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Planning and Periodization for the Elite Junior Tennis Player

Reid, Machar, PhD; Quinlan, Geoff; Kearney, Simon; Jones, David

Strength & Conditioning Journal: August 2009 - Volume 31 - Issue 4 - p 69-76
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181afc98d
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ELITE JUNIOR PLAYERS TRAIN IN STRUCTURED HIGH-PERFORMANCE PROGRAMS, ASPIRING TOWARD PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS, FROM A RELATIVELY YOUNG AGE. WHERE IMMEDIATE PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT IN THE PHYSICAL DOMAIN IS SOUGHT, ARGUABLY MORE IMPORTANT IS THE PREPARATORY WORK REQUIRED TO WITHSTAND THE RIGORS OF THE PROFESSIONAL TOUR. THIS ARTICLE PROVIDES AN INSIGHT INTO HOW THE PROGRAMMING CHALLENGES OF TENNIS-YEAR-ROUND COMPETITION, CONSTANT TRAVEL, IRREGULAR PLAYING TIMES, AND AN UNCERTAIN NUMBER OF MATCHES-CAN BE MET WITH A 17- TO 18-YEAR-OLD MALE PLAYER.

Athlete Development/Sport Sciences, Tennis Australia, Victoria, Australia

Machar Reidis the sport science manager for Tennis Australia (TA) and is a high performance TA coach.

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David Jonesis the strength and conditioning coordinator at the Tennis Australia National Academy in Adelaide.

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Simon Kearneyis the strength and conditioning coordinator for the Tennis Australia National Academy in Melbourne.

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Geoff Quinlanis the Tennis Australia National Academy manager.

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INTRODUCTION

The planning of junior tennis player development is generally emulative, guided by the experiences of the coach (often as a player) or reflecting the schedules of the sport's well-performed contemporaries. These approaches, although meritorious, share limited scientific or systematic origin. While the contribution of large amounts of deliberate practice to the development of expertise has received critical support in other domains (2), how this framework is expressed through training-and more pertinently competition-in tennis is less clear. To this end, Reid et al. (15) have illustrated the merits of the International Tennis Federation junior tour and U.S. College system as developmental pathways, yet little research has investigated the role of planning and periodization as part of junior player development.

When these approaches to structuring competition calendars are coupled with an uncertain micro (weekly) backdrop, characterized by unpredictable playing times and numbers of matches, the challenge for professionals working to maximize the health, performance, and well-being of the tennis players is marked. For the strength and conditioning coach, the principles of program design and exercise prescription still apply, yet adaptability becomes paramount to accommodate this unpredictability. With this and the plethora of other variables that can influence programming (chiefly gender, age, and geography) in mind, the aim of this article is to provide some practical examples of macro and micro strength and conditioning planning delimited to a 17- to 18-year-old male professional tennis aspirant.

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CONSIDERATIONS IN PLANNING FOR JUNIOR PLAYER DEVELOPMENT

Most 17- to 18-year-old athletes who train in a structured high-performance program and who aspire to professional success follow some form of planned competition schedule. These schedules are individualized, considering general performance targets related to 1 of 3 broad competitive foci: professional events only, professional events with a small number of ITF junior events, and ITF junior events with a small number of professional events (Table 1). In this way, retrospective observation of the different calendars of current successful male professionals can be instructive (Table 2), with the schedules of Nadal and Federer in their 17th years providing tangible examples of 2 very different competitive foci but with relatively similar tournament volume. In other words, where Federer played 14 of 18 events on the junior tour, Nadal participated in 20 professional tournaments and no junior events. Interestingly, in their 18th years, the total number of events that each player played remained relatively constant but their competitive foci shared considerably greater parallel.

Table 1

Table 1

Table 2

Table 2

The large SDs associated with the number of tournaments played by the sample of top 10 male players in their 17th and 18th years (Table 2) underline the individualized nature of player development, with players progressing at varying rates through different approaches or pathways. Nonetheless, in general, most internationally competitive players of this age compete in 18 to 30 tournaments, some of which are likely to be domestic prize money or junior events (not represented in Table 2). Training blocks feature between these clusters of tournaments, providing coaches in the region of 20 weeks or almost 40% of total tennis time to focus on specific (technical, tactical, physical, or mental) goals. These blocks also provide athletes and coaches the opportunity to rejuvenate by training at home, without the associated pressures of competition.

