By: Simon Grieve
Studies have shown that of all the physical factors required for tennis, it is agility more than any other, which separates higher-ranked players from lower-ranked players. Agility has been defined as the ability to move, stop, and change direction rapidly. When designing exercises to improve agility performance of the tennis player, the physical/movement patterns should as closely as possible mimic those found during actual tennis play. This article has two aims: firstly, to demonstrate movement patterns used by elite tennis players; and secondly, to offer some practical training exercises that can be used by coaches on-court to train their players to perform the desired movement patterns more effectively/efficiently. The video below shows Rochus move (recover) towards a more central court position following a wide forehand.
Note:- It is important to observe the fundamental movement characteristics prior to designing specific training exercises, these are:-
1) Olivier uses his outside/right leg to decelerate and stop.
2) Prior to and during the planting of the outside leg Olivier lowers and shifts his centre of gravity towards the centre of the court (directly above the inside/left leg)
3) Muscular force used to change direction comes mainly from the inside leg, driving his centre of gravity towards the centre of the court.
Now we have seen movement patterns commonly used by elite players to recover back to a central court position, we can begin training the appropriate muscles to become more powerful, resulting in an even quicker recovery. The exercise demonstrated in this article can be manipulated in such a way to make it suitable for players of all ages and abilities. Figure 2 shows how this exercise can be introduced to beginner/mini tennis players. Figure 3 shows the exercise performed by an intermediate/junior player. Finally, figure 4 shows how the exercise can be performed by a more advanced player.
Figure 2 shows the young junior player performing the exercise. Starting with the left foot up on the step and the right foot on the ground, use the left leg to drive up and over the step so that now the right leg lands on the step with the left leg landing on the ground beside the step. This is then repeated using the right leg to drive the player up and over the step. Note that during the exercise the centre of gravity does not shift over the outside leg but is instead maintained directly above the step/drive leg. This allows for a greater ground reaction force/forceful leg drive. To increase the validity of the exercise with regards to improving tennis performance, the player should benefit from holding a racket in their playing hand.
Figure 3 shows the same exercise being performed by a more advanced player. The exercise is performed as before but training intensity is increased by increasing the height of the step. When you decide that a player is ready to increase the height of the step, a safer transition would be to initially reduce the amount of sets/reps performed.
Figure 4a/4b shows an advanced player performing the same exercise. However, the training intensity is increased by a) increasing the height of the step further, and b) adding a resistance band around the players waist. Performing the exercise in this manner will need an assistant to maintain tension on the resistance band. It is important for the player to communicate effectively with their helper with regards to setting the right tension on the band. Figures 4a/4b also show the athlete using the service line as a measure of performance as the players ability to perform the exercise increases, the band resistance may become greater and the distance that the player travels may increase. Please note that the player must not compromise technique in order to travel further over the step.
Training Procedure:- Following an adequate warm-up/stretching routine, have your players perform the exercise at the appropriate intensity level for their ability, for 10-20 seconds. As the player develops, multiple sets may be introduced using a 30 second rest period between sets.
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