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Tennis and Energy Systems

This is an excerpt from Complete Conditioning for Tennis-2nd Edition by Mark S. Kovacs,Paul Roetert,Todd S. Ellenbecker & United States Tennis Association.

Applying the energy system continuum to tennis is easy and helps illustrate the reason that both anaerobic and aerobic conditioning are necessary for enhancing tennis performance. Because tennis ultimately involves repetitive muscular contractions and exertion, the aerobic energy system provides the baseline energy production over the duration of a tennis match or practice session. Aerobic fitness is also important for recovery following a strenuous baseline rally, bursts of movement, and maximal skills such as executing a serve-and-volley sequence or an overhead shot.


Anaerobic energy production is required for maximal activities during points. Testing (in the form of treadmill tests and intermittent endurance runs) on elite tennis players indicates high levels of aerobic fitness. Sprinting and agility tests indicate superior anaerobic power. These results explain a player's ability to maximally sprint from side to side during a baseline rally and then, after 20 to 25 seconds rest, do it again. Athletes with better aerobic fitness levels can clear the accumulated lactic acid from the working muscles more rapidly than players with less aerobic fitness. Likewise, athletes with greater aerobic power can run faster and jump higher because of greater energy stores in the trained muscle. However, tennis requires a balance, and the best tennis players have high levels of both anaerobic and aerobic fitness. Training needs to be structured appropriately to accurately match the demands of the sport of tennis and the player's game style.


Tennis Training for Anaerobic Power


Analysis of tennis matches generally determines that the average point lasts less than 10 seconds; some points can last 20 to 30 seconds. Most players' average rest time is 18 to 20 seconds, with a maximum allowable rest time between points being 20 or 25 seconds, depending on competition rules. The ratio of work time to rest time is termed the work - rest cycle. A 1:2 to 1:5 work - rest cycle is most representative of the physiological activity pattern experienced during tennis. This means that for every 1 second of work, you will have 2 to 5 seconds of rest. In practical terms, a 10-second point would result in a 20- to 50-second rest. The reason that some matches involve a work - ratio of 1:5 is that it accounts for the time during change-overs (90 seconds), and some matches have shorter work periods than 10 seconds as well. Therefore, to appropriately cover all environments seen during tennis matches it is appropriate to cycle your tennis-specific training using a 1:2 to 1:5 work - rest ratio. In addition to the work - rest cycle concept, the term specificity is often applied. Specificity involves training the athlete in a manner most similar to the actual demands of the sport. It means using movement patterns, distances, and times similar to tennis play. For example, running 5 miles builds aerobic conditioning, but it has very little specificity to tennis play. Performing tennis-specific endurance training involves a number of short-duration, multidirectional movements at high intensity with the work - rest ratios mentioned earlier. This training is more specific to tennis than running at a slow pace for 5 miles.


Anaerobic training techniques in tennis use both concepts of work - rest cycle and specificity. Drills and activities used to improve anaerobic power follow the 1:2 to 1:5 work - rest cycle and include relatively short-duration, multidirectional movement patterns. The characteristics of tennis play that can be incorporated into tennis-specific training include the following:

  • A tennis point usually includes four or five directional changes.
  • Most tennis points last fewer than 10 seconds.
  • Tennis players always carry their rackets during points.
  • Players seldom run more than 30 feet (9 m) in one direction during a point.
  • Movement patterns contain acceleration and controlled deceleration.


These characteristics can be incorporated into a hitting session with a ball machine or coach (table 10.1). The player takes a 90-second sit-down break between each series. During the 90-second break, the feeder must pick up the balls and prepare for the next series. Heart rate can be recorded at the start and end of each 90-second break between series. The goal would be to reduce heart rate significantly during that time period. Also, you could set up targets to hit within. If so, record the number of balls hit outside the designated target areas. The goal is to keep errors to a minimum during all sequences.



Tennis-specific drills to improve on-court movement and footwork as well as anaerobic power are included in chapters 5 and 6. Any exercise that includes a relatively short period of maximal-intensity work followed by a period of recovery that is approximately two times longer than the period of work stresses the anaerobic energy system. General anaerobic training drills for tennis include classic on-court movement drills such as cross cones (chapter 6) and line drills such as the sideways shuffle, alley hop, and spider run (chapter 6). To make these general anaerobic training drills more specific to tennis, perform them with a tennis racket in hand as you would do when you play tennis.


Another beneficial training exercise is also sometimes used as a fitness test for tennis. The MK drill (described as a test in chapter 4) is one of the most useful training exercises to develop tennis-specific endurance; it follows ratios of work to rest for tennis and covers distances seen on the tennis court; you sprint 36 feet (10.97 m) in one direction before turning. The MK drill is a good drill that takes 15 to 20 minutes and can be performed on the tennis court once or twice per week as part of a structured periodized training program to help improve tennis-specific endurance.

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