A racquet sport training programme has to meet the demands of an all-round physically challenging sport. Court time should be given priority in programme design, however, players must have a skill set combining aerobic and anaerobic endurance, explosive strength and power (plyometrics) along with speed, agility and strength.
Sports specificity training takes into account training protocols and movements that closely resemble the sport involved. For sports such as tennis and squash this can be categorised into the following areas:
It is important to be able to sustain a high work rate for the duration of a game that could potentially last for hours. This type of training should combine medium intensity work with short, higher intensity training.
Medium intensity work (swimming, xtrainer or roller blading) lasting 20 minutes or more at an even and steady pace. Try to keep running to a minimum here as the body is already subjected to this in quantity during tennis practice, game play and other training methods.
Short, higher intensity interval training (short, fast sprints, cycling or skipping) lasting no longer than a minute during work periods with active recovery in between. For example, sit on an exercise bike and pedal as fast as you can for 20 seconds, and then pedal steadily for 40 to 60 seconds (your active recovery period). Repeat this sequence of speed and steady pedalling for around 20-30 minutes.
Ideally, and dependant on your level of play you should look to complete a combination of cardio endurance training at least once per week.
Speed and agility training
It is thought that during a match up to 48% of a players movement is lateral (sideways) so the ability to change direction rapidly and under control becomes an important skill. Although we combine both speed and agility when training it is important that they are also seen as individual elements.
Speed gives us the ability to complete the movement in a short period of time (quick responses, the ability for muscles to make explosive movements, the ability to execute a movement correctly at varying speeds). This is most beneficial when making quick first steps, decelerating to make ball contact or hitting powerful shots on the serve and from the baseline.
Plyometric style training can fall into this category too as its training focus is on speed of execution through explosive movement. This style of training is based around having muscles exert maximum force in as short a time as possible with the aim being to achieve as much speed and power through the movement as possible. Exercises that fall into this category can include long jumps, high jumps and box jumps.
Agility allows us to change the body’s direction efficiently so that movements are executed smoothly with strong coordination, accurately and in a relaxed form using minimal energy. This type of training takes into consideration movement coordination and precision. Agility is most commonly seen when playing very efficient (well timed) shots and having the ability to adjust to difficult shots with no apparent effort.
There are many drills and variations that can be used to work these two separate skills during a training session including ball drops, fan drills, spider drills and cross court drills.
It is important that the body is strong as well as agile and cardio fit to be able to create an element of power. However, you must find the right balance between muscle mass to create power without becoming bulky which may slow you down. Ideally you should be looking to complete a ratio of higher repetitions with lower weight to avoid greater chance of gaining unnecessary muscle mass.
A resistance programme for racquet sports should encompass the whole body as the entire body is ustilised when playing. Upper body exercises should be comprised of basic movements to improve general strength. Dumbbells are preferable where possible as they ensure that each side is working individually to create as much muscular symmetry as possible and core exercises should include some rotation to mimic the movement needed during a game. Lower body exercises should be designed to add strength and power. For more experienced gym goers Olympic movements where increased acceleration is required can be beneficial. Squat patterns are a good basis for increasing leg strength while the inclusion of a lateral lunge will mirror the potential movement through your game.
Due to the potential imbalances caused by this dominant-side sport, resistance training can also aid the correction of muscular imbalances and assist in injury prevention.