At Sunday school many years ago I was taught a parable about a man who was given corn. He scattered it carelessly around. Some fell on dry earth, some fell on stones. Some fell in fertile land and was either eaten by birds or strangled by weeds. Some fell in fertile land and received the right amount of sunshine and water and grew into healthy corn.
I was reminded of this when talking with Phil and Julie, two tennis coaches I work with. Phil was talking about how much we can influence players- he reckoned that they were born great. He asked “how much can we actually influence things?”
I then used the corn analogy to describe how I see our role as coaches.
The athlete is the corn– they are born a certain way. That can’t be changed. Whether they become fully developed and successful depends on many outside factors. The fertile earth is the environment they grow up in- supportive parents, good schooling, influential peers.
As coaches, it is our job to provide the sun and the rain– the knowledge and experience and motivation that will help the young athlete grow and develop.
Often we will provide the sun and the rain and discover we have grown a weed- but we can’t know that until we try.
Who are we to judge before giving our best effort for all athletes we work with?
The demands of tennis mean that all areas of the body are put under repeated pressures and therefore susceptible to injury. Although a non-contact sport, the asymmetrical nature of the sport and need to adapt to the changeable court surfaces will increase the injury risk.
By the time a junior player has progressed into the elite and professional circuit, it is estimated that he/she will have made approximately 10,000 hits in order to perfect technique. On the other hand, the deconditioned and recreational player is equally prone to problems.
Approximately two thirds of tennis injuries are caused by overuse e.g. repeated and explosive serving can cause shoulder pathologies. Continued twists, turns, stops and starts can put intense pressure on the knee joint.
The remaining third of injuries are acute and are normally short term if managed correctly e.g. an ankle or knee ligament sprain.
Preventing Tennis Injury
Conditioning your body in order to prepare for the specific demands of tennis is vital to help prevent injury as well as optimising your sporting performance. A change of biomechanics and technique can also help to reduce the risk of injury.
During a match players need to generate extreme force from a variety of positions. Strength through-out an unrestricted range of movement is essential.
STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE
Good muscular endurance ensures that you can apply force over a period of time i.e. that you can still hit the ball as well at the end of a match, as the beginning.
Upper and lower body power are necessary to create the explosive movements that tennis demands.
AGILITY AND SPEED
The faster you can move around the court, the more time you have to prepare for your shot. This will provide a solid platform from which to hit the ball.
Statistics show that the shoulder is the most commonly structure in professional tennis. Djokovic struggled earlier this year going into the US Open with shoulder pain.
Problems often occur due to the overuse of the rotator cuff muscles which can then cause pathologies such as
Following initial management to reduce pain and any inflammation, muscle imbalance needs to be addressed.
Corticosteroid injections have been proven effective to settle irritable impingements so that rehabilitation can be progressed. Both the scapular stabilisers and the rotator cuff need to be strengthened for long term improvement.
Federer was forced to withdraw from the Qatar Open earlier this year with lower back pain. In tennis, the trunk forms a solid unit which can produce power through rotation of the spine. It transfers the power generated in the legs to the arms, ‘the kinetic link principle’.
The strengthening of trunk / spinal muscles as well as improving flexibility with stretching can help correct any muscle imbalance. Manual Therapy and soft tissue massage can also be helpful as an adjunct to rehabilitation.
The patella-femoral joint is at high risk of injury due to the repeated lunging, jumping, change of direction and speed. Nadal continues to struggle with his long standing patella tendonopathy.
Corticosteroid injections around this area can be used in isolation but with caution. A pre-injection U/S scan is often requested to assess tendon quality.
Eccentric strengthening is advocated for this specific diagnosis of ‘jumpers knee’ following acute management.
More acute injuries to the meniscus and ligaments are also prevalent in tennis. Risk can be reduced with ongoing work on strength, flexibility and agility.(More details on Knee injury managementhere)
ELBOW AND WRIST
‘Tennis Elbow’ is the classic overuse injury to the common extensor tendon at the elbow joint. Similar problems can also occur around the wrist joint specifically. Taping and specific supports can be useful in the short term to help offload the irritated tendons. There is some evidence to support the use of acupuncture.
