Biggest Mistake In A Tennis Workout Plan

As tennis trainers, we are always looking for the best tennis workouts, the best way to recover for tennis and basically anything that helps players improve physically, mentally, or emotionally.

It is all about balance and finding what works for each person as an individual. There are a few areas that in our opinion are “givens” meaning everyone should do them. One of the most important is “Rest days”. We are always amazed at how many people contact us for advice and when we look over their tennis workout plan/schedule they have no rest day/s in a week.

Most of the time they say they don’t feel they need it. In this blog post, we will be looking at rest in relation to rest days, meaning a period of 24-36 hours of minimal physical activity for tennis players.

Why have a rest day? 

Simply put tennis athletes train to increase performance (that’s what we are aiming for). Performance increases are achieved through increased training loads (overtime, gradually working at higher intensities, with greater loads – fluctuating durations and frequency).

Increased loads are tolerated only through regular periods of rest and recovery. We call this “Training periodization”. Overtraining in tennis is considered an accumulation of training load, without adequate rest. This ultimately leads to a decline in performance or injury, requiring days to weeks for recovery.

So in a nutshell, without enough rest, the body does not have the chance to physically recover and regenerate and go through a process of adaptation. Were by the body repairs (muscle tissue, nervous system, immune system, etc).

To a state equal to or above the baseline (where it was). This is how we get physical gains. The better we understand and manage the Work: Rest ratio, the better the gains we get.

From our experience, having at least 36 hours away from physical exercise (especially on court hitting) once a week works best for Tennis players. Walking, massage, stretching, mobility exercises, and gentle yoga are all we would recommend during this period.

Here is a list of just 5 of the benefits of having an effective rest period in your tennis workout plan

  1. Muscle and tissue regeneration - Exercise can create microscopic tears in muscle fibers and connective tissue. During an adequate rest period, cells (fibroblasts) help repair the damaged tissue, resulting in stronger more robust tissue fibers.

  2. Refueling - Exercise uses up carbohydrates (glycogen) for energy production. During the rest period, these stores are refueled (through nutrition, hydration, and rest).

  3. Injury prevention -  As humans, we are a lot more susceptible to injury when we are in a fatigued or semi fatigued state. Mainly due to the fact our energy stores are lower, muscle and connective tissue are partially damaged and our ability to concentrate on technique and loading etc. is inhibited. Having a rest day/period allows our body to fully recover and be less prone to injury.

  4. Mental clarity - Getting out of the training zone/environment is important to keep you feeling fresh and motivated. It is easy to get in a “stale state” without having time away from training and playing matches.

  5. Improve performance - Without weekly rest periods, it will be very hard to challenge yourself long term. You will have less motivation to get things done and you won’t do things as effectively as you could. We are never surprised when we hear players say “I am feeling so much better on court now throughout the week since I started including a rest day”
    Who would have thought you could get better by doing nothing!

 

Every athlete is different in the sense we all have different physical tolerance levels. When I was training Lleyton Hewitt (ATP #1), his loading tolerance was a lot higher than other players who were training with us. His training load and intensity capacity were much higher, this was from a combination of his body composition (Immune system, endocrine system – Hormones, cellular rejuvenation).

He was blessed with the ability to absorb load and recover quickly, combined with his strong mindset and willingness to work hard, he developed into an amazing athlete for a long period of time.

Casey Dellacqua (WTA #26) on the other hand was more physically sensitive. Casey could work at high intensities but needed much more time to recover than Lleyton would. Both players in their own right achieved high levels of physical conditioning, however, their tennis workout plans just had to be managed differently.

So what does this mean?

All players need to be looked at as individuals and their tennis workout plan (periodized plan) need to be suitable for their body type and tolerance levels, especially in young athletes as they grow and develop. Having a rest day is part of the process.

Rest/Recovery plays a big part in a young player's development.  Have you ever considered that a young player's body is constantly in a state of physical change?

Sometimes that rate of change or development is quicker than other times, this typically depends on their age and rate of physical maturity (growth spurts).

What is important to not only consider but plan around is the fact that during these development years (approximately 0 to at least 18 years old) their bodies need adequate rest (more than adults) and they also do not have the mental maturity or life experience to understand what is enough.

Their body awareness and energy management have not developed and they often go until they cannot go any further. If we let them, they will often reach what we call “Overtraining” (daily fatigued state, lack motivation, seem unhappy) and more often than not get injured.

