As I have said previously, I love to look around at many different sports and assess the transferable qualities that each sport can bring. If you stay within the confines of a single sport, it is easy to get ‘blinkered’ and miss loads of great information that is out there and can be used.
While browsing the April 2013 (Vo 35, Number 2) issue of the NSCA Strength & Conditioning Journal, I came across the following article, ‘Assessment and Contributors of Punching Forces in Combat Sport Athletes: Implications for Strength and Conditioning’, Seth Lenetsky, Nigel Harris, Matt Brughelli.
I have always considered tennis to be similar in essence to combat sports, both in terms of its ‘gladiatorial’ nature of being a battle most often fought 1 on 1, and also due to the fact that the tennis player must ‘strike’, though obviously in their case, a ball rather than someone else!
As a result, I do like to read through any literature relating to combat sports to see if it can relate to tennis (just as an aside, following the 2012 UKSCA Conference I had a brief exchange with Dr Stuart McGill about his theories of the ‘double-pulse’ in MMA Fighters and how that could translate across to tennis players – was a very interesting chat and if any of you are unfamiliar with McGill’s ideas of ‘mobile hips and stable core’ and the ‘pulsing’ action of the core, it has become a mantra for me in our programme and I would strongly recommend you look into it; one to discuss another time perhaps?!)
Anyhow, the above article looked to explore potential s&c strategies to improve punching force and so I thought if we substitute ‘ball strike’ for ‘punching force’, it may be possible to get a few ideas that could relate to tennis.
3 primary contributors to punching force were identified:
1) contribution of arm musculature
2) rotation of the trunk
3) drive off the ground by the legs.
The article wanted to look primarily at the research relating to lower limb involvement in punching.
– In one study (Filimonov at al), of 120 boxers analysed, boxers with more experience/elite had a greater contribution from their legs to the punch when compared with the other contributors (arms and trunk)
– A further study (Smith at al) concluded that elite boxers produced a greater punching force.
Together, the above studies suggest the greater contribution from the legs, the greater the force. Filimonov broke this down further into fighting styles and concluded that ‘knockout artists’ had a higher leg drive contribution than ‘players’ or ‘speedsters’. I would suggest there could be a certain carry-over into relative playing styles in tennis….
The article also makes note of studies relating to other sports, such as shot-put, javelin, even overhead throwing in children, which also support the conclusions of Filimonov regarding the importance of leg drive.
Implications for S&C work:
The article suggests that leg drive during the punching action requires Ground Reaction Forces in both horizontal and vertical directions.
The author cites one study by Akutagawa and Kojima, relevant to tennis, which found substantially greater vertical GRF than horizontal in the backhands of 14 collegiate male tennis players. However, a contrasting study looking at karate, found that horizontal GRF was the primary factor.
What the above indicates is that both axial loading and longitudinal loading/movements want to be part of the S&C programme.
Axial strength – variations of Squat, Deadlift, Lunge, Single Leg Squat
Longitudinal strength – Hip Thrusts and Bridges, Sled Pulls (high load), Pull-throughs
Axial Power – Olympic Lifting, Push Press variations, Vertical Jumps, Band/chain addition to strength movements
Longitudinal Power – Med Ball horizontal throws, Sled pulls (low load), Horizontal jumps, Greek long jumps
The article goes on to propose that no singular GRF direction is optimum and that both vertical and horizontal force contribute near equally in a rotary movement.
Continuing on from the above research, regarding practical applications, the authors recommend that lower limb strength and power are considered for improving punching force and stress the use of both the axial and longitudinal movements mentioned above. Utilising a linear periodisation approach, the authors state that the development of a maximal strength base is appropriate before moving on to focus on converting this to power, highlighting the importance of rest periods of 2-5 minutes between sets in order to develop GRF; the idea of achieving a neuromuscular stimulus rather than a metabolic one.
During the Pre-Comp period, complex training protocols to take advantage of post-activation potentiation can be used effectively.
(There is a further interesting point here: the author suggests using the punch bag as a tool itself to increase punching force in the pre-comp phase by using single or double punches with an appropriate rest period to develop power. I wonder if similar could be accomplished on the tennis court, using an S&C session on the court and using single, double or at most triple shot rallies/feeds, asking the player to hit the ball as powerfully as possible, without necessarily worrying about the ‘outcome’ of the shot,’ with appropriate rest periods, purely with the aim of increasing power in the strike??)
A further mention of appropriate core training is made and recommends a focus on lumbar rotational stability rather than movement to allow for better transmission of GRF from the lower body. This does actually tie in with the work of McGill mentioned above. Regarding core training, the authors suggest it should be focused on endurance in order to stabilise throughout a bout; this would also have carry-over to tennis as we are asking our players to stabilise their core for shot after shot, point after point for potentially several hours.
I imagine there may be some things here that are not particularly ‘new’ but it’s nice to back-up all the same. The information above and studies mentioned therein would certainly suggest that it is wholly appropriate to emphasise the leg drive which I would hope both S&C coaches and tennis coaches do. The force of the punches in the studies was primarily measured by the use of a force plate; I guess our best method to measure in tennis may perhaps be a speed-gun? This will be of course be an inexact science as each shot can be largely dependent on the ball being received in a match-situation. However, in a controlled session, this could be used effectively providing feeds are consistent.
It is very healthy to look outside one’s own sport for ideas and, as I say, combat sports can provide some interesting food for thought when it comes to training for tennis. I actually think many players would like to consider themselves ‘fighters’ or ‘warriors’!
Please let me know any thoughts on the above – I would love to hear any thoughts/feedback.