Rivard: Bigger, better tennis? -Tennis Canada

Tennis has changed a lot over the last three or four decades.

Today’s players are hitting harder than ever and they have their strength coaches to thank.

Maria Sakkari from Greece and Marton Fucsovics from Hungary (pictured above) are among the most muscular athletes on the tours and perhaps the most representative of the new generation of players who are more focused on training than their predecessors.

Some pros have a little less muscle, while a majority look a lot like players who competed in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

So, how important is a muscular physique in tennis?

For an informed answer, I turned to a professional: Virginie Tremblay, kinesiologist and strength and conditioning coach at Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre.

She works with athletes at the Center and at tournaments around the world. The day I met her at the gym, she was working with Kayla Cross and Mia Kupres, two of Canada’s most promising juniors, just before they flew to Turkey to compete.

Virginie Tremblay and Kayla Cross

Strength, yes. Flexibility, yes.

First of all, what do physical trainers do? In tennis, their job is to ensure athletes are physically prepared to expend the energy needed to compete in an increasingly demanding sport and to prevent injuries. Beyond exercises focused on aerobics, speed, agility, mobility, flexibility and coordination, there is bound to be muscle training to build strength, power and endurance.

“Over the years, tennis has become more and more physical. The game is faster, the shots are harder, the footwork is quicker and more explosive and there is a lot of repetition. There are also accelerations and changes of direction,” explains Virginie.

“So it’s a lot more physically demanding, and strength training has become essential. Not only does it improve a number of physical qualities, including power and speed, but it helps prevent injury. And it’s equally important and relevant for men and women of all ages.

The good and the bad

There are different types of strength training: maximum strength, speed strength, explosive strength, endurance strength and more. It’s not something you do every day, and it’s important for athletes to mix things up with cardio and workouts to hone things like speed, agility, mobility, flexibility, and proprioception. . And remember: all athletes are different and have their own needs and goals.

But before going any further, what is proprioception?

“It’s the ability to feel your body and limbs in space, like balance and stability. One can work on single leg exercises on a stable or unstable surface, eyes closed or open, on a swiss ball or bosu, etc. It is a very important part of training for athletes due to the different body surfaces and postures on the shots. Tennis players need to be stable in unstable situations. Some people call it dynamic balance,” she says.

They say less is more, and a healthy balance is always the way to go in many aspects of life. Thinking of players like Sakkari and Fucsovics, I asked Virginie about the good and the bad of having such a large muscle mass.

First, the good.

Virginie Tremblay and Mia Kupres

“Strength training helps prevent injury, especially to the tendons and ligaments of the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. The constant repetition of shots and rotation of the upper body can lead to injuries caused by overuse. So being stronger can prevent certain injuries to your back, abdomen, adductors, shoulders and knees,” she said. “Strength training helps you hit with more force and be more powerful and explosive in your accelerations and decelerations and, ultimately, less tired and less sore after practices and matches.”

Knowing how quickly the next game comes, especially for players who win big, the benefits of strength training are clear.

Virginie Tremblay and Mia Kupres

And the bad?

Virginie explains that one of the major disadvantages is related to muscle tension.

“In tennis, the pace changes a lot, and you always go back and forth between being relaxed before you hit and being ready when the impact happens. When the muscles are too tight, there is a high risk of injuries like strains, sprains and cramps A large muscle mass can also restrict range of motion.

There is also another risk.

“Muscles that are too big or too prominent can limit the mobility of certain parts of the body and the upper body in particular. This can have an impact on rotation. In some cases, the loss of mobility means a player won’t be able to reach certain balls or hit certain shots. The player will then compensate with other body parts and develop bad habits that can be detrimental in the long run.

So, can a player be too muscular?

Yes, says Virginia:

“For example, if a player’s upper body is too muscular, he will have to expend more energy to transfer that muscle mass every time he moves on the pitch. In the long run, it can become exhausting and overly physically taxing game after game and tournament after tournament.

The early riser…

For any young player who has the potential to join the ranks of the world’s elite, bodybuilding is a very good thing. Still, Virginie notes that it’s important to remember that children and teenagers are still growing up. In their case, caution is in order.

“Learning the basic movements using the correct technique and body weight of the young player is enough. Over time, growth and maturity mean heavier loads and more complex exercises. Strength training should be regular. It must be mastered and adapted to the person’s training phase.

Virginie Tremblay and Kayla Cross

Critical asset

Every tennis professional needs a coach. And not far down the list is a strength and conditioning trainer.

Ask Virginia.

“Players know that they have to invest time and money in their body to be competitive. progress as fast as other players in tournaments and in the rankings. The competition is so tough that physical preparation is a must. You have to see it as a long-term investment to have a longer injury-free career.

There is a guy

I asked Virginie if we would see more players like Maria Sakkari in the years to come, despite the risks associated with a large muscle mass.

She said that, in a perfect world, she would like to see more muscular players as fit as Sakkari or Fucsovics, but doesn’t think that will happen anytime soon, as their level of fitness requires a lot of physical and physical discipline. nutritional outlook.

And, let’s face it, you must also love going to the gym.

“Genetics and people’s body type also come into play. Some people are very muscular, others are thinner: even if they train every day, they will never have big muscles. It depends on the muscle fibers in the body. Still, I don’t think you need to be that muscular to be a great tennis player. It requires balance and tennis-specific muscles: long and lean, agile, fast, explosive, strong and fit, like Federer or Djokovic.

His explanation gives a lot of information on why there are few power players in the Top 100.

Indeed, there are as many morphologies as there are athletes.

And that’s where strength and conditioning coaches come in, because they have the skills and experience to know what will work for their athletes.

For a strength and conditioning coach, when all the pieces fall into place, the stars align, and a player is healthy, there is a reward that goes beyond money or fame: is to be a link in the chain that brings an athlete to the highest level. .

Do you remember 2019?

Pictures: Twitter

Teresa E. Burton