Keeping You Fit to Play™ – ABCs of Smart Training (A3)

By Carl Petersen BPE, BSc. (PT)


Tennis is a sport with high demands in all of the physical components including suppleness (flexibility), stamina, strength, speed and skill (Dick, 1985). When speed and skill are combined they give rise to improvements in agility and optimize fast feet on and off the court. Tennis is an explosive sport, requiring players to react to numerous emergencies with movement in multiple directions and through multiple planes of movement for short bursts of time. Movements include sprinting, side-to-side running, cutting, twisting, sliding, and quick stops and starts (Pluim & Safran, 2004).

The average point length in tennis is less than ten seconds. On average, 3 to 5 directional changes are required per point, and it is not uncommon for players to perform more than 500 directional changes during a single match or practice (Roetart & Kovacs, 2011). As well, in ‘professional players’, it was found that more than 70% of movements were side-to-side with less than 20% of movements in forward linear direction and less than 8% of movements in a backward linear direction (Weber et al, 2007). These quick movements pass through many planes of motion and create rotational and torsional forces on numerous joints and muscles at the same time. Individuals including coaches who design training programs for tennis players must keep these time frames, directions of movement and additional needs in mind when setting up footwork drills.

You must give your body the opportunity to practice and play with changed and strengthened muscles.

Cone Slalom Drill Set up cones or half tennis balls in a slalom and do agility work running around the cones. Try: • Straight slalom. • Fast backpedal around cone. • Stutter or split step at cones.

Square Run Drill

Arrange five cones or half tennis balls as shown in the diagram approximately

10 feet (3–4 meters) apart. Start in the middle of the square and always facing

in the same direction side shuffle step to the two front cones and back after circling them with short steps. Then proceed to the two back corner cones.

Repeat 2–3 times.

5-10-Ball Pickup
Place 5-10 balls on the court as shown in the diagram. Starting from the center,
run out and pick up the balls and bring them back and place in a shallow bucket, box, or rolled towel. Try doing the exercise carrying a racquet and picking balls with dominant and non-dominant hand.

Training tips to remember when training for agility are these:

· Always start with a good athletic stance (soft knees and core switched on).

· Agility and acceleration (quickness) drills must be structured so the muscles learn to fire quickly and in a coordinated manner.

· Quickness within two steps in all directions is key in tennis.

· Agility and acceleration allow smaller athletes to be able to compete well and gives larger athletes another weapon in their arsenal.

· Agility can be gained by playing different sports and dynamic games that involve lateral movement and quick stops and starts, or by doing circuit drills that incorporate different exercises.

References available on request.

Carl Petersen is a partner/physiotherapist at City Sports Physiotherapy Clinic in Vancouver. He is an internationally recognized speaker and has co-authored the book Fit to Play™ Tennis as well as a variety of other training resources with former WTA professional and current coach and exercise model Nina Nittinger based in Davos, Switzerland.