Eccentric strength work is required in order to achieve a long term recovery.
Acute soft tissue injuries around the ankle are reported frequently in tennis due to failure to meet the specific agility demands of the game. This type of injury is notorious for becoming a recurrent and chronic problem if a graded rehabilitation programme is not followed.
Significant work on progressive proprioceptive exercises is essential. Taping and bracing can be used in the short term but I would not advocate long term use. There is also little evidence to suggest these interventions actually offer any structural support.
Summary of Common Injuries
Area of Injury
Rotator Cuff tendonitis
Repetition of serve
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Impingement of medial nerve due to wrist position
Surface, lack of strength in surrounding muscles
Stress Fracture in foot
Sudden change of direction on tight muscle
If you would like any more information then please contact me.
On Monday we looked at the demands of tennis, now we look at putting that into practice. With a nation inspired by British hopes at Wimbledon, start getting fit now.
How can I get fit for tennis?
Start with flexibility and build from there. Every player needs to have a foundation of mobility and flexibility to build upwards from. This needs to be worked on regularly, not something that is done once a week or when you feel tight.
At Excelsior we encourage our athletes to do a series of exercises called 5×5’s, these are 5 exercises to be done daily for a minute each, these work on control, technique and flexibility.
Flexibility can be worked on during warm ups with exercises like multi-directional lunges, this exercise gradually puts the body into full extension stretching muscles and nerves prior to playing.
Getting into the habit of a daily stretch routine is a great way to improve flexibility, this needs to take into consideration exercises that you as an athlete feel working not just one you have been told to do.
Working out three routines that can be alternated, can alleviate the monotony of one routine
Fit for 5 sets?
Training endurance directly is not always simple due to time constraints and should therefore be done during a tennis session if possible. From looking at the demands and research I would suggest a mixture of interval training and longer distance training.
In a session shorter distance sprints can be done during an extended warm up or within drills themselves. Longer distances can be done when the athlete has time and for example going on a 5 mile bike ride.
One problem with common training methods for the aerobic system is that it can result in injuries. Athletes going on long slow runs use poor form compared to if they trained over shorter distances, swimming and cycling would be better methods as they reduce impact on joints. injuries.
Before working on speed and agility you need to make sure you can brake and control the movements, this is where a base level of control and co-ordination is required. (More information on different surface requirements here)
The majority of tennis sessions will involve a large amount of agility, if during conditioning sessions this is worked on solely for long periods of time, there is a good chance the body will not be able to recover and see any adaptations before injury occurs.
Another time this can be worked on is during warm ups, this does not mean repeated sprints but looking at first steps and braking.
Over the last 4 months the cricketers I work with have used bodyweight exercises to strengthen and braking drills to improve co-ordination. They have all now met the ECB’s criteria on theyoyotest, this is due to being more efficient and stronger when turning.
To make it to the top in any sport you need to practice, this is impossible if you are injured! A strength programme should help build control and technique to withstand the rigors of intensive training.
All athletes need to improve their strength, this does not mean looking at how much you lift in comparison to your bodyweight, it means improving strength that is relevant to your sport. Tennis for example is a game where you lunge with varying degrees of extension and control.
By improving areas such as the BIG HOUSE and legs, you will be able to not only control a lunge better but also at greater speed enabling you to return to a ready position quicker.
When many people try to improve these they use resistance machines in their gyms, these were designed to reduce the need for stabilisation during a movement and are therefore not ideal. Below is an example of exercises that take away the need for machines and are more athletic.
Preferred option 1
Preferred option 2
Single leg squat
Single leg bridge
Tennis has evolved over the years and is now a more powerful game, due to different technology and athletes realising conditioning is a vital component of their training.
Your programme needs to have a long term plan not just work on a quick fix to one specific area, unless you are in post injury rehab.
Building a strong foundation and making small progress will lead you to being an overall better athlete.
Starting a training programme can be difficult and you need to get into a routine.
It is like pushing a heavy object, getting the object moving takes a lot of effort but as momentum builds its becomes easier to continue the momentum.
With Wimbledon starting today, we thought it would be good to to look at the requirements of tennis for all abilities and how aspiring players can improve. Duncan Buckmaster has done the research and here are his thoughts.
