Watching pro tennis athletes (and some elite amateurs) can be mindblowing. They make it look so easy. Sometimes, they even appear to be graceful. That isn’t a word often used to describe an athlete whose sport is so heavily dependent on speed and power. Much of the reason is because through their training and preparation, they become powerful and learn how to be efficient in their movements.
We all want to emulate the best. But how, exactly, do the top athletes do it? In tennis, huge advantages can be gained through strength, power, and body control. Each play into the other, and that is why strength training for tennis athletes is so important. Being quicker on the first step to the ball could be the difference between winning and losing a point. To be quicker, we must train for strength and power in quick bursts.
Take Roger Federer, for example. Federer has won an all-time best 20 grand slam titles, and is still one of the top men on the pro circuit. At any given point in the year, he can be found at the top of the ATP rankings.
Dr. Mark Kovacs is a performance physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach, USPTA coach, and founder of both the iTPA and Kovacs Institute. He points to specific reasons Federer has had so much success as a pro.
“He’s a great prototype text book way of moving efficiently,” Kovacs said. “He never takes an extra step that he doesn’t need to, he’s always balanced, even when he is out of position, and most other pros don’t move like him. That’s the thing. He does it so well and so efficiently that he is sort of the envy of most of the other pros.” Federer’s efficiency is largely a credit to his core and lower body strength, and his ability to generate power. While most pros train for strength and speed four to five days per week in addition to practice, amateurs can still benefit greatly from two or three similar sessions per week. “(Federer) is able to have a very wide base, he’s able to take less steps per distance than every other player, and when he gets to the ball, his head, his torso, are always balanced, which many players aren’t,” Kovacs said. “Many players are leaning over. They are unable to hold themselves up because they are moving so fast they lose control. (Pros are) stronger. They’re more stable. That’s why they can move faster.”
Essentially, the more force an athlete can produce against the ground or court, the quicker they will be. Training for strength and power, more powerful steps can be taken by the athlete, ultimately helping him or her get to the ball faster.
Consider the scenario of a long distance runner and a sprinter competing against one another. The runner who trains for distance will surely be able to last longer in an extended race. However, the more powerful sprinter is trained to produce more force for short distances, and would be able to reach a drop shot much more quickly than the trained distance runner. “You can have the best forehand in the world, but if you can’t get to the ball, if you don’t have good acceleration, if you don’t have good change of direction, no one is going to know how good you are if you don’t know how to get to the ball to hit it,” said Montreal-based pro strength coach Dean Hollingworth, CSCS, CTPS. “By working in the gym, we get stronger, and with strength comes more power, and through plyometrics, we start developing that power.”
Aaron Patterson, NSCA-CPT, CTPS, CSAC
Certified Personal Trainer,
Certified Tennis Performance Specialist,
Certified Speed and Agility Coach