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DEVELOPING PHYSICAL SKILLS WITHIN TENNIS CONTEXTS

The schedules of most 17- to 18-year-old male players attempt to strike a balance between learning, training, and competing. From a physical preparation point of view, the players' annual plan and associated goals depend upon their own individual physical requirements. These requirements are determined through the compilation and interpretation of observational analysis, tennis-specific fitness testing batteries, and musculoskeletal/medical screens. Other factors that shape the physical progression and require consideration include peaking for major tournaments, surface changes, travel, variable temperature and altitude conditions, schooling, growth spurts, training age, and rest. The nature of the sport therefore challenges the more classical models of periodization (1). Nevertheless, a periodized approach to training, which embraces but is not constrained by method, is preferable (13). The work of Kraemer et al. (8) has previously illustrated the value of periodized resistance training with undulating intensity to tennis and physical performance.

Given this challenging milieu and with a view to providing a practical example, the strength and conditioning foci of the elite junior tennis players in their 17th or 18th years are detailed below. In context, the vignette assumes that the player plays a baseline game style, competes for 24 weeks of the year (Table 1) participating in a combination of ITF junior and professional entry-level events, but enjoys only limited previous strength and conditioning experience. The training blocks last between 4 and 8 weeks and aim to elicit 3 “peaks” in performance of up to 9 days, coinciding with 2 junior Grand Slams and 1 block of 3 consecutive ITF future events. The first section provides an outline of content and emphasis across 4 training blocks, while the second section offers a more incisive view of programming during a typical tournament block.

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TRAINING BLOCK 1

General aim

  • To complete a full fitness test battery similar to those previously published and recommended (14).
  • To reintroduce the athlete to all aspects of physical training, working through all movement planes, and targeting the development of the aerobic energy system.
  • To develop a general strength and conditioning base to facilitate progression into subsequent tournament and training blocks.
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Total workload summary

Overall volume is generally at its highest for the year (13-17 hours of specific physical work per week over 8 weeks); in turn, the training intensities are submaximal. Variety is strategically incorporated into training given the high volume. Technical complexity is relatively low as fatigue levels are elevated.

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Strength summary

Basic strength exercises are introduced in all movement planes, with pelvic and scapula stability targeted for monitoring and/or refinement. Intensities are relatively low (50-75% 1 repetition maximum × 10-12 exercises × 3 sets × 8-12 repetitions × 3-4 sessions per week), with particular focus placed on technique.

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Conditioning summary

Establishing a satisfactory aerobic base is essential, particularly given the player's style of play. A combination of 4 to 6 weightbearing or non-weightbearing training sessions (@ 60-80% o2 max) is scheduled per week to help minimize the prospect of stress-related injuries. Select anaerobic/tennis-specific footwork drills are incorporated as the training block progresses. Running technique may be revisited.

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TRAINING BLOCK 2

General aim

  • To maintain and/or progress aerobic and general strength bases.
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Total workload summary

Intensities increase moderately as session volume (10-13 hours of specific physical work) decreases slightly from preceding training block. There is a commensurate increase in emphasis on recovery. The duration and therefore overall volume of the training block reduces by 2 weeks (to 6 weeks) to facilitate the adaptive responses to increased session loads. Shifts in exercise focus see greater technical complexity introduced to strength, conditioning, and skill development.

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Strength summary

General strength exercises and injury prevention/joint stability are further developed. As an individual's strength base grows, program design begins to feature a larger number of power movements (65-85% 1RM × 8 exercises × 3-4 sets × 6-10 repetitions × 3-4 sessions per week).

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Conditioning summary

Prescription of aerobic, anaerobic (repeat speed), and technical footwork exercise attracts similar weighting as long as the aerobic conditioning objectives are achieved in the previous training block. Approximately 3 to 5 sessions are dedicated to this exercise prescription per week, with conditioning intensities of 75 to 85% o2max. Technical work: The alternating of weightbearing and non-weightbearing exercise continues, and an increased amount of tennis play is likely to feature compared with the previous block.

