Away Court Advantage

It can be tough to fit in training while traveling. But athletes who can turn anonymous hotel rooms into high-tech gyms have a tremendous advantage over their competitors.

By Barrett S. Bugg and Tim McClellan

Barrett S. Bugg is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the USA Tennis Player Development Program. Tim McClellan, MS, CSCS, is Co-Owner and Performance Enhancement Director of Performance Plus, a Phoenix-based elite athlete training center. He has helped improve the on-court performance of tennis players at all levels over the past 20 years.

Training & Conditioning, 10.7, October 2000,

Picture the following scenario: Your tennis team has finally made it to an exclusive regional tournament. It’s one of the most talented, hardest-working teams you’ve ever worked with. The athletes have been training hard all year and are excited about the five-day tournament, which will be followed by another two days of regular-season matches at yet another school. The bus and hotel rooms have been booked, and you’re running them through one last workout on home turf before sending them on their way.
For the next seven days, these tennis athletes will have two options for filling their time between matches: they could channel surf and sit by the pool, with an occasional practice at the local high school courts, or they can stay in top shape with a well thought out on-the-road training regimen. Many athletes and coaches may feel there’s no other option than the first possibility, but, in fact, the latter is easier than they may think. They may not have access to a tennis court or a decent weight room, but no matter the resources, it is possible—even vital—to keep your elite team in tip-top shape while away from campus.
Training on the road can be a very effective and significant tool for improving athletes throughout the calendar year. Every sport has a travel schedule and can include a certain amount of training while traveling. The team that figures out how to stay in top form while away from home will have a distinct advantage over other teams who simply accept travel time as time away from strength training and conditioning.
In this article, we focus on the sport of tennis, because it provides, perhaps, the most extreme example. Training while on the road is a challenging task for every tennis athlete, from the high school tennis player in a weekend tournament to the elite junior who may travel anywhere from 15 to 70 percent of the year to the professional tennis player who earns a living playing year-round. No matter what type of tennis player, proper training on the road takes a profound effort, but it does not have to take a significant amount of resources. The real trick is teaching these players and their coaches when and where to train within the limits of the given resources.

There are a variety of training tools athletes and coaches can travel with that closely mimic the sport-specific training they’re accustomed to at home. Each has a different purpose, and a few require limited space to transport, which is always a concern when traveling. Some of the best choices include the following:
•An overspeed/resisted running harness may be used for a slew of exercises, including a variety of resisted and assisted lunge variations, internal and external rotation, and rowing, among others.
•Ankle sport cords that attach to each ankle may be used to enhance a variety of movements via resisted and overspeed training.
•Requiring only a minute or two to inflate and deflate, a stability ball (along with a pump, of course) allows the coach or athlete to travel with a device that provides continual instability. This is extremely effective for training the core as well as performing a variety of shoulder stabilization movements.
•Medicine balls allow for complex training capabilities as well as the mimicking of recruitment patterns and velocities used during match play.
•Agility ladders provide the option of a high-intensity warmup, low-level plyometric activities, or working on foot-eye coordination.
•Weight vests enable coaches to increase the difficulty of any simple functional activity. Typically, weight vests provide up to 40 pounds of resistance, so even a lunge or push-up can be of potential benefit.
•Forearm devices allow athletes to train grip strength, which is useful in preventing a myriad of upper-extremity overuse injuries of the wrist and elbow.
•Tubing may be utilized for ankle and rotator cuff strengthening on days when more intense strength training may not be a possibility because of fatigue or scheduled active-rest days.
•Massage devices may aid in decreasing physiological recovery time. They can also produce a more effective warmup for under-recovered athletes or can be used simply for relaxation purposes.
•When used in combination with focus mitts, boxing gloves are an excellent way to mimic the rotational demands, recruitment patterns, and intensity of most tennis strokes. As with all modes of exercise, the athlete’s coach should thoroughly understand the proper mechanics of such devices in order to minimize the potential for injuries.
•Balance pads are productive when performing torso training activities or enhancing a proprioceptively non-demanding activity, such as rotator cuff exercises.
Each of these devices can be used almost anywhere with minimal space required. Whether it’s an open field, a small hotel conference room, or an empty airport baggage claim area, they provide the option to fit a training session into nearly any travel day.

The most critical criteria for training on the road is consistency of training. A consistently trained player can afford an occasional moderate-to-drastic change in training stimulus. Those who do not train regularly, however, should probably not suddenly add this style of training during tournament competition.
The following is a practical guide to solutions and other considerations for high-quality strength and conditioning during an extended period of time away from familiar training facilities.
For the consistently trained tennis player, road training will typically be shorter and more intense compared with training at home. Tapering the amount of work done based upon player needs should be top priority.

