For competitive tennis athletes, having strong and resilient core muscles is critical to succeed. 

Tennis is a ground-based sport. An efficient energy transfer from the ground up to the upper body, through the core, and finally to the tennis ball, is essential. Significant rotational movements are required in tennis as well, so that core training should have a rotational emphasis.

Since tennis athletes are always on their feet, it’s vital to perform ground based core muscle movements (with feet on the ground rather than the abdomen or lower back on the ground). 

One of the common mistakes tennis players make is to focus exclusively on developing strength and endurance in the core muscles, without adequate attention to the need for functional flexibility in this musculature. The flexibility is crucial to truly translate the hard gym training into actual on-court performance. 

The flexibility profile of a competitive tennis athlete should include spinal erectors, hip flexors, hamstring muscles, and external hip rotators. The core muscle flexibility training program should focus on these four important muscle groups in order to achieve better performance and a lower risk of injury.

In this article, we break down all these factors in-depth and step-by-step.

Periodization (Stages) of Strength Training and Conditioning for Tennis Athletes

Unlike a general fitness or bodybuilding regimen, strength training for competitive tennis athletes is segregated into separate phases or periods, with each period generally lasting for at least six weeks. Different goals are set for each period because tennis by design requires different types of strength – particularly power and endurance. The athlete must begin with a focus on developing solid foundational strength before power and endurance can be developed to maximal levels. 

Competitive tennis athletes must avoid attempting to train for all types of strength at the same time because that will likely yield too little of anything and the athlete will end up with fatigue. The right approach is to concentrate on one type of strength in each individual training period. That will allow the athlete to optimize their power and endurance and retain the gains during the competitive sport season. 

There are no universal standards for periodization in a tennis strength training program. The key factor to consider is when the athlete’s tournament is scheduled and when the season begins and ends. Just as an example, a model program may include the following four periods: 

  • Period 1: 6 to 8 weeks – Off-season 
  • Period 2: 6 weeks – Early Pre Season 
  • Period 3: 6 weeks – Late Pre Season 
  • Period 4: 12 to 16 weeks – In-season 

Period 1: Foundational Strength Training – Off-season 

The goal of this initial period for tennis strength training is to build a robust base on which the athlete can later develop more intensive, tennis-specific strength and endurance. 

Tennis, like most other sports, involves overuse of some parts of the body. You will primarily use only one side of the upper body and swing with only one arm. As a result, some muscle groups will overdevelop, while others will remain underdeveloped. 

To counter this possibility, it is important to develop a balanced physique so that overuse injuries, such as rotator cuff injury and tennis elbow can be prevented. Therefore, the objective during Period One is to prepare the tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue for more rigorous training to follow. The plan for Period One may be something like this: 

  • Duration: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Training Sessions: 2 per week 
  • Number of Exercises: 10 to 12 per session 
  • Rest Interval between Exercises: 1½ minutes  
  • Rest Interval between Circuits: 2 to 3 minutes
  • Lifts Speed: Controlled and smooth 
  • Resistance: 40 to 50% (Maximum 1 repetition)  
  • Repetitions: 12 to 15

Specific Exercises in Period 1

Follow the tennis weight training program (listed below) twice a week for six to eight weeks. This training will focus on the key muscle groups with a goal to strengthen the entire body. Keep a gap of at least one to two days between sessions. Warm up before each session with light aerobic exercises for 10 minutes, and cool down with some light and stretching exercises for 10 minutes.  

  • Lying Leg Presses or Dumbbell Squats (legs and glutes)
  • Push-ups or Barbell/Dumbbell Bench Presses (triceps and chest)
  • Dumbbell Lunges (legs and glutes)
  • Back extensions using Stability Ball (lower back)
  • Dumbbell Rows Single Arm (biceps and upper back)
  • Crunches with Twist (abdomen) 
  • Machine or Dumbbell Shoulder Presses (triceps and shoulders)
  • Barbell Curls – Standing (biceps) 
  • Machine Calf – Standing (calves) 
  • Barbell Upright Rows (trapezius and shoulders)

Period 2: Maximal Strength Training – Early Pre Season

After a solid foundational strength has been achieved in Period One, you are ready to transition to a more intensive 6-week Period Two, where the goal is to build maximum tennis strength. Maximum strength is technically defined as the quantum of force you can exert in a single, voluntary muscle contraction.

To illustrate: a tennis athlete who can leg press 600 lbs for one repetition has a higher maximum strength than someone who can only press 550 lbs. Acquiring maximal strength matters to tennis athletes because power, which is often the differentiator between winners and losers in competitive tennis, is a product of agility and strength.

The higher your maximal strength level in tennis, the greater will be your potential to apply power to your strokes. Once the element of speed and agility is combined with strength, the outcome is explosive power. The same principle also works for endurance. The higher your level of strength, the more of it you will be able to exert over an extended time period. 