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TRAINING BLOCK 3

Aim

  • To refine strength and conditioning skills previously developed, with increasing attention afforded to the development of tennis-specific movements and energy systems.
  • To reassess the athlete's progression and development through the fitness test battery used in Training Block 1.
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Total workload summary

Similar in duration to Training Block 2 (6 weeks), more frequent recovery sessions (i.e., contrast water therapy) are scheduled to accommodate likely increases in exercise complexity and tennis play. This block is also punctuated by less variety as the level of training specificity heightens: 7.5 to 11 hours of specific physical work of varying (nonlinear) but generally increasing intensity.

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Strength summary

With programming not entirely linear in nature, an almost equal emphasis is placed on general strength and power development (65-85% 1RM [or 5-7RM] × 7-8 exercises × 2-5 sets × 4-8 repetitions × 3-4 sessions per week) as well as injury prevention throughout this training block.

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Conditioning summary

The conditioning prescription shares a similar energy system focus as Training Block 2 but with an increased emphasis on speed and agility development. Often programmed as a precursor to an on-court tennis session, speed-agility-coordination activities are scheduled up to 4 times per week. Physical and cognitive efforts are generally high, precipitating neural stress and underlining the need for appropriate work to rest ratios (1:3-1:5, with work < 15 seconds). Lower-limb joint and tissue loading are again managed through the scheduling of weightbearing and non-weightbearing modes of exercise.

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TRAINING BLOCK 4

Aim

  • To optimize adaptive stress applied to all tennis-specific movements and energy systems, while accommodating an increasing competition stimulus.
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Total workload summary

High intensities are programmed necessitating that volume is kept low (6-9 hours of specific physical work over a 4-week cycle) and recovery is emphasized. As neural stress is higher, decreases in the frequency of weekly training sessions and the duration of the training block are required (from 6 to 4 weeks).

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Strength summary

The prescription of power and tennis-specific movements assume priority (3 sessions @ 70-95% 1RM [or 4-6RM] × 6-8 exercises × 2-4 sets × 3-6 repetitions, plus 1 session @ 30-50% 1RM), but with a continued focus on the scheduling of injury prevention exercise. Previous technical work should ensure proficiency such that benefits transfer to stroke technique and court movement. Plyometric exercises, emphasizing high movement velocities, are increasingly incorporated to train the stretch-shorten cycle and to challenge reactive strength.

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Conditioning summary

Anaerobic conditioning (2 sessions × 20-30 minutes per week @ 77.5-92.5% maximum perceived physical effort) and continued refining of footwork skill are prioritized. As mentioned, recovery strategies are employed regularly.

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PRESCRIBING STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING ON THE ROAD

Strength and conditioning programs during tournament blocks need structure; however, they also require flexibility. That is, given the uncertainty in start times, match durations, and frequencies (8) as well as access to facilities, it is common for strength and conditioning coaches to have a Plan C to accompany Plans A and B.

In general though, the intent will be to schedule training to maintain players' fitness status, minimizing any regression. To this end, a recent study performed by Kovacs et al. (7) is topical. The researchers were able to show that the speed, power, and aerobic capacity of collegiate tennis players decreased significantly over a 5-week period, despite the players having a structured but unsupervised physical program in place. Similarly, Marques and González-Badillo (12) noted a decrease in the ball throw velocity, a parameter that is mechanically comparable to serving speed in tennis, of handball players following the cessation of resistance training. As detraining has been implicated in elevated injury risk among tennis players (7), measures to guard against this regression-and program noncompliance-are important. The aims and general content of strength and conditioning exercise prescription over the course of a 3- to 6-week competition block for a 17- to 18-year-old player are summarized below.

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COMPETITION BLOCK

Aim

  • To maintain previous strength and conditioning adaptations and minimize detraining.
  • To ensure that the athlete is physically prepared for competition.
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Total workload summary

This largely depends on competition load and when the player exits from tournament. However, the quality of off-court training takes precedence over its quantity. Travel-related stress and any nutritional challenges also require consideration, such as contrast temperature water therapy, wearing compression garments, and low-intensity active exercise (4).

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Strength summary

Efforts should be made to complete 1 (Table 3) to 2 (Table 4) strength and/or power sessions per week (19). To minimize detraining including decreases in strength and power (6), the general recommendation is to reduce the volume of strength training while maintaining a high intensity (17). For example, 2 to 4 sets of 3 to 8 repetitions (18) with loading of major muscle groups/movement patterns are emphasized (Table 5). Where applicable, strength exercises can even be alternated/complexed with plyometric exercise (18,19). Preferably, strength/power sessions are completed at least 24 hours prior to players taking to the court for their next match. Typically, flexibility and injury prevention exercises are of low intensity, resulting in little fatigue and can be performed daily.

