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Speed Running - Eight Steps to Developing Blazing Speed - Power Training

Speed Running
Maximum power is trained when the athlete works in a range of between 95-100% of their maximum intensity. All too often athletes perform these power training drills at a low intensity thus defeating the purpose of overloading the muscles and maximizing you time spent training. Plyometrics has become the standard for power development with many trainers.

Power is simply the combination of speed and strength. In recent years many athletes and coaches have thought of power training as plyometric training due to the popularity of the term. However, plyometric training is just one form of power training. Plyometric training refers to an athlete developing explosive movements through a concentric contraction (shortening of muscle) following an eccentric contraction (lengthening of muscle).

It is during this eccentric contraction that the maximum force generated by the muscle is attained. The amount of force generated by the muscles following an eccentric contraction is greater. How does this apply to making you faster? Well it is not only specific to the various movements involved in your sport but it allows you to develop a more explosive start which will help you to get to your destination more quickly.

It is the stored energy from an eccentric contraction when a muscle is stretched that is available during the following explosive concentric contraction. It is this stretching of the muscles prior to the explosive muscle contraction that is often referred to as the “loading phase”. The key point here to know is that the greater the load and the faster the load will result in a more powerful contraction.

One key aspect for athletes to know is that the concentric contraction must be immediate after the eccentric contraction otherwise a lot of this energy will be lost. For example if you want to increase your vertical jump you will bend down and then immediately explode upwards. However, you are unlikely to achieve such a height if you bend down, wait a few seconds and then jump upwards. Therefore an athlete must try to jump as soon as they can following the eccentric contraction. This process is often referred to the stretch-shortening cycle and is what plyometrics is built around.

Now transfer this over to how it can make you faster. It could make you faster in getting to a ball if you can time your jump rather than just waiting in a crouched position. It could allow you to be faster if you learn to take off following this phase rather that trying to take off from a crouched position. In tennis you could become faster if you hit the ball, land and recover and then learn to time your explosive start immediately from this position rather than a full upright or fully crouched position.

I found this to be true for the tennis players that I have trained. When waiting in the already crouched position on a return; I found out that they were slower to get off the mark compared to when they were able to time their forward movement. This is where learning the split-step the correct way will make you faster in getting to the ball.

Power is the ability of an athlete to produce high levels of work over a short distance.

Power = Strength x Speed


Strength refers to the force applied. The effects on the body from this strength training can result in both neural and physiological adaptations that will directly enhance performance.

Neural Adaptations or changes

Increased recruitment of motor units
Increase in intra-muscular coordination
Increased firing rate of motor neurons

Physiological adaptations or changes

Increase in density of connective tissue
Increase in muscles size (hypertrophy)
Increase in bone density


There are various factors that contribute to speed and movement:

The athlete’s skill through training
Muscle fibre type
Muscle insertion points
Elastic energy

Power training must be specific to the skill or movement that is being performed by the athlete. It is also important that when conducting power training that the load placed upon the body does not affect the actual specific sporting skill or movement. For example; you could where a weighted vest and try to perform a series of vertical jumps but if your specific movement patterns are effected then you are inhibiting the transferring benefit.

This is why when conducting plyometric exercises it is important to choose sport specific exercises with appropriate loading as there will be greater transference across in terms of physiological and learned adaptations.

I have already done this by choosing the appropriate exercises for your sport of tennis. As a result of this explanation you will see how these exercises that I have chosen will apply specifically to the movements that you are required to perform when executing that skill. To just perform any plyometric exercise to increase power is not the way to go. There are thousands of exercises out there but selection is very important. refer to GSC fitness eBooks for more in-depth explanations of each exercise.

Key Plyometric Exercises that Help to Improve Speed:

Single leg hops
Single leg bounding
Pistol squats
Double leg tuck jumps
Double leg hops
Alternate leg bounding
Incline two leg bounding
Zigzag hops or one legged lateral bounding
Lateral jumps
Squat jumps and Split jumps
Plyo-box exercises:

Depth jumps
Alternating step ups
Double leg jumps
Single leg box squats

Additional plyo-metric training methods:

Ladder exercises
Stair training
Medicine ball exercises
Kettle ball exercises
Bounding over cones
Bounding over mini-hurdles
Jump/skipping rope
Stadium hops

Favorite Exercise:

Running sand dunes! This is a killer workout and a great way to add extra resistance and variety to your training programs. I guarantee that if you are looking for a fun new way to train your players then take them down to the beach where there are some sand dunes. You can also include some sprint sessions along the beach followed by some swimming.

Your players will be ready to sleep for hours after this work out. It is also fun for them to be outside on the beach. Just be sure to include a proper warm-up and warm-down into your session.

