Weight Training for Tennis Players

Build Strength and Power for Tennis

Professional tennis player Roger Federer.
Professional tennis player Roger Federer. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Tennis requires strength and power and perhaps the endurance to take you over five sets or a long three-setter. Combining strength, power and endurance can be tricky to achieve.

For professional sports that utilize weights in their training, which is most sports these days, training is broken up into seasonal phases for best results. Each phase has different objectives and each successive phase builds on the previous one. This is called periodization.

Unlike football or baseball, for example, you can pretty much play tennis all year round, indoor or outdoor. Even so, this is how a weight training program might look if your tennis playing season is followed by a closed or 'off' season and you need to build up and then take some time off.

How Periodized Programs Work

Early Pre-Season

Players are preparing for the season and starting to build up after the break. Emphasis is on building functional strength and some muscle bulk (hypertrophy).

Late Pre-Season

Players are working up to the start of the season. Emphasis is on building maximum power.

In Season

Competition or regular recreational tennis is underway and you expect to be in peak condition. Maintenance of strength and power is emphasized.

Break Season

Time to relax for a while but you need to keep active if you want to maintain some level of fitness for the next season. Emphasis is on rest and recovery with maintenance of light activity — cross training, light gym work. A break from serious strength training is often helpful. As pre-season approaches, more regular gym work can resume.

The Tennis Weight Training Program

In comparison to previous eras, currently big, strong players are making their mark. Players like Del Potro and Djokovic bring new levels of strength and power to tennis.

This is a four-phase program for tennis players. The first phase concentrates on building basic strength and muscle and the second on power delivery. This should suit most players. If you play all year round you can just continue with the power program once you build the basics. If you take a break for longer than six weeks, start again with the strength program. Aerobic and endurance conditioning will need to be added to this weights program.

Consider the program presented here an all-around program. The best programs are always specific to an individual's current needs, fitness, goals, and access to resources and coaches.

If you're new to weight training, brush up on principles and practices with the beginner resources.

Always warm up and cool down before and after a training session. A medical clearance for exercise is always a good idea at the start of the season.

Phase 1 — Pre-Season

Strength and Muscle Phase

In this phase, you will build strength and muscle. The emphasis is on lifting moderately heavy weights in order to train the nervous system in conjunction with the muscle fibers to move bigger loads. Hypertrophy, which is building muscle size, does not necessarily imply strength, although in this foundation phase some muscle building will serve you well for strength development.

Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development. Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Power is essentially a product of strength and speed. For tennis, it could mean a better serve, more depth on those tricky volleys, or speed to get to a return.

Time of year: Mid ​​Pre-Season
Duration: 6-8 weeks
Days per week: 2-3, with at least one day, preferably two, between sessions
Reps: 8-10
Sets: 2-4
Rest in between sets: 1-2 minutes

Phase 1 Exercises

Points to Note

  • Adjust the weight so that the final few repetitions are taxing but don't cause you to "fail" completely.
  • Although the upper body is where the action is expressed in tennis, the "posterior chain" of the hips, gluteals (butt) and upper legs and the abdominals is of equal importance. The squats and deadlifts build strength and power in this region.
  • Don't work to failure for the upper body exercises such as the dumbbell press, woodchops and lat pulldown, and do hold good form. Keep the forearms in a vertical plane with the upper arms not extending excessively below parallel at the bottom of the movement. It's important to protect the vulnerable shoulder joint when training for sports where the shoulder gets a lot of specific "out of gym" work — in this case on the court.
  • If you are unable to recover from a session with only one rest day in between, re-schedule this program to two sessions each week rather than three. Strength training can be physically and mentally demanding.
  • You may be sore after these sessions. Muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal; joint pain is not. Be sure to monitor your arm and shoulder reactions to this phase. Back off when any joint pain or discomfort is felt.

Phase 2 — Late Pre-Season to In Season

Conversion to Power
In this phase, you build on the strength developed in phase 1 with training that will increase your ability to move a load at high velocity. Power is the combination of strength and speed. Power training requires that you lift weights at high velocity and with explosive intent. You need to rest adequately between repetitions and sets so that each movement is done as fast as possible. The number of sets can be less than phase 1. There is no point training like this when you're fatigued.

Time of year: late pre-season and in-season
Duration: ongoing
Days per week: 2
Reps: 8 to 10
Sets: 2-4
Rest between repetitions: 10 to 15 seconds​
Rest between sets: at least 1 minute or until recovery

Phase 2 Exercises

  • Barbell or dumbbell hang clean
  • Cable push pull
  • One arm cable raises each arm
  • Cable wood chop
  • Medicine ball push press
  • Medicine ball standing twist with partner (6x15 repetitions fast, recover between sets) or alone

Points to Note

  • In power training, it's important that you're relatively recovered for each repetition and set so that you can maximize the velocity of the movement. The weights should not be too heavy and the rest periods sufficient.
  • At the same time, you need to push or pull reasonably heavy loads to develop power against reasonable resistance.
  • With the medicine ball twists, do a full set at maximum then rest sufficiently before the next one. If you don't have a partner, use a lighter ball and keep the ball in your hands while twisting from side to side.

Phase 3 —- In Season

Maintenance of Strength and Power

Alternate Phase 1 (Strength and Muscle) and phase 2 (Power) for a total of two sessions each week. Every fifth week, skip weight training to assist recovery.

Points to Note

  • Try not to do strength training on the same day as you practice on the court — or at least separate workouts morning and afternoon.
  • Rest completely from strength training one week out of every six. Light gym work is OK.
  • Use your judgment. Don't sacrifice court technical skills training for weight work if you have limited time available.

Off Season

If you have an offseason, now it's time to rest up. You need this time for emotional and physical renewal. For several weeks, forget about weight training and do other things. Staying fit and active with cross training or other activities is still a good idea.

Give yourself plenty of time to do it all again next year.

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