When you think of power, you think of players like Serena Williams: big strong and powerful or players like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.
Tennis has become a game that requires a level of power, and the ladies who have the power with skills are hard to beat.
Is power something you are born with?
While genetics play a part, the good news is that power can be developed with the right training methods.
Power is one of the most misunderstood, incorrectly trained qualities by coaches and athletes.
One common misunderstanding is power means big and strong. No, power is power! One does not have to be big to be powerful.
You can be big, strong and slow with the incorrect training protocols. I call them “entertainment training”; defined as a coach implementing training exercises to make athletes feel good as opposed posed to getting good! So NO value for that athlete in the given exercise other than entertainment.
I notice many bodybuilding and CrossFit protocols being implemented by tennis players or the overuse of light weights and jumping around the gym to make it look as if they are actually doing something hence “entertainment training”. These methods will disrupt the player’s power development.
The fact is female players need periodically loading of maximal weight to activate power fibers. That is lifting weight 90% -100% of their 1 repetition max. This maximum effort method activates high threshold motor units which get the athlete to reach new levels of strength.
The stronger you are, the more power you can potentially produce given the right methods is applied.
Strength is developed with 80-100% of your one-rep max and power is developed at 30-60% of your 1 rep max depending on the exercise. The misconception is that one can train power constantly at 30-60% without ever lifting heavy loads at 1-3 rep maxes and that is simply incorrect.
Your power levels will drop if you are not lifting maximal loads of 1-3 reps for an extended period of time. Power development will drop as fast as 30 days of no high-intensity loading.
How do you develop true power?
What I recommend for the development of power and speed is access and find if there are any cracks in the athlete’s foundation, potential injuries looming around the corner and give exercises to build a strong foundation and lower the risk of injury.
This is so basic that it kills me when I see coaches screaming at their athletes during sprints or drills. Stay low, stay tall, pump your arms, etc. The problem is the athlete is simply not strong enough to achieve those positions and therefore can not apply enough force into the ground to achieve a positive sprint response… Get faster!
How are athletes to get faster if they can’t do ONE correct pushup or chin up and 20 simple sit-ups?
This is a clear indication that one needs to build a solid foundation and then build upon that foundation.
Depending on the age and level of the athlete, foundational training at different levels and can take 6 months to a year. You break it up into multiple phases of 3-4 weeks and rotated based on the response of the player.
In the first phases, exercises like the snatch, clean and jerk and squats should be the foundation of all phases and technique is the number one goal. Olympic lifts are tremendous power developers for tennis players, if you are not born with the power, you better learn how to Olympic lift, safely.
When the athlete is ready with a solid foundation, the next phase is to perform maximal work 2x per week with exercises that give the tennis player the greatest transfer to help improve their game. The other two sessions will be high volume sessions 10-20% lower than their max done as fast as possible. This will be a total of 4 sessions per week.
For the sake of this article, I won’t dive into the work capacity aspect, we will focus just on power development.
As a recap, for power development, one must:
A – Lay a solid foundation
Laying a foundation is done through general preparation training such as bodyweight exercises, dumbbells, barbells, and technical work in the snatch, clean & jerk and squats all of which if done right will develop suppleness, mobility, flexibility, and strength.
B- Activate (power fibers) fast-twitch muscle fibers
The only way to achieve absolute strength is through Maximal effort method! This means one MUST encounter periodically loading of all-out effort.
This will develop absolute strength and teach the body to activate power fibers which will directly contribute to explosive power. This means speed, quick feet, harder backhand forehand, and harder serve.
Avoid silly exercises such as balance exercises that do nothing! They only help you to be better at that exercise, no transfer.
The proliferation of nonsense on the internet of these circus acts is mind-blowing and a shame because what it’s doing is ruining the chance for the player like you who may not be truly gifted to succeed.
There are thousands of players, who if exposed to the right training methods will improve tremendously.
Look at it this way, if you have two tennis players of equal skill, endurance, and tennis IQ. One is tremendously powerful and strong and the other is weak and not powerful. Who will win?