Physical demands of Tennis
Grand Slam tennis is a knockout tournament; matches are the best of 5 sets, to get to the final a player will have played 7 matches over 2 weeks.
A set is the first person to 6 games with a 2 game margin, the game will go to a tie break should it be 6-6 in games, unless in the last set when the players continue playing games until a two game lead is won.
in 2010 at Wimbledon the final set of a 1st round match went to 70-68 games, the match in its entirety lasted over 11 hours.
A game is scored 15, 30,40 then game or if 40-40 it goes to deuce and then advantage, this can continue until a two point lead is won.
Endurance demands of tennis
Tennis is a game of high intensity, short duration bouts requiring explosive reactive movements and shots with a variety of rest periods. There is a maximum rest of 20 seconds between points and 90 seconds between games and 2 minutes between sets which are set by the governing body.
There is some debate on which energy system is provides a foundation during a tennis match. Work done by Fox & Matthews (3) almost 40 years ago stated that 80% of work is done by the Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) system, however, other research has suggested that the aerobic system is the primary aid to restoring ATP throughout a match.
Commonly we assume working on our aerobic capacity will always improve our athletes, these is normally done with longer less intense workouts. These theories are based on research that shows fatigue can reduce ball velocity and increase injury risk. (1)
However, research by Hoffman et al (2) has suggested there is a limit to which aerobic training aids improvements, Kovacs (1) suggests VO2 max of between 55-65ml-kg-1 are beneficial but above this further improvements are redundant.
Speed and Agility for Tennis
With video analysis now available several studies have been done on distances travelled during matches, this will depend on the level you play, the surface you are playing on.
Some stats that have been found over these studies:
80% of strokes played with less than 2.5m movement,
5% of stokes played require more than 4.5m movement,
An average of 4 directional changes made during a point,
Over 1000 directional changes made during a match,
70% of movements are lateral,
20% of movements are forwards,
8% of movements are backwards.
Flexibility & Mobility for Tennis
Due to the single sided nature, shots and surfaces;flexibility is a key area of concern among many tennis players. From young age many players will have solely played tennis which could mean they are one side dominant, they have not had a variety of sports to give their body a rounded education of movement.
From a young age we start to lose this flexibility due to the amount of time spent sitting at school/work or and then going home and sitting down all evening.
Being inflexible can have a knock on affect on other parts of the body due to how our bodies compensate for weakness. Three examples of how a lack of flexibility can affect a tennis player:
A tight pectoral (chest) muscle will pull the shoulder forward in posture; the muscle will be weaker due to its tightness, this will mean the body has to compensate to find power, which could mean the hips & back rotate more giving an inconsistent shot.
A piriformis (a muscle deep inside the bum) in spasm (constantly tight) can cause pelvic immobility; which can mean the lower back muscles tighten, and the thoracic upper part of the back rounds more to create an illusion of mobility. This would mean that during a forehand shot the shoulder would need to find mobility and power putting the shoulder joint at risk of injury.
A tight hamstring can result in a lack of knee stability, which could lead to injuries due to the lunging nature of tennis. The sciatic nerve which runs the length of the body could also be affected, so when you serve muscles will tighten to protect the nerve causing an inconsistent serve.
(Information on Common tennis injuries and how to prevent them here.)
Strength & Power for Tennis
Over the last 30 years the styles of play have changed from a flowing style to a more powerful style where player try’s to overpower their opponent. If we look at how modern players like Nadal compared to a player from 30 years ago John McEnroe, we can see a difference in musculature.
Power requires a good foundation of strength (4), this is so that the movement is controlled and consistent.
1. Kovacs, MS (2006) Applied Physiology of tennis performance. Brit. J. of sports Med. 40:381-386
2. Castagna, C, Manzi, V, D’Ottavio, S, Annino, G, Padua, P, Bishop, D. (2007). Relation between maximal aerobic power and the ability to repeat sprints in young basketball players. J. Strength Cond. Res. 23:963-966
3. Fox, EL, Matthews, DK. Interval training: Conditioning for sports and general fitness. Exercise physiology: Theory application to fitness and performance (5th Ed.) 1974, P:426,2004
4. Asci, A, Acikada, C (2007). Power production among different sports with similar maximum strength. J. Strength Cond. Res. 21:10-16
The French Open at Roland-Garros is now under way and Andy Murray has never made it past the 4th round. On the other hand, Rafael Nadal is expected to win his 7th French Grand Slam on his favourite clay surface.
