I can see it now; every strength coach in the world just fell off their chair because the “Speed Guy” said strength training isn’t essential for tennis players.
What? No! I never said that!
I wrote a headline that peaked your interested about what I have to say about tennis strength training. Big difference!
Here are my thoughts about strength training for tennis players.
First off, it is critical that tennis players perform strength training. Being strong is never a bad thing. How strong? Well, that’s a different story.
There are way too many topics we could dive into for this blog, so I will stick to one that is pretty polarizing. Should a tennis player do bilateral or unilateral exercises? My answers would be both… but there’s more!
If I had to ONLY choose one, it would be unilateral. Unilateral allows me to check so many boxes; it’s hard to go against it.
Bilateral training is excellent, and it accomplishes what it is supposed to – increase strength, power, speed of movement, and so on…
On the other hand, unilateral increases strength that requires coordination and stability, much like on-court tennis movement is used. There are lots of single-leg strength and balance requirements. There’s a ton of single-arm action with rotation throughout the body occurs. The pelvis, spine, knees all need great stability from a unilateral standpoint.
Bilateral strength training certainly does benefit these unilateral strength demands, but only so far- in my opinion.
When a player loads all her weight on one leg while aggressively rotating through a ground stroke, I’m not sure the bilateral strength is recognized by the central nervous system as much as the strength gained from unilateral strength.
When the weight needs to be transferred from one leg to the opposite, or a massive bilateral lower-body explosion during the serve must be received by one arm and one leg- on the landing, there needs to be a merit for unilateral training.
We know tennis is a very hip and core dominate sport. Any time an athlete must rotate through the hips with great force. Simultaneously, the core also produces massive force- eccentrically, concentrically, and isometrically, there is a major need for unilateral strength and stability.
If a tennis player never trained at all using strength training, any form of strength training would produce results in the early stages. Plus, the more skilled the tennis player became at the sport the less obvious strength deficits would show. This doesn’t change the fact that if a tennis player can produce unilateral strength via one arm and one leg, the core demand to stabilize and transfer force would be higher.
This ability, in my opinion, transfers nicely to the court. I say this because I have seen it with tons of tennis players I have trained over the years.
The single-leg and single-arm training methods, done while standing, often required a transferring or shifting of weight. This shifting puts a greater reliance on the hips and core to coordinate to produce and reduce force- which we see on every ground stroke, change of direction, and acceleration in tennis.
For these reasons, I feel unilateral strength is a better option for tennis, BUT I still think bilateral strength has its place and will benefit the tennis player.