Table 3

Table 3

Table 4

Table 4

Table 5

Table 5

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Conditioning summary

Match play is known to provide a mild aerobic stimulus ((3), as in the scenario presented in Table 3); however, the prescription of 1 to 2 specific conditioning exercises per week-often integrated as part of a session-is generally targeted for maintenance of both anaerobic and aerobic fitness throughout competition. High-intensity interval training has been shown to increase parameters of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness (11), lending support to the use of short sprint/interval work that replicates the game's metabolic characteristics. On-court tennis drills that incorporate specific technical-tactical demands and that extend or elicit similar physiological responses to match play (16) represent another viable conditioning alternative. Furthermore, footwork exercises in addition to speed and agility development depending on tournament involvement can be performed daily as part of warm-ups and provide an alactic-anaerobic and, on occasion, a lactic-anaerobic training stimulus.

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PRACTICAL EXAMPLE-GUIDELINES FOR TRAINING BETWEEN MATCHES

In keeping with the aforementioned notion of contingency planning during a tournament week, Tables 4 and 5 detail how strength and conditioning can be programmed depending on the success of players. Typically, the length of matches dictate whether further physical work is required for players still competing, while “once out,” training is primarily determined by the number of days to the next match. Nevertheless, training between tournaments generally sees players engage in some of the previously mentioned recovery activities on the day of or following their last match, before introducing and shifting from medium-intensity/medium-volume training to high-intensity/low-volume training as the next tournament approaches (9). Jet lag or “travel fatigue” can affect a variety of physical parameters and therefore decrease athletic performance (10). Consequently, provisions need to be made to allow players' sufficient time to adjust to the rigors of tournament travel and new time zones (Table 4). Practical strategies for coping with jet lag and travel fatigue center on adjusting the body clock to new time zones as quickly as possible. Adjusting sleep patterns can be augmented by melatonin and maintaining daytime alertness with caffeine and gentle exercise (20).

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CONCLUSION

Planning and periodizing the physical training programs of tennis players represents a significant challenge for the strength and conditioning professional. The idiosyncrasies of the sport see elite junior players training in structured high-performance programs and aspiring to professional success from relatively young ages. Continued performance enhancement in the physical domain is regularly sought, yet often confounded by extensive playing schedules, frequent travel, and inconsistent training infrastructure. This article provides an example of how these programming challenges can be met with a 17- to 18-year-old male player who undertakes a competition schedule typical of an internationally competitive player of that age. The goals of training and competition blocks are detailed, and recommendations of relevant strength and conditioning prescription extended. Research to support the efficacy of these program designs in high-level tennis is limited, meaning that largely anecdotal approaches are captured. Evidence-based work to refine current strength and conditioning practice, particularly as it relates to the physical management of players through tournament play in tennis, is eagerly anticipated.

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REFERENCES

1. Bompa TO. Variations of periodization of strength. Strength Cond 18: 58-61, 1996.
2. Ericsson KA, Krampe RT, and Tesch-Römer C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychol Rev 100: 363-406, 1993.
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5. ITF. London, United Kingdom: International Tennis Federation, 2009. Available at: http://www.itftennis.com/mens/. Accessed February 12, 2009.
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    17. Terzis G, Stratakos G, Manta P, and Giorgiadis G. Throwing performance after resistance training and detraining. J Strength Cond Res 22: 1198-1204, 2008.
    18. Van Aken I. Working with special populations-Pro players: Planning physical training during tournament play. In: Strength and Conditioning for Tennis. Reid M, Quinn A, and Crespo M, eds. London: ITF Ltd, 2003. pp. 211-216.
    19. Verstegen M. Developing strength. In: Strength and Conditioning for Tennis. Reid M, Quinn A, and Crespo M, eds. London: ITF Ltd, 2003. pp. 113-135.
    20. Waterhouse J, Reilly T, Atkinson G, and Edwards B. Jet lag: Trends and coping strategies. Lancet 369: 1117-1129, 2007.
    Table

    Table

    Keywords:

    tennis; periodization; strength and conditioning

    © 2009 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association