5 Speed Training Tips for Tennis Players
Speed is perhaps the most vital determinant of your performance during a tennis match. If you can get to the ball early and are in a good position to hit it, you’ve increased your chances to hit the ball well, and possibly win the point. Tennis players who are quick on their feet can more easily change direction and can even dominate an opponent who is technically more skilled. Tennis speed is so much more than the ability to run at maximum speeds. If you think about it, because of the distances covered on a tennis court, it is almost impossible to reach top speed. And unlike other disciplines that are more closely associated with speed, such as the 100-meter sprint, tennis requires multi-directional quickness. The best way to improve your speed on the tennis court is to train in ways that mimic the demands of the sport. It’s a principle known as “specificity.” For instance, if you’re a tennis player you don’t want to train like a bodybuilder or vice versa. In other words, your training should align with your sport. Here are five steps on how to train for tennis speed.
1. Proper Warm-Up and Cool Down Training for tennis speed is all about maximum effort and intensity, so a proper dynamic—not static—warm-up is an essential first step to prepare your muscles for the work ahead. The rate of muscular contraction is very high during speed training. If you don’t take the time to warm up properly you really run the risk of injury. The same can be said of the cool-down period after training.
- The excessive contractions tend to shorten the muscles and produce waste products as the session progresses. A proper cool down will help to stretch the muscles back to their original resting length and eliminate the presence of the waste products such as lactic acid.
- The warm up should start slowly at low intensities and build up, whereas your cool down should be exact opposite (gradually slowing down) and finishing with some static stretching.
- A proper warm up and cool down will also significantly reduce the amount of muscle soreness that will occur a day or so after the session.
2. Never Train in Straight Lines Think about how you play for a moment. How often do you move forwards? How often do you move backwards? How often do you move sideways? What about going backwards for a smash? As you can see, tennis requires a multitude of movements. Only a few situations requires the player to run forward. If you were training for the 100-meter sprint, straight line running is acceptable, but for tennis (and most other sports), you have to learn how to move quickly in many directions. Straight-line training has its place in your program, but should not be the only type of speed training you do.
3. Train Over Short Distances Think about the average distance you must cover to reach each shot. It’s typically shorter distances. When you’re training for speed, you only need to be training over very short distances, such as five to 10 meters. You want to focus on training your body for quick, short bursts, not long distances.
4. Don’t Forget Your Footwork Training yourself to move faster is only one component to improving your effectiveness on the court. After you get to the ball, your job isn’t done. You still have to adjust your position relative to the ball to be able to hit it well. If you’re too close or too far away from the ball you won’t be able to make a meaningful shot. And more often than not, you’ll have to hit several balls in a row, which means recovering well after one shot and getting to the next ball. All of this requires good footwork. Roger Federer is considered to have the best footwork on tour and therefore the killer speed that comes with it. Ladder and cone-based agility drills are two exercises that will help you improve your footwork—or what I call foot-speed.
5. Rest Periods Are Vital One of the most overlooked aspects of speed training is the rest you need in between repetitions or exercises. Most people finish a repetition of a drill and begin the next one far too quickly. You have to perform all exercises at 100 percent intensity to make improvements in your foot-speed. If you are not fully recovered you will perform at increasingly less intensity as the session progresses, which will improve your endurance, not your speed. Take at least a one-minute rest, if not more. The rest period depends on the distances involved and the type of exercise involved. Remember not to hurry your speed training and you will win the race.