Areas of Concern When Plyometric Training

After spending many years with coaches from a variety of sports in developing and designing their fitness and conditioning programs; it was quite apparent that many coaches did not know how to properly implement a plyometric program.

They Key Areas of Concern Were:

Many coaches were not completely educated on how to teach and instruct each plyometric exercises.
The equipment used was of the wrong shape, size and weight for the athlete.
The surface that they were performing the exercises on were poor and dangerous.
The athletes didn’t understand what they were working on or how it applied to their sport.
Athletes did not perform a proper warm-up prior to commencing a plyometric program.
Injuries were not reviewed prior to starting a plyometric training program.
Plyometrics were used at the wrong time of the season such as introducing new plyometric exercises during the competitive season.
A strength base was not established first.
Some of the athletes were too young for plyometric training.
Not knowing how many sets and repetitions to use.

Progression of Exercises to Develop Speed

Developing vertical drive – conducting plyometric exercises using cones and mini-hurdles will help to develop the vertical drive in athletes.
Developing explosive hip power – one of my favorite modes of exercises for developing power, in particular hip power, is stair hops. The key with these exercises is to take away the use of the arms. One way to do this is to place your hands behind your head as you hop with two feet together up the steps.
Developing explosive starts – this is where the various bounding exercises assist the athlete in developing speed by improving their explosive starts. Two of my favourite exercises are the single-leg and double-leg bounding followed by an immediate sprint. These exercises assist the athlete in pushing off the ground followed by a subsequent burst of speed over 10 metres.
Three main points in order to gain positive results from plyometric training:

Develop a sound base of flexibility
Develop a sound base of strength
Reduce the risk of injury by performing the proper technique for each exercise

Specifics to Designing a Plyometric Program for Speed Training

Step 1:

The following need to be identified and considered prior to an athlete commencing a plyometric training program:

Age of the athlete
Current or potential injuries
Medical history
Muscle imbalances
Current strength of athlete
Current speed of athlete
The athlete’s weight
The athlete’s experience and knowledge with power training
The surface that the exercises will be performed on

Step 2:

The key points need to be considered with plyometric training:

Frequency of sessions
Rest and recovery between sessions
Progression with intensity levels
Progression with volume
What season the athlete is in (pre or post season)
Duration of the program or session
The specific demands of the sport
Implementation of a thorough warm-up
Your tournament schedule

Role in Tennis

The development of power in the game of tennis is most important to players at the higher levels. It is important to understand both components of power, which are the strength and speed aspects and how each relates to power development.

Power is also involved in all strokes and areas of the game of tennis. Power is particularly important in the explosive movement during the service motion, thus adding more “speed” to the serve. A faster serve will obviously be more effective and can help the player to develop the serve into a weapon.

Power is also extremely important to developing speed as it contributes to improved explosive starts and speed over short distances. Power development is one of the most neglected areas when training tennis players due to the lack of knowledge and understanding by coaches in how to train for “power”.

We have included power drills that involve the use of some equipment such as a medicine ball, as well as some drills using ones’ own body weight for those programs that do not have access to the required equipment.

Injury Concerns

It is extremely important to demonstrate proper technique in all power drills in order to prevent injuries. The development of power involves many “explosive” or “ballistic” movements and if performed incorrectly can often lead to injury. It is therefore important for the coach to fully understand how to demonstrate the skill, what they are trying to achieve, each player’s physical ability, and how to include power training into their fitness and conditioning programs. It is important, as with all fitness drills, that the coach follows any specific directions given by a player’s physician.

Player Level

Power development is primarily directed towards the more advanced competitive tennis player.

When coaching younger players still in the developmental stages (both technically and physically) it is more important to use the time available to develop stroke technique, court positioning, scoring, and overall understanding of the game of tennis.

How to Train

There are a wide variety of power drills included in this section and it is up to the coach to understand the individual that they are training and accordingly implement the appropriate drill.

Also, certain drills involve equipment such as medicine balls, plyo-boxes and various other weight resistance devices.Therefore it is important to choose the drills that fit into your training session taking into account the factors of time, equipment, skill involved, age and level of player, costs, and the time in setting up and demonstrating each skill.

Power training needs to be specific to the movement involved. All of the major power movements have been identified and the following drills have been developed specifically for power development in tennis players.


Plyometrics is a form of power training
Plyometric exercises require a fast loading phase
Plyometrics is a neuromuscular event
The athlete must perform exercises at maximum intensity to bring about maximum gains
The concentric contraction must be immediate after the eccentric contraction otherwise energy is lost
Take all factors into account when designing a power training program
Choose exercises that simulate movements in your sport
Balance and stability plays a significant role in power training. This is why one of the steps to success is devoted to developing the core.
Plyometric training can bring about overuse injuries if performed incorrectly. However, if the proper technique is followed then plyometric training has many benefits when it comes to developing speed.
Rest should be at least 3-5 minutes between sets.
Conduct power training twice a week in conjunction with your strength training program.

