In tennis, sport-specific technical skills are critical. When designing a resistance training program for a technical sport you need to know performance factors. Fitness tests can increase the capabilities for performance at different levels. While laboratory tests can be, and are, used to evaluate basic performance characteristics of athletes in most individual sports, in a more specific approach, field-based methods are better suited to the demands of complex intermittent sports like tennis. Testing can be used for different periods of the year, helping evaluate the individual’s performance, as well as the ability to prescribe individual training interventions. I have been playing tennis off and on for about 10 years and by knowing how sound you need to be with your technique, improving on these tests could help you become a better player.
Aerobic Endurance Testing
In laboratory-based treadmill test protocols, this can be transferred to field conditions, allowing groups of players to run simultaneously on a 400 m track divided into sections. For practical reasons, the Cooper 12 min Run Test could be useful. Coopers 12-min run is the classical running test for estimating aerobic fitness. Run as far as you can on a flat surface for 12 minutes. Other protocols such as the Montréal track test was created for running on a track following acoustic signals, providing an indirect estimation of VO2max. However, the lack of specificity of this mode of assessment (continuous running) is not reflective of the intermittent nature of team and racket sports (Fernandez 2014).
Anaerobic Endurance Testing
Old school anaerobic field include the step-running test, or the measure of maximal lactic acid production during one all-out sprint over an established distance (80, 100 or 200 m). A more specific approach for anaerobic testing consists in the measurement of repeated sprint ability (RSA). RSA is usually determined by using running protocols with several repeated short sprints (6–10×5–6 s or 20–40 m) interspersed with brief recovery periods (10–30 s).
Strength and Power Testing
Dynamic strength can be assessed in a variety of ways using different testing equipment (free weights or resistance machines). Performance-related changes in maximal voluntary dynamic strength capabilities have been assessed using one-repetition maximum (1RM; the maximal amount of weight that can be lifted in one repetition) test protocols (Fernandez 2014). The use of free weights is usually the most accurate way in determining functional strength in a sport-specific context, as the athlete has a better freedom of movement. The problem this may not be easy to control, as athletes need to be exact in the movement patterns and able to handle maximal loads.
The vertical jump is a common test in most sports and is similar to various acceleration and game-related dynamic movements. It would appear valid to include some form of vertical-jump assessment to evaluate explosive power in tennis.Medicine ball tests (overhead throw) have shown to be useful for tennis players, as they show high external validity. They involve the coordination of body segments (kinetic chain) and allow generation, summation, transfer and regulation of forces from the lower body to the upper body, which is similar to tennis strokes (Fernandez 2014). Previous research showed significant relationships between ball toss and strength (isokinetic trunk rotation; individual values of velocity at 30% of 1RM bench press), as well as serve velocity. This suggests that these tests are fundamental for whole body explosive power regardless of throwing technique.
Speed and Agility Testing
In tennis, speed is the ability to move at high velocity in a number of directions, and is not often in a straight line. Players not only need to be quick movers in a linear direction (acceleration), but also laterally and multidirectional. Speed has been defined as the rate of change of distance with respect to time, whereas acceleration is the rate of change in speed with respect to time (Fernandez 2014). With the changes of direction, players are not able to achieve maximal running speeds (obtained between 30 and 60 m in a straight line sprint). Acceleration and deceleration seem to be fundamental for tennis players.
Musculoskeletal assessment tests use static measurements; examine joint integrity and range of motion (ROM). These assessments are widespread practice with the dual goal of injury prevention and performance enhancement (Fernandez 2014). Tests of ROM and muscle flexibility are used for players at risk of muscle strain injury. Since injuries in tennis can involve all the areas of the body, the application and use of a musculoskeletal examination of the entire body is recommended.
The use of a regular fitness testing in tennis provides framework for the development of an effective program of the physical fitness training, especially in younger players. With the results obtained from the testing protocols, coaches and physical trainers can develop individual training programs for their strengths and weaknesses. This would lead to a more efficient program, saving time for the tennis-specific training.
Fernandez-Fernandez J, Ulbricht A, Ferrauti A. Fitness testing of tennis players: how valuable is it? Br J Sports Med. 2014 Apr;48 Suppl 1:i22-31.
Written by Chris Barber, CPT