If you want to emulate the powerfully impressive style of play by world No.2 Rafael Nadal, try training on one leg.
Top tennis trainer Paul Gold explains
Who wouldn’t want to be like Rafael Nadal? His muscle-bound physique and awesome talent with a tennis racket means he looks the part and plays the part of a player ranked No.2 in the world.
It’s hardly surprising therefore that many players are hitting the gym in a quest to emulate their Spanish hero.
Modern tennis is, after all, all about power ‘ power of movement, power of shot and power of thought ‘ and Nadal is an undisputed world-class powerhouse in all of these departments.
It’s clear that the stