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The Importance of Strength Training and Speed

Jan 3, 2008
Strength training is required to help develop a "base" from which an athlete can build upon and become faster. Strength is required before power training and it helps to lay the foundation for overall body conditioning. I have found that strength is the single most dominant factor in predicting and also improving speed. It is not the only factor but it is definitely the main one that can bring about the most significant results.

If you have not performed a regular strength training program before then you need to participate in a general total body program as this will lay the foundation for a more advanced speed program. This article assumes that you have already been involved in a strength training program and are ready to expand into the specifics of training for blazing speed.

There are various types of strength which will help you to understand how to specifically train for your sport of tennis.

Strength-endurance refers to the athlete being able to exert strength over and over many times. If an athlete lacks the ability to continually exert this strength then they will become slower in reacting to a certain situation. The best way to work on strength endurance is by performing circuit training.

Maximum strength refers to being able to exert the maximum force possible in a single contraction or movement. It is this type of strength that plays a significant role in developing that "explosive" component of speed. An athlete can work on this maximum strength by conducting a strength training program.

Elastic strength is a third type which refers to the athlete having the ability to overcome a significant force or resistance with a fast contraction. How does this relate to speed? Well, think about how soccer has become more physical or football with the known amount of sheer strength required to push away from a defender. This can help the athlete to become faster in their response to a situation and get a jump on their opponent. This contributes to an athlete being fast and responsive to a certain situation. An athlete can work on developing elastic strength by working with medicine ball, performing various weight training exercises and a series of plyometric exercises.

Precautions for strength training include conducting a complete "needs analysis" for each individual, avoiding excessive loads on the body, avoiding over training (leads to overuse injuries)and avoiding training errors and using poor technique. Be sure to follow all guidelines and train with a partner if possible (for motivation and for spotting)

Principles of Training include the following: Frequency is how often you workout, intensity is how hard you work out or the effort you put into your work. This is expressed as a percentage of 1RM (maximum repetition). Time is how long you work out for(e.g. 45 minutes).Progression refers to a gradual increase in repetitions, sets, or resistance that allows for adaptational changes. Specificity is about training the body part or system specific to those used in your sport.

If you have access to a gym facility then you can develop a strength training program utilizing the equipment available.For those coaches or athletes who do not have access to a gym, you can design a program using a combination of the exercises included using an athlete's own body weight for resistance.

Make sure that you include a variety of exercises that cover the lower body, the core and the upper body. Neglecting one area can create imbalances that will likely lead to injury.

How Do We Get Stronger? We get stronger by continually overloading the muscle and forcing it to grow stronger in order to cope with this increased load. When you hear coaches talking about a "maintenance phase" during their competitive season then they are often referring to maintaining the load placed upon the muscles. Whereas as during the pre-season the athletes were constantly striving to increase the loads placed on the muscles.

There are several methods when it comes to basic strength training. These include free weights such as barbells and dumbbells which are common in gyms and homes, using fixed machines such as universal machines, using your own body weight for resistance such as performing push-ups and squats, partner assisted exercises where your partner is the resistance, various forms of circuit training which involves performing a series of pre-defined exercises in rapid succession.

These are methods used for general strength training especially when the athlete lacks the appropriate resources. Our strength training exercises are more specific and cover a variety of methods but all aim to train specifically for the demands of tennis.

Many tennis players have to travel and this is where having the option to perform exercises using your own body weight can come in handy if this is your only option for strength training.

Repetitions - When conducting your initial strength training program for overall body conditioning and preparation for more advanced exercises I want you to work in the 10-12 repetition range. This allows you to develop muscle size and endurance but most of all it doesn't place too much stress on your body which would likely lead to injury. You should be pushing out that last repetition, if not then increase the weight.

Once you have completed at least six months of a general weight training program then you can move onto the specifics that will really help you to become faster.

To achieve maximal results and adaptations you will want to train in the repetition range of 6-8 repetitions. This will help to achieve maximum strength and muscle growth. Every two to three weeks I want you to include a heavy day in your training which will consist of performing the same exercises but now in the 4-6 repetition range. It is important to perform these fewer repetitions with exercises that you have been doing for a while. This is a gradual progression. These heavy days will really help to overload and stimulate the muscles.

