplitudes were reduced after training, especially the latter (-36% vs. -14%; P < 0.05). The MVC torque and the maximal rate of torque development were not affected by training. Although the changes in flexibility and passive stiffness were partially maintained 1 month after the end of the training program, reflex activities had already returned to control levels. It is concluded that the increased flexibility results mainly from reduced passive stiffness of the muscle-tendon unit and tonic reflex activity. The underlying neural and mechanical adaptation mechanisms, however, showed different time courses.
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The purpose of this study was to compare the acute effects on youth fitness of 3 different warm-up protocols utilizing static stretching or dynamic exercise performance. Sixty children (mean age 11.3 +/- 0.7 years) performed 3 different warm-up routines in random order on nonconsecutive days. The warm-up protocols consisted of 5 minutes of walking and 5 minutes of static stretching (SS), 10 minutes of dynamic exercise (DY), or 10 minutes of dynamic exercise plus 3 drop jumps from 15-cm boxes (DYJ). Following each warm-up session, subjects were tested on the vertical jump, long jump, shuttle run, and v-sit flexibility. Analysis of the data revealed that vertical-jump and shuttle-run performance declined significantly following SS as compared to DY and DYJ, and long-jump performance was significantly reduced following SS as compared to DYJ (p < 0.05). There were no significant differences in flexibility following the 3 warm-up treatments. The results of this study suggest that it may be desirable for children to perform moderate- to high-intensity dynamic exercises prior to the performance of activities that require a high power output.
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Since strength and muscular strength endurance are linked, it is possible that the inhibitory influence that prior stretching has on strength can also extend to the reduction of muscle strength endurance. To date, however, studies measuring muscle strength endurance poststretching have been criticized because of problems with their reliability. The purpose of this study was twofold: both the muscle strength endurance performance after acute static stretching exercises and the repeatability of those differences were measured. Two separate experiments were conducted. In experiment 1, the knee-flexion muscle strength endurance exercise was measured by exercise performed at 60 and 40% of body weight following either a no-stretching or stretching regimen. In experiment 2, using a test-retest protocol, a knee-flexion muscle strength endurance exercise was performed at 50% body weight on 4 different days, with 2 tests following a no-stretching regimen (RNS) and 2 tests following a stretching regimen (RST). For experiment 1, when exercise was performed at 60% of body weight, stretching significantly (p < 0.05) reduced muscle strength endurance by 24%, and at 40% of body weight, it was reduced by 9%. For experiment 2, reliability was high (RNS, intraclass correlation = 0.94; RST, intraclass correlation = 0.97). Stretching also significantly (p < 0.05) reduced muscle strength endurance by 28%. Therefore, it is recommended that heavy static stretching exercises of a muscle group be avoided prior to any performances requiring maximal muscle strength endurance.
Strength and Conditioning for Tennis. International Tennis Federation Effects of running, static stretching and practice jumps on explosive force production and jumping performance
  • M Reid
  • A Quinn
  • M Crespo
  • W B Behm
Reid, M., Quinn, A., and Crespo, M. (2003). Strength and Conditioning for Tennis. International Tennis Federation, Young, W.B., and Behm, D.G. (2003). Effects of running, static stretching and practice jumps on explosive force production and jumping performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 43 (1), 21-7.