Jan 29, 2015
Net Gains

richjacobs-head.jpgBy Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS

As defending Atlantic 10 Conference champions, the Xavier University men’s tennis team entered the 2009 season with a large target on its collective back. Repeating would be difficult and Head Coach Eric Toth knew that doing so would require that his athletes get in better shape than ever before. That’s why he asked me to design a program that would improve the team’s strength and conditioning during the off-season and maintain those gains throughout a long, grueling season.


We decided that two days of strength training and three days of conditioning each week would push this team to the next level. The plan was broken down into three phases; off-season, pre-season, and in-season. Each phase had a specific goal: During the off-season it was hypertrophy, pre-season was strength and power, and in-season we aimed for maintaining those gains.

Our weightroom plan consisted of two full-body workouts using multi-joint, multi-mode, and multi-planar exercises. I used a double progressive system to help push the rate of progression for optimal gains. The first cycle consisted of repetition ranges between 10-15. Before progressing in weight, the athlete must have demonstrated momentary muscular fatigue to the given repetition target.

A combination of free weights and machines were used for variety and to attack the different levels of neural activity in the body. For example, I used the leg press to focus on building strength through a wider range of motion, and then followed with a DB split squat so that the focus was on core stability and strength. We added more core work with full body engagement that trained the body as a unit instead of as individual parts using Swiss balls, slide boards, and bands for exercises.

The hypertrophy phase lasted about eight weeks. Within this phase, there was a micro cycle in which the repetitions were decreased every three to four weeks. I did this to help stimulate neuromuscular adaptations. As the reps were decreased by about three per set, the weight increased. Therefore, intensity was increased as volume decreased.

Following hypertrophy was the pre-season cycle. This cycle was the most engaging for the athletes and for me. This is where sport-specific movements were put into play and where the focus switched to more power production. This cycle can also be a great opportunity to start adding tennis-specific injury prevention exercises such as a rotator cuff program and wrist strengthening exercises.

To work on power and stability of the hip and knee, I used squat jumps and single-leg rotational jumps on opposite days. Specific cues were given telling the athlete to land on the entire bottom surface of the foot with their weight toward the front, and their knees centered between the first and second toes. Focus on hip drive and extending through the ankle was also emphasized.

Multi-planar movements in this phase consisted of diagonal dumbbell lunges, pushups with rotation, multi-hip, and various core movements in all three planes. The micro-cycle followed the same scheme as the hypertrophy phase.

The weight room was a great environment to push the guys and build on strength and power. Part of the plan was to also be the best-conditioned athletes in the conference, so cardiovascular training was extremely important. As we know, most athletes hate running. The word conditioning makes them feel sick. I had to create an environment in which I could pull from their strengths–competitiveness. These guys love competition and really got engaged when I asked them to compete against each other.

Conditioning was broken into three days per week. To avoid overtraining, each day had different goals. There were specific days set aside for agility, conditioning, and treadmill training. We used variation to stimulate the different energy systems using different modes we found to be effective through research and literature.

Our agility day consisted of short sprints, five to 30 yards, and used different patterns such as the T-drill, pro-agility, and M-drill. We also used agility ladders and foot hurdles for coordination drills.

Every sprint was a race against a teammate, and a penalty was given to those who lost the race. Penalties were anything from jogging a lap to running out, touching the athletic trainer’s cooler, and running back–anything to indicate the loss.

Tennis-specific starts were used to develop first step quickness and engagement to the drill. For example, drop steps, shuffle-to-sprint, and cross-over steps were used to start a race.

Most drills were performed on the tennis court. The environment was very intense and competitive, ensuring proper training adaptations. I wanted game-speed effort for every drill to encourage a transfer of training.

Our conditioning program consisted of an energy specific program that began with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:4. Work intervals were sprints, accelerating as quickly as possible and maintaining that pace for as long as possible. According to some studies, total yardage needed to produce a positive conditioning adaptation is about one and a half to two miles, which is about 2,500 to 3,500 yards.

As the conditioning progressed through the weeks, the rest period decreased. This training was conducted on a grass field to avoid overuse injuries that may have developed from constant pounding on the tennis court.

We also utilized treadmills, which allowed us to create a standard for recording progression. If the program was completed at a certain speed, then the following week the speed would increase by 0.2 mph. This gave the athlete a true measure of progression, which can be difficult to determine on a field consistently.

Based on the body fat test given before training and after pre-season, we found that all of the guys lost fat and gained muscle. The only measurable part of the conditioning that we used was the treadmill, and the entire team bettered their top sprinting speed by at least 1.6 mph during the course of our training.

Training five days a week on top of practice and school is a challenge. The key to getting athlete buy in is that they believe your plan will make them a better competitor on game day.

Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Xavier University. He can be reached at: [email protected]




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