Professional tennis is played on a variety of surfaces. Each type of court has its advantages and disadvantages in regard to how it affects an athlete’s style of play and their bodies.
Physiotherapist Sarah Marshall looks at the different surfaces and how it could affect you getting a tennis injury.
How do different Tennis court surfaces compare?
– Slow the ball down and produce a high bounce
– Suited to baseline players who hit with increased top spin
– Loose sediment makes sliding a typical part of the game
– Suited to the older player as the lowest impact surface
– An average point will last 10 seconds
Matches tend to be longer, therefore stamina and endurance is important. Clay is slower and softer, encouraging a less explosive type of game. This will reduce the impact on the spine and lower limb joints.
This will also reduce the presentation upper limb overuse injuries. However, the sliding nature of the game does increase the risk of acute lower limb injury.
Grass courts e.g. Wimbledon
– Produce fast rebounds
– Suited to players who hit hard, fast moving shots
– Suited to big servers and serve/volleyers
– A relatively low impact surface
– An average point will only last 2.8 seconds
Grass is a fast surface and encourages a more explosive type of game.
There is still some reduction of impact on the spine and lower limb joints, although upper limb injuries can be more prevalent due to the hard hitting shots.
-The most common type of surface, made from asphalt or concrete
– Suited to the big servers
– Unappealing to the older player as the highest impact surface
– An average point will last 5.2 seconds
Hard courts produce a relatively fast game. There is high impact on the spine and lower limb joints. There is also an increased risk of upper limb overuse injuries. Stamina, endurance, speed and agility are equally important.
In my next blog I will look at common tennis injuries in more detail.
In the mean time, look at our training programmes to see how you can start getting fit for tennis now
Now the sun is out and the evenings are longer, March and April are time for me to work on my endurance, dust off the tennis racket and lose some body fat.
Strength, power and speed have been developed over the last 3 months (came in useful when the handbrake on my car failed and I saw my son rolling backwards down a hill in the car. Had to sprint and jump in. Stuntman is still a career option I think).
I am aiming to do a sub 40min 10k in 6 weeks, and to lose 2kg of bodyfat.
Sunday– hill running session, 8-10 mins of up and down hill, with a 5 minute hard run at the end. Will progress with an extra set of hills before the end run.
Monday– weights – barbell complex 20, 40, 45, 50, 55kg of deadlift, bent over row, hang cleans, front squats, mil press, back squats. Then pull ups and body weight exercises at the end working on lateral movement and single leg balance. Evening – tennis
Tuesday –core session (back and abs strength, rotation, flexion and extension).
Wednesday– extensive intervals (4 mins run, 2 mins rest) start at 4 sets and build up to 6 sets.
Thursday- weights, ladder complex of dbell clean and jerk with pull ups. 4 sets of 1,2,3 increasing the weight. Hang snatch and over head squat. Or hang cleans, followed by mil press. Front squats.
Friday- steady state run- 10 mins to start, progressing to 30 mins over the weeks. Off feet steady state, either bike or row 40 mins. Tennis
Saturday-intensive intervals– (30 sec on fast\ 30 sec off) 20 sets progressing to 30 sets. Bag work – 5 x 3 mins rounds.
This with a 15 minute static stretch every day and my 8 min morning routine of ballistic stretches and hindu press ups and squats. Plus 30 mins of walking.
You might wonder why there isn’t more steady state running. I am not a fan of it, mainly because I find it slows me down.
Secondly I don’t want to do the “Sunday morning fatty shuffle” and destroy my mechanics. I prefer to run faster and then repeat it.
There is too much focus on garbage mileage in run training, rather than quality work.
The weight will come off when I do my concerted food diary effort using fatsecrets– a great online tool that keeps a good account of what is exactly happening calorie wise.