During Tournament
Strength training and conditioning sessions during a tournament should be very short and productive with high intensity and high quality. Workouts must be specific to player needs and desires.
In this scenario, the goal might be to get enough work done without causing the player undue stress on the joints, especially the shoulder girdle. Work may still be accomplished, but the focus might be on regeneration and rehab-type activities. More than anything, players are intently focused on their ability to keep their legs fresh going into the next match. Typically, there is a significant decrease in quality of play as soon as on-court movement decreases. Thus, players should spend as much time as possible training specific movements required in play.

Sample Program
Purpose: Focus on maintaining strength and dynamic mobility.
• Warm up by jumping rope for two minutes and performing the following mobility exercises:
Inchworms (With feet shoulder-width apart, the athlete should bend over and touch his or her toes and, like an inchworm, walk his or her hands forward a few inches at a time until lying flat on the ground. He or she should then perform an abdominal stretch and walk the feet up slowly back to the starting position.): five forward, five backward
Spidermans (With both feet and hands on the ground, and rear end in the air, the athlete should bend one leg, swing it wide, and take a big step forward while pushing his or her hip to the ground in a classic runner’s stretch): five per leg
Other warmup exercises may be used depending upon individual athlete’s needs.
• Circuit:
Stability-ball crunches: one set of 20
Overhead medicine-ball throws: one set of five
Stability-ball crossover crunches: one set of 20
Forehand medicine-ball throws: one set of eight
Backhand medicine-ball throws: one set of eight
Push-up position hold on stability ball: one set, hold for 60 seconds
• Leg work:
Squat jumps onto bench: one set of six
Dot drill (The athlete stands at a corner of a square pattern that has corners about two-feet apart. He or she hops, single-leg, in an “X” pattern to each corner.): continuous for 10 seconds
Lateral bounding drill: continuous for 10 seconds (25-second rest)
Box drill (Same as the dot drill, but performed as a reaction drill where the coach supplies the stimulus by pointing to a corner of the box and the athlete goes to each corner running a split-step pattern): one set of six movements
• Boxing circuit:
Alternate hooks: one set of 10 per side
Jab/jab/cross combo: one set of 10 per side
Moving alternate hooks: one set of 10 per side
Alternate crosses: one set of 10 per side
• Super set:
Push-ups: two to three sets of eight (partner-resisted by applying pressure with hands on back)
Resisted standing rows (arms next to side; partner-resisted with a towel): two to three sets of eight
• Rowing (arms 90-degree abducted; resisted with surgical tubing): two to three sets of eight
• External rotation with tubing or light resistance: two to three sets of 15 per side
• Single-leg balance squats: two sets of eight (30-second rest between sets; may need partner for assistance)
• Step-ups: two to three sets of eight per leg (sit down for 30-second rest after both legs worked)
• Tennis-functional loaded lunge (lunge forward while bending lower back and pick up a tennis ball—like in a tennis volley): one set of eight per leg (20-second rest between legs)
• Superman (lying flat on stomach, alternate lifting opposite arms and legs): two sets of 15
• Self massage (especially the quads, hamstrings, calves, and gluteals)
• Stretch: general stretching for about 10 minutes.

Sample Program
Purpose: Conditioning
• Warm up by jumping rope for two minutes, followed by hip mobility exercises: high knees, heel kicks, hip abduction, straight-leg raises front; straight-leg raises back; golfer's stretch (reach over and touch toes while keeping legs straight).
• Continue the warmup with three sets of 50-meter sprints at 70 percent with 30 seconds of rest between sets
• Medicine ball shuttle runs: Three sets of forehand or backhand throws, whichever is applicable (or alternate at each change of direction). Sprint designated distance and toss the ball forehand or backhand to a partner or against a wall (as if chasing down a low forehand or backhand):
* distance is based on previously timed interval; no measurement needed
• Track intervals (200 meter or 400 meter) or fartlek as needed per individual (sets and reps vary greatly depending upon conditioning levels)
• Self massage
• Stretch.

After one to three days of regeneration and possibly complete rest, training may resume with an assessment of how much training may occur before tapering begins for the next tournament. Usually, a relatively easy workout followed by a day or two of high-intensity work can then be followed by another day of rest or tapering as needed.

There are times when in-tournament training simply cannot be performed. At the beginning of most tournaments, athletes may be required to play four to six hours of tennis per day. In this scenario, additional strength training and conditioning may be counterproductive to the growth and development of the athlete. During these times, only active regeneration methods should be performed.
At most times, however, some amount of training is not only allowable, but recommended. If the opportunity to train presents itself, any athlete who is focused on continued improvement should make that training session happen. While the above program is certainly not for all tennis players, it serves as a good sample guideline from which modifications can be made.