Sets - During your initial general strength training program I want you to perform 3 sets. The goal should be to push out 10-12 repetitions in each of these three sets. Remember that the main goal of a general strength training program is to prepare the body for the more strenuous activities placed upon it in the power and advanced training programs. If you have already been involved in a strength training program then you need to move on to a more intensive strength training program of 3 to 5 sets per exercise (include super sets into your programs)

Rest periods - During your general conditioning phase you will want to only rest for 1-2 minutes between sets.

When you have moved on to the more intensive program you will need to increase your rest periods to at least two to three minutes (due to using heavier weights and performing fewer repetitions). Anything less when maxing out will not allow you to fully recover in order to perform the next set for maximal gains. This increased rest period will allow the muscles to sufficiently replenish their ATP and creatine phosphate stores which will allow you to get better results on your next set.

Many power athletes will require rest periods of greater than 3-5 minutes. This is more specific but I am sure that you will have time restraints with your sessions.

Strength Training Program for Novice Lifters includes using a lighter weight, more repetitions, goal of becoming accustomed to strength training, fewer sets, divide into two sessions (upper body and lower body), conduct each session twice per week = 4 total sessions

Strength Training Program for Advanced and Experienced Lifters includes heavier weight, fewer repetitions, goal is to increase strength, more sets, three distinct sessions allowing for more emphasis on a specific muscle group, minimum of 72 hours rest between same muscles group work out, push out last few repetitions, increase weight if they are too easy!Introduce super sets, complete one heavy training session every three weeks, increase rest period between sets.

With frequency you should try to aim for at least three sessions per week with a minimum of two sessions.

Choice of exercises: To maintain motivation and prevent boredom change the exercises every 4-6 weeks. Refer to the article "Need New Strength Training Exercises to Add Variety to Your Programs?

The choice of exercises may be determined by the equipment available to you. If you have access a gym then they should have all of the required equipment. If not, then choose some of the body-resistance exercises or stability ball exercises.

Include a super-setting program for a 6 week period. Super-setting is where you complete a set with one muscles group and then immediately perform a set with another muscle group. For example: complete one set of dumbbell curls for the biceps and then complete one set of triceps extensions for the opposing triceps.

I strongly believe in keeping the repetition range between 6-8 as anything higher is not "overloading" the muscles. Every 2-3 weeks I want you to include one session of maximum lifting where your repetition range is between 4-6 repetitions. This will help to stimulate the muscles.

Always use a spotter and seek the assistance of a trainer to help you with technique. Remember that this is a general strength training program and change exercises every 4 - 6 weeks for variety and to stimulate muscles. Perform the general program for at least 6 months and allow for 48 to 72 hours rest between workouts. Start with a light weight and then progress to heavier weights and aim for a designated number of repetitions.

Include the following strength and power training exercises in your program for advanced players: BB and DB squats, Snatch Squat, Power Cleans, Bench Press,
Hack Squats, Leg Sled.

Characteristics of Strength Training Programs
Hypertrophy involves concentric and eccentric exercises, multiple sets for each muscle group (greater than 3 sets, short rest periods (less than 2 minutes, repetition range of 6-12, include super setting (same or opposing muscle groups), use a variety of exercises per muscle group, focus on muscle being trained and start with the larger muscle groups first

Power involves multi-joint exercises (power cleans, multiple sets (greater than 4), longer rest periods greater than two minutes (need longer rest periods before next set), repetition range less than 6 per set, very high intensity (maximal effort), choose power exercises specific to the movements used in tennis, perform power exercises early on in a session (work assisting muscle groups second), power is similar to strength but you are adding the time factor, plyo-metrics are exercises where the muscle is contracted eccentrically and then immediately concentrically. Stretch shortening cycle.

Muscular Endurance involves tennis specific exercises, fewer sets (3 or less), moderate rest periods (2-3 minutes between sets), repetition range of 12-18, lower intensity (allows for more repetitions), lighter weights used for more repetitions,

Remember that these are directed towards become a faster athlete. Strength and Power is what is needed for speed. Be aware of your own current fitness status and design a program that suits your needs based on the above principles.
About the Author
David Horne is a former professional tennis player who has created several online sports web sites including Sports eBooks .You can also visit the global web site for Tennis Coaching at Global Sports Coaching
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