The majority of injuries in young players are overuse injuries. Meaning the injury develops when the body or particular body part has been used in a fatigued state (can also be due to a lack of sound technique) repetitively. So making sure young players get enough rest and have at least one rest day a week is important.

Here are some common problems (and solutions) players encounter that affect their ability to rest and recover effectively;

  • Trying to keep up with the crowd - We have heard this many times “Everyone else seems to be doing more and more, they don’t rest”. Always remember quality or quantity, more isn’t better. Just remind yourself why you need a rest day and the benefits you get from having one.
    Martina Navratilova always told us “players train too much without enough quality”. It wasn’t just about hitting balls for her, it was about having a plan, getting it done during practice and then playing. She revolved a lot of her time around off-court training, recovery, and practice sets. She was also big on rest days.

  • No communication between the team - In my opinion, one of the biggest issues for players is the lack of planning and communication between the team (Player, parents, coaches, tennis trainers, etc.)
    Even just the player and coach. It is important that coaches and trainers are familiar with other stimulus players are exposed to. Do you know if your player has a day off? One of the first things we do when we look to take on a new player for online tennis programming is to ask them to send us their weekly schedule.

    They must include everything they do during a week (school, homework, tennis practice, match play, tennis fitness training, recovery, social time, sleep periods, etc.). This allows us to understand the stimulus and stress they are absorbing physically and mentally. We can then work out the best plan moving forward. We also know from this who is involved and who needs to be kept in the loop with things.

    When players/parents do this they are often surprised with the high level of training and stress they are under. More often than not the first thing we do is set a rest day. Once players adjust to a personalized training plan that involves a rest day, they love it and feel the benefit of being in a fresher and clear state.
  • Training/Tournament Scheduling - Most serious players train during the week and play tournaments on weekends, some during the week. It can be hard to schedule a rest day for them. So they often do not have one for weeks or even months on end. To deal with this we have found scheduling a rest day on a Monday to work best. It also gives the player an easier start to the week. Any day will work for a rest day, just schedule one in. Planning it in is the key.

  • No biofeedback from the athlete - Without understanding a player’s body, we cannot adequately set a tennis workout plan. So it is important to get biofeedback from players. We have a system of doing this that is effective and easy for players to do. So you understand what I am referring to, it is getting information from the player on how they would rate their; energy levels, training performance, sleep quality, mental clarity, emotional state, etc. We keep it to 7 responses, otherwise, it becomes a chore for players to do on a daily basis. This allows us to work out if what we are doing is working effectively, are they prone to injury, do they need more rest, etc.

  • No training plan - You know the old saying “Fail to plan, plan to fail” I totally agree with this. Giving a player or group of players a training plan is really important. When we know where they want to go and set a plan in conjunction with the player and team, we have clarity and purpose. We can set training loads and monitor players easier than just doing “whatever”.
    An example of how this works is when players know they have a rest day on say a Monday, they know physically and mentally they can work hard around it and enjoy the rest day process.

  • Letting the athlete dictate their tennis workout plan - This is a big no-no. If I would have let Lleyton Hewitt manage his training load during the preseason, he would have trained 7 days a week for weeks on end. He would have got stale and flat, plus been highly exposed to injury. Someone with the knowledge and experience (coach or trainer) needs to set the training plan, in conjunction with the player and parent (if relevant). Once this is established, everyone knows what is going on.

What to do on your rest days?

We recommend one or a combination of these.

Foam roller, stretch, mobility, hot bath, massage, breathe work, water treatment – ice bath, hot bath, compression garments, meditation, gentle yoga.

We have created a Tennis Yoga & Injury Prevention program for players to follow on their rest days and also during the week. 

In my opinion, there is no point in having a rest day without getting a good night's sleep before and after the rest day. Sleep is such an important factor in rest and recovery. Generally speaking, players should be getting between 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Aiming to be in bed before 9 pm and up between 6-7 am. The quality of sleep is important also. Here is a blog we have on sleeping. You can get some tips here.

 

Now knowing the benefits of a rest day, it is now important you make sure you implement one into your or your player's training plan and ensure they stick with it. If you don’t educate them on the importance of “rest” they will not see the value until it is possibly too late. So get them to read this blog!

Moving forward if you are not having a weekly rest day, we hope the information in this blog will encourage you to start doing so!

Please contact us for any further guidance and feedback on this blog.

 

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