Speed and agility is a mix of several different movement skills. Training just to be fast is a simplistic way to improve, but there are more components, that when broken down, will allow the athlete to reach a greater potential. When looking at speed and agility, it’s essential to break it down into more specific skills, such as: deceleration/stabilization, acceleration/explosiveness, change of direction (COD), and reaction training.
In the previous post, Speed and Agility Training for the Tennis Athlete: Part 1, the deceleration/stabilization component was discussed in detail, with several drills to improve these skills. Now that we have taught the body to decelerate, properly stabilize, and provide a solid base in which to create movement, we can speed up the movement and develop acceleration, explosiveness, and change of direction. With the multidirectional demands of tennis, it is important to train in all movement planes for the best carryover to on-court situations.
As we shift our focus and increase the speed of movement, many of the same line drills can be beneficial. Instead of slowing down each landing and focusing on control, we speed up as our goal is to minimize ground contact time. In regards to plyometric training, the time it takes to come in contact with the ground, control our bodyweight, and then accelerate off the ground is called the amortization phase. The fastest and most agile tennis players have taught their body’s to minimize this phase to as short as possible, leading to more explosive movement. In the following line hop drills, shift your focus to quick ground contacts with a rapid change of direction.
Next, we build upon the line drills and begin training exaggerated movements. Lateral jumps are a great explosive lateral agility exercise. First, learn the movement by sticking the landing. Then, when you feel comfortable getting more distance and pushing off explosively, speed up the movement with the same goal as the line hops, minimize ground contact time. The faster you can change directions, the quicker you will be able to set up for the next shot, with enough time to get your body in the proper position.
Lastly, in order to cover the entire tennis court we must again increase the distance traveled. With the court being a relatively small area compared to most other sports, we don’t necessarily need to run long distances, but train the body to move quickly for a short period of time in one direction and then rapidly change directions. The following drills focus on the basics of linear/lateral acceleration and change of direction.
As you try these new drills remember it is better to focus on quality of movement over quantity. I recommend taking 4-6 weeks to perfect these skills. Oftentimes in sports training we want to do the hardest exercise or drill thinking it is the best for us. But, proper progression will not only improve the motor pattern more efficiently, but allow for the most carryover to practice and match situations. In the next article we will focus on tennis-specific change of direction and reaction drills since each point in tennis is unpredictable, which requires anticipation and quick reaction.
***Note: If you are unsure how many sets and repetitions to complete of each of these movements, here is a sample breakdown to provide structure for the progression: Part 2 Speed & Agility Progression.
Garrett McLaughlin is an Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach who works with young tennis players to improve movement quality, speed, agility, strength, and power. For more questions on strength & conditioning for the junior tennis player, contact Garrett.