In this article we will try to clarify and define why tennis players need a strong core to be able to hit harder and with more control. We will breakdown exercises that should help increase the strength and elasticity in that part of the body.
First we need to understand that tennis is a sport that uses the entire body to generate power – the foundation of power is the core, then we add the racquet and ball. Strength travels from the bottom to the top of the body, and we call it the kinetic chain. A kinetic chain is a group of elements that produce the movement (body segments, with its muscles, joints and nerves) and offer strength. Kinetic chains can be open or closed, but we will not get into details because we do not need to understand kinematics in tennis strokes.
Once we understand this, we can see how a weak core could break the power transfer from the bottom to the top parts of the body, resulting in a slower and less powerful stroke. We also should note that back injuries are common amongst tennis players. That is why we need to work on strengthening the back.
Here we describe some exercises you can do. It is also important to start with a good warm-up and to finish any type of core work doing mobility exercises.
1- The first — and most important — exercise will help prevent injuries and stabilize the entire core. We use isometric strength exercises (static exercises where the muscle doesn’t change length) like front and lateral planks.
Example: Lying face down on your stomach, you will press up until arms are straight, like a push-up. Hold that position and activate the whole core. How long the position is held will depend on the level of the player and the timing of the workout. This type of workout can be done the entire year but will be used more during the harder weeks of training when we cannot workout much because we need to avoid fatigue so we do not affect our game.
2- Concentric exercises are those that use a contraction to shorten a muscle. These exercises help us increase the power of the core and avoid imbalances between the dominant and non-dominant side of the body. Balanced strength between the front and the back of the body will also help prevent back injuries.
Example: Lying on the back with the hips bent at 90 degrees and elevated feet, you touch your feet controlling the movement and exhaling all the air every time you move towards them. The intensity of the work will depend on the player and its goals.
Concentric exercises will also be done the entire season, but to prevent fatigue in that area, these should not be done alongside specific serve work.
3- Eccentric exercises are those that lengthen a muscle. These exercises help athletes adapt to higher levels of resistance.
Example: Lying on back with legs bent (the hips open 120 degrees) and feet on the floor. A colleague has to help you by holding your feet. Sit up, bringing your chest to the knees as in a sit-up. Then slowly return to the taking from 4-10 seconds until your back is on again on the floor.
Eccentric work creates a lot of muscle soreness, and it is really intense. For that reason we always use it during the preseason.
4- Power-speed workouts are a combination of the two previous exercises, but in this one, the muscle or muscle group works to build speed. We try to translate strength into speed by stretching and shortening muscles or muscles group as fast as possible.
Example: This motion will mimic hitting a forehand but instead of using a racquet, you will be throwing a medicine ball. Throw the medicine ball against a wall several times with a considerable speed. The repetitions do not have to be really high; it always depends on what we are looking for.
This workout is good to do during functional training sessions or during specific sessions where we want to increase the power (strength-speed).
There are many things to consider when developing a training program. Amongst them are different types of muscular workouts for different parts of the season as well as the needs and goals of the player. In addition, any training program needs to keep the player interested and motivated. At our academy we have different materials that make our work easier to do all this.
You can find all those materials and apparel on Tennis Warehouse Europe website.
Alberto Lledó Quiles
Graduate in Physical Activity and Sports Sciences