The plan for Period Two may be something like this: 

  • Duration: 6 weeks
  • Training Sessions: 2 to 3 per week 
  • Number of Exercises: 6 to 8 per session 
  • Movement Speed: Controlled and smooth 
  • Resistance: 80 to 90% (Maximum 1 repetition)  
  • Repetitions: 4 to 8
  • Number of Sets: 3 to 4 

Specific Exercises in Period 2

Tennis maximum strength training should only begin once the foundational weight training program is over. The program spread over six weeks should run during the late stage of the off-season (which is the early pre season stage) when no competitive tennis games are scheduled. Warm up before each session with light aerobic exercises for 10 minutes, and cool down with some light and stretching exercises for 10 minutes. 

  • Lying Leg Presses or Dumbbell Squats (legs and glutes)
  • Dumbbell/Barbell Bench Presses (triceps and chest)
  • Lat Pull-Down Exercises (biceps and upper back)
  • Dumbbell/Barbell Shoulder Shrugs (triceps and shoulders)
  • Bent Over Rows (hamstrings and lower back)
  • Weighted Crunches (abdomen)

Period 3: Power Training and Endurance – Late Pre Season

For a competitive tennis athlete, building maximal strength does not serve much purpose on the court, unless a large percentage of that strength can be applied with speed (to deliver explosive power) and over an extended time period (endurance). Therefore, the goal of Period Three of strength training is to increasingly focus on tennis-specific exercises that mimic the actual game’s movement patterns as effectively as possible. 

To gain explosive power, the exercises must be explosively performed, and consequently the resistances must be lowered. While power training can be performed in a variety of ways, one of the proven modes is plyometrics training. Plyometrics is an intense and high-impact exercise that utilizes speed and force of different muscle movements to build power. 

Plyometrics exercises may include push-ups, jumping, kicking, throwing, and running. These exercises promote the speed of muscle contractions, eventually leading to more powerful contractions. Resultantly, the tennis athlete is able to deliver harder shots and perform with an immense acceleration and speed on the court.

To develop power in the upper body, medicine balls are considered a highly useful training tool for competitive tennis athletes. Plyometrics for the lower body is akin to jump training. Importantly, you should move to a plyometrics training program only after you have completed Period One and Period Two training. Jumping straight to Period Three strength training is ill-advised. 

The plan for Period Three strength training may be something like this: 

  • Duration: 4 to 8 weeks
  • Training Sessions: 1 to 2 per week 
  • Number of Exercises: 2 to 3 per session 
  • Rest Interval between Exercises: 3 to 4 minutes  
  • Movement Speed: Explosive 
  • Resistance: Body weight   
  • Repetitions: 10 to 12

Specific Exercises in Period 3 – Power Training 

Period 3 will usually last from one to two months, depending on when your competitive tennis season begins. The schedule should be designed such that your strength training in this period ends around the start of your competitive season. Plyometric exercises should be performed once or twice a week, but not on consecutive days. 

You will require a medicine ball, but free weights are not needed. The training session may take about half an hour. Warm up before each session with light aerobic exercises for 10 minutes, and cool down with some light and stretching exercises for 10 minutes.

  • Side Throws
  • Squat Jumps
  • Hurdle Jumps with Sprint 
  • Box Drill with Rings 
  • Over the Back Toss
  • Slams

Strength Endurance Training in Period 3  

In addition to developing explosive power, it is equally important to build strength endurance in Period Three. Your degree of muscular endurance will determine your ability to sustain through a long rally or a hard-fought game by applying the same level of power continually throughout.

Circuit training is one of the tried and tested approaches to build strength endurance for competitive tennis. This can continue during the in-season phase as well. The plan for strength endurance training in this phase may be something like this: 

  • Duration: 4 to 8 weeks
  • Training Sessions: 1 to 2 per week 
  • Number of Exercises: 10 to 12 per session 
  • Rest Interval between Exercises: ½ to 1 minute  
  • Rest Interval between Circuits: 2 to 3 minutes  
  • Movement Speed: Quick 
  • Resistance: 40 to 50% 1 Rep Max or Body weight   
  • Repetitions: 10 to 2o

Specific Exercises in Period 3 – Strength Endurance

Strength endurance circuit exercises should be performed in one to two sessions per week. Make sure your plyometrics training days do not coincide with circuit training. Warm up before each session with light aerobic exercises for 10 minutes, and cool down with some light and stretching exercises for 10 minutes.

  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups with Twist
  • Squat Jumps
  • Squat Thrusts
  • Bench Dips
  • Box Step-ups 
  • Alternating Supermans
  • Alternating Split Squats

Conclusion: Take Your Competitive Tennis Performance to the Next Level with Strength Training

Strength training and conditioning is the secret of success for competitive tennis athletes, unleashing their true potential on the court. With a well-supervised, disciplined, and scientifically-driven training program, you can: 

  • Turn your serves, volleys, and ground strokes into a power-packed, formidable weapon on the court to overwhelm your opponent. 
  • Develop muscle endurance and indefatigable stamina to stay on top during long rallies and nail-biting tough games. 
  • Build a rock-solid core and become the champion of equilibrium, ensuring your shots are laser-focused and precise. 
  • Minimize your injury risks and dodge physical catastrophes on the court with strong muscles, ligaments, and tendons. 

Finally, let the undeniable advantages of consistent strength training help you defy the rigors of age, so that you can continue to enjoy competitive tennis and dominate your opponents for longer than you imagine.

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