When Training for Tennis ‘Train the Chain!’
LaRue Cook, Certified Tennis Performance Specialist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Tennis requires the coordination, cooperation and synchronization of several body parts and muscle groups in order for you to be effective on the court. Yet, many tennis athletes who workout treat their bodies and their workouts as if their body is a collection of unrelated parts! They will often work one muscle at a time, in isolation. If this describes you, then please read on. These types of individual muscle exercises are called single-joint exercises and an example would be your standard bicep curl where the exercise targets that single muscle. Make no mistake, there is definitely a place in a workout for these types of exercises, for example, single-joint exercises are often used in a rehabilitation setting to specifically target an injured or repaired muscle or body part. It is also a great way to strengthen a particular muscle that may be weak and not adequately or safely doing its part to fulfill its role in more complex multi-joint movements required in tennis. By strengthening that single muscle we can make the entire chain of muscles more effective. For example, think of lining up a set of dominos so that when you tip over the first in the line, the successive domino knocks over the next and so on. Now what would happen if I replaced one of those dominos with one made of marsh mellow? It probably would not be able to perform its duty in the chain by knocking over the next, or at best, would slow-down the process; it simply isn’t strong enough. To get that domino to perform its full function we’d need to strengthen it by replacing it with a ‘stronger’ domino. Similarly, we may need to train individual muscles so that they can adequately perform their chain duties.
However, once you’ve addressed any individual muscle weaknesses, in order to get more bang for our training buck, and to strengthen your body in a more functional way for tennis, it is best to spend most of your training time on what are known as multi-joint exercises. Performing the more complex multi-joint exercises (for example a squat that requires the movement of more than a single joint and muscle group) will better prepare you for similar types of movements and strength needs that you will experience on the court. These types of train the chain exercises will help you develop speed, strength and power for tennis by training the various muscle groups together – as they would be used on the court. So remember, when training for tennis, “Train the Chain!”
About the Author: LaRue is a Certified Tennis Performance Specialist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Sports Performance and Injury Prevention Trainer and also holds specialty certifications as a Youth Conditioning Specialist. LaRue resides in Florida and Virginia where he works with tennis athletes, tennis coaches, and tennis teams, helping them improve tennis athletes’ performance and reduce their risk of injury. LaRue also serves on the Board of Examiners for the National Board of Fitness Examiners.