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The Five Laws of Strength Training For Junior Players
by Alton Skinner

Junior players should treat their bodies like an athlete treats their body. Playing tennis for a bit of fresh air is fun, but for serious players, it can be draining due to the mental focus, skill, and conditioning required to ensure victory at each point. Training for tennis tournaments is not easy either. It is grueling and mind numbing. At the highest levels tennis forces you to train like an elite athlete, pushing your threshold of both physical and mental fatigue.

While it is not yet the norm for tennis players to follow a specialized training program, it will become so. It is inevitable since it is part of the quest to become number one in most sports. I feel the best time to begin to introduce this concept of training for tennis is at the junior level. By introducing this new generation to conditioning for tennis, we will see the development of stronger, faster, more injury resistant, and healthier tennis players than ever before. Not only at the junior level but over the course of their lifetime.

Why Training is Necessary

The available information on junior tennis conditioning is thin at best. Junior players' needs are different than those of adult players. Junior athletes are not little adults. When you consider the difference between young players and adult players, in size, physical abilities, and psychological characteristics, you must organize the training experiences differently. As junior tennis becomes more popular and as a consequence more competitive, it is important to prepare our athletes for the rigors of competition and the rigors of life. What I plan to do is lay out a step by step plan for the junior athlete. This plan will provide exact guidelines for nutrition, injury prevention, skill improvement, and how to prepare for the big tournament. Each day is laid out for you so nothing is left to chance. Each day you will take consistent actions that will create a winning junior player. This program comes as close to guaranteeing your success as any self help program can. It lays out a comprehensive, understandable plan and model for you to follow as you develop your skills and become a seasoned athlete.

If, however, you're still unsure of a technique, call or e-mail me. I have a responsibility to my readers and I intend to meet it. My phone number is listed at the end of this column and I answer my own phone. If you want clarification, ask me. If I think you need more extensive consulting assistance, I'll tell you. Fair enough?

As a tennis player you have not had access to the powerful training techniques used for years by football, baseball, basketball, track and field and all the other major and Olympic sports to enhance performance. As a result you are not getting the most out of your abilities. The same principles of training that help Michael Jordan excel at basketball or help Mark Maguire hit 70 home runs will boost your performance on and off the court. You can experience harder serves consistently, you can play better in the heat, you will find you energy level remains consistently high thoroughout a tournament. You can play better and better every day, every week, and every year. You can develop the type of habits that will improve you chance of success at the junior, collegiate, and the professional ranks. These same habits of planning and action will help you become more successful in adulthood.

Any training program should apply the five basic laws of training to ensure improvement and keeping athletes free of injury. This is especially important for the young player.

Law Number One: Develop Joint Flexibility

Most strength training exercises use the entire range of motion of major joints, especially the knees, ankles, and hips. Good joint flexibility prevents strain and pain around the knees, elbows and other joints. Ankle flexibility should be a concern for all athletes, especially beginners. Good flexibility prevents stress injuries. You must start developing ankle flexibility during prepubescence and pubescence so that in latter stages of athletic development it need only be maintained.

Law Number Two: Develop Tendon Strength

Your muscle strength improves faster than tendon and ligament strength. Sometimes lack of a long term view or improper use of the principle of specificity cause coaches and trainers to overlook the strengthening of ligaments. Tendons and ligaments grow with anatomical adaptation. Without proper anatomical adaptation, strength training can injure the tendons and ligaments. Training your tendons and ligaments causes them to enlarge in diameter and increases their ability to withstand tension and tearing.

Law Number Three: Develop the Core

Your arms and legs are only as strong as the trunk of your body. A poorly developed trunk is a weak support for your hard working limbs. Your training program must first strengthen your core before focusing on your arms and legs. Your core acts as a shock absorber for jumps, rebounds, and plyometric exercises. The core stabilizes your body and acts as a link between arms and legs. Weak core muscles fail, and limit your ability to perform to your highest level. You must pay more attention to your core if you hope to reach your tennis goals.

Abdominal Muscles. Your abdominal and back muscles surround the core of the body with a tight and powerful support structure of muscle bundles running in different directions. Since many players have weak abdominals relative to their back, general and specific abdominal training is needed.

Back Muscles. Your back muscles, including the deep back muscles of the vertebral column, are responsible for many movements such as back extension, extending and rotating the trunk. Your trunk acts as the transmitter and supporter of most arm and leg actions.

The Iliopsoas. The iliopsoas is an essential muscle for hip flexion and running. It is not a large muscle, it is the most powerful hip flexor, responsible for swinging the legs forward. Tennis requires a well developed iliopsoas.

Law Number Four: Develop the Stabilizers

Your big muscles work more efficiently with strong stabilizers or fixator muscles. Stabilizers contract to immobilize a limb so that another part of your body can act. Improperly developed stabilizers may hamper the activity of your major muscles leading to reduced power and a risk of increased injury. Unfortunately, few coaches take the time to develop the stabilizers. Time should be set aside at the beginning and end of the year for stabilizer training. Your core muscles, rotators, and stabilizers should be developed using a long term progression. A casual approach to this area will do a disservice to a serious tennis athlete.

Law Five: Train Movements, Not Individual Muscles

Players must resist training muscles in isolation as if you are a body builder. The purpose of strength training for tennis is to simulate sport skills. Tennis skills are multijoint movements that happen in a certain order, called a kinetic chain. According to the principle of specificity, your body position and limb angles should resemble those for the tennis stroke. When you train movements, your muscles are integrated and strengthened to perform the tennis stroke with more power. Therefore, tennis players should not use weight training alone, but should broaden their training program to include medicine balls, rubber cords, shots and plyometric equipment. Exercise performed with these devices allow you to mimic the tennis stroke more easily.

By following the techniques in this article, you will succeed, like the thousands of others using them, in becoming the best athlete you can.

To be sure, there are costs involved in this process. It takes time and dedication to stretch each day, to consume a proper diet, to lifts weight to increase your power and reduce the risk of injury. But in the final analysis, there is nothing so potent realizing your full potential in order to carry yourself like a champion athlete, and to feel the power and strength of your body and your mind. It will all be worth it if it allows you someday to stand there holding a championship trophy or sign a letter of intent to a major college as your friends and family watch you proudly and praise your for doing your best. Let's get started!

If you are a weekend tennis player, a competitive amateur, or professional player, Alton Skinner, a Raleigh, North Carolina athletic performance and nutrition specialist, can help you create a conditioning and nutrition program that adds endurance, reduces painful injuries, and reshapes your body so you can win more tournaments and play your best tennis all the time. Work with him directly or follow the guidelines in a personalized Tournament Player's Performance Plan, a complete plan designed just for you based on your playing schedule and current body condition, to maximize your performance when it matters most to you. More information is available by calling 919-501-5677. Mention that you read this article at www.tennisserver.com and receive a FREE year's subscription to Alton's quarterly conditioning and nutrition guide, Accelerated Golf and Tennis, a $40 value.

If you wish to provide a comment to the author of this Wild Cards column, please use this form. Tennis Server will forward the comment to the author.

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