Below You Will Find Some Great Power Training Exercises for Tennis Players

Squat Jumps
Single leg-hops
Single – leg lateral jumps
Lateral two-feet jumps over cone
Box jumps
Depth jumps
Medicine ball (Backwards throw)
Medicine (wall bounce)
Medicine ball (Chest pass)
Medicine ball (side-throw)
Medicine ball (overhead throw)
Vertical jump
Medicine ball (frog bounding and hop)

How to Take-off and Land Correctly

(when performing these plyometric drills during training)


Our goal in teaching you how to land correctly is to help reduce injuries with your players and also to help them with performance. Poor technique can lead to injuries particularly with the knees (jumpers’ knee) and hips which will ultimately hinder performance levels and durability.


In order to reduce the stress placed on the knees, it is recommended that you encourage the player to use more of their hips during the take-off phase.

An injury common to sports that involves a lot of jumping is “patellar tendonitis” which is often due to the increased knee flexion and stress placed on the quadriceps muscles.

During the take-off phase, instruct the athlete to keep their head up, back straight (not slumping forward), and balance themselves on the balls of their feet (not flat footed).

As with performing the “squat”, try to lower the hips as if you are about to sit down, thus including your hips more into the action and less focus just on the knees.

When squatting, you want to concentrate on total leg and hip explosion in an upwards and forward direction.

Although focus is on the lower body, a strong midsection is extremely important.

To develop the “core” please refer to our section specifically devoted to “strengthening the core”.

After performing the correct technique in the “take phase”, our focus now shifts to learning how to land correctly after this explosive movement.

Upon landing, the knees and hips should be in a “flexed” position with the head up and arms in a relaxed position. The arms will assist in balance upon landing.

Teach the athlete to land on their toes and then their heels. That is a toe to heel landing.

Upon landing the player should be in a similar position as when they took off, this is relevant to many of the drills included in this section that involve an immediate and follow-up jump (e.g. depth jumps).

Balance is also important in executing proper technique. You will find various equipment in your gym such as balance balls or balance boards that assist you in improving your balance.

Sample Pre-season Plyometric Training Program for Tennis Players


Month 1:

(1) Bounding - two feet 4 x 10-12 reps

(2) Squat jumps 3 x 10 reps

(3) Single - leg jumps 3 x 10 reps

(4) Split-step (serve and volley pattern) 10 minutes

Month 2:

(1) Depth jumps 3 x 10 reps

(2) Lateral single-leg jumps 3 x 10 reps (each leg)

(3) Split-step (explosive jumps) 3 x 10-12 reps (each leg)

(4) Box to box jumps 3 x 10 reps

(5) Plyometric grid/Ladder 5 minutes

Month 3:

(1) Bounding (cones) 5 x 10-12 reps

(2) Lateral box jumps (side to side) 5 x 10-12 reps

(3) Medicine ball jumps 3 x 10 reps

(4) In/Out squats (jump on middle squat) 5 x 6-8 reps

(5) Plyometric grid/Ladder 5 minutes

*you can substitute exercises if you do not have access to plyo-boxes

*for advanced athletes only who have established a good strength base.

Power Training Procedures

When using some of these power training drills as a way to test the athlete, it is important that you perform each follow-up test under the exact same conditions in order to obtain accurate, valid and reliable results.

For example:

Perform the test at the same time of the day.
Before a strenuous tennis session.
On the same surface.
Under similar weather conditions.
Use the same weight if using a medicine ball.
Use the same directions and procedures.
Test every 6-8 weeks
Confidence of the player will increase when they are able to perform each skill correctly.

Be sure to complete a needs analysis for each athlete identifying any possible injuries of concern.
To minimize the risk of injury, it is important to conduct an aerobic warm-up and extensive stretching routine prior to performing these power training drills.
Weights are used not only to develop absolute strength, but also strength-speed.

For example: the more absolute strength the player develops, the more force that the

player can generate during the “push off” phase such as in a sudden change of


The simple jump exercises (such as single leg hops, two feet bounding, jumps for
height or distance) are useful in developing the eccentric component of the forced stretch - contract phase. Perform these simple jump exercises prior to starting the more advanced exercises.

The training sessions should be progressive with each phase developing the player’s body sufficiently so that they can move onto the next phase of training. The ultimate goal is to be peaking for their competitive phase, so be sure to prevent stagnation by understanding what phase of training they are in. Include a variety of drills.

As we porgress with each phase of improving our speed for tennis we will continue to enter more in-depth areas. As you will see when it comes to speed training there is a definate process and you cannot afford to leave any of these key elements out.

David Horne

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