A recent article by Greg Garber of ESPN.com, titled The Secret Behind Every Great Shot expertly looks at the importance of movement in tennis. In the following post, we will look at the key movement needs of tennis players, as defined by Garber and tennis greats, and how P3 measures and trains these systems.
Ah, movement. It is the very rhythm, the baseline (so to speak) of the game. Movement is everything that happens before the ball strike. It’s how the elite players arrive at the desired point of impact — hence the term “being on the ball.” It allows you to take the ball earlier and put yourself in position to hit your best shots, such as running around the backhand
Movement has many components. It is the fitness and flexibility of Novak Djokovic and Kim Clijsters. The jaw-dropping speed of Gael Monfils. The world-class acceleration of Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams or the startling anticipation of Caroline Wozniacki. Or the eerily cat-quiet footwork of Roger Federer.
Think of the Olympic sprinter. Pure speed is the only concern. Point A, the starting blocks, to Point B, the finish line. For the 100 meters, it’s a straight line, the 200 meters involves a single curve. No major changes of direction; fast-forward only.
Now, consider the degree of difficulty involved in the tennis player’s craft: Elevate for a serve, rotate through the ball, check your forward momentum, push off to the left to retrieve the return, stop, execute a swinging backhand, start the feet moving to the right, with chopping steps to get back to the middle of the court, recognize a drop shot, sprint forward, angling to the right, decelerate and chip a forehand into the open court. And that’s merely a five-stroke rally.
The ability of a tennis player to have great court coverage is directly related to their multi-planar speed, which refers ability to move and accelerate in a variety of directions in order to meet the dynamic movement demands of the sport, analogous to traditional definition of agility.
In order for an athlete to have the multi-planar speed to compete at a high level in tennis, they must have good hip and trunk stability as well as lower extremity power, as these systems serve to improve an athlete’s ability to explosively apply force into the ground in multiple plans, decelerate, set up positive ground angles and change direction. While each athlete has different needs and may have different pathologies or muscle imbalances that prevent them from having multi-planar speed or the ability to safely and efficiently interact with the ground, we generally like to complex strength movements (Various lunges, step ups, balance squats) with plyometrics (split squat jumps, skaters) and or agility movements (variations of the pro agility or slide agility).
In a match that consumed 5 hours, 14 minutes — the longest on record Down Under — according to the Oradsport tracking mechanism, Nadal ran a total of 2.13 miles. The logistics were staggering; the Spaniard sprinted in all directions, stopping, starting, lunging, jumping, swinging for a total of 1,473 strokes.
It’s for this very reason, that long distance running or, purely straight ahead running for tennis players does not make sense. While aerobic energy production is required to some extent, the use of slow, long-duration exercise has been demonstrated by science to lead to inappropriate neuromuscular adaptations, catabolic hormonal responses, an increased risk of over-training and an ineffective motor learning environment. For more information on aerobic interference for power athletes read Power Athletes and Distance Training Physiological and Biomechanical Rationale for Change.
Anticipation (is making me wait)
Perhaps no one in the game anticipates as well as Wozniacki.
She moves unbelievably,” said Sumyk, who has coached Vera Zvonareva and, currently, Azarenka — both top-five players. “Wozniacki sees and reads the ball really well. The toughest players — Nadal, Djokovic, Federer — they touch every ball.”
Wozniacki is not blindingly fast, but somehow the 20-year-old Dane seems to get to everything.
“I would say that Caroline is one of the great anticipators of the last decade,” Shriver said. “It’s amazing how often she guesses right. She’ll be seemingly out of the play and, boom, she’s back in it.”
At P3, we are very interested in understanding how athletes anticipate and react to stimulus, and over the past few years we have been testing and analyzing athlete’s stimulus response using customized force plates and video software analytics. These technologies allow us to measure the exact biomechanics of an athlete when they are forced to react.
While Andrei Kirilenko did not test that well in terms of power, strength and speed, his reaction times were excellent during stimulus response testing.
Deeply ingrained motor patterns can be difficult to change especially when it athlete has to make split second decisions, so while improving power and stability definitely help athletes react faster it is also important to coach/cue athletes through integrated movements and have athletes respond to stimulus as they are doing high intensity movements.
The recent integration of Neurotopia’s performance brain testing and training technology has given us amazing insight and understanding of how the brain functions to control reaction time and reaction variability. If reaction time is diagnosed as a performance deficit during an athletes initial brain mapping, neuro physicians set up training protocols to improve it.
Performance Brain Training starts by placing a brainwave sensor headset on the athlete. The sensors interpret how the brain is functioning by listening to the brain’s electro-chemical activity. Neurotopia’s software converts this activity into graphs and scores to provide the athlete with visual feedback as to what state their brain is currently in. As their brain state moves toward focus, the athlete can see the graph move upward and the score increase. Similarly, as they become distracted, the graph moves down and the score decreases. For training purposes, Neurotopia converts some of these graphs into video games whereby the game accelerates toward a goal when the brain’s activity is optimal and slows down or stops when the brain shifts from this optimal state.
Experience and a knowledge of an opponents tendencies also play a huge role in an athletes ability to anticipate.
In Tennis, and other sports, understanding the physical systems of sport and then finding ways to precisely measure and train these systems is extremely important. After testing each athletes physical system as it relates to their sport, the next step is to apply science-based nervous system training that adapts athletes to the high intensity movements of their sport and teaches them to be highly efficient, reserving muscle contraction only for the explosive part of the motion. These adaptations results in faster, more agile, powerful athletes without additional muscle bulk.
For more information about P3, visit www.P3.md .