Peaking at the Right Time

June 16, 2003 03:05 PM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D.

For many tennis players there is no season and, unfortunately, no off-season. They just play and play in what becomes an endless series of matches, tournaments, camps, and practice sessions. The consequences can be over training, burnout, injuries, and less than peak performance when it is needed.

Dr. Paul Roetert, managing director of the USTA's High Performance program, offers some guidelines to develop year-round, periodized training programs.

"Many tournament tennis players adhere to a program that breaks the year into four training phases," Roetert explains. "The preparation phase focuses on high volume and low intensity workouts. In addition to practicing tennis, elite players participate in aerobic activities such as running, biking, or swimming for at least 20 minutes, three or four times a week, for at least four weeks."

"During the pre-competition phase, training routines become more tennis specific. The level of intensity (how hard you work during training sessions) is increased while volume of training is reduced. Although there is still an aerobic component to the training program, the focus is on more quick bursts of speed and strength training exercises. Ideally, this phase also lasts at least four weeks."

Peak Performance
According to Roetert, true peak performance can only be maintained for approximately three weeks. Athletes should try to maintain strength and endurance levels during the competition or peak performance phase. Training continues at intensity and volume consistent with the number of tournaments and matches during this period. Peak performance is difficult to sustain because the summer season lasts as long as four months, not three weeks.

During the transition (active rest) phase, Roetert suggests that players should take some time to recover from tennis. "Maintain your fitness level by participating in other sports and activities such as basketball, soccer, and running. Ideally, the tennis players ought to play a sport that involves movements similar to those in tennis. Many European players enjoy soccer or ice hockey. These team sports provide a physical, social, and emotional outlet that they don't get in tennis. The transition phase should last from one to four weeks."

For most tennis players, the time for active rest is January and September. Preparation and precompetition phases should be from February-April, and again in October and November. The time for peak performance is May, June, July, August, and for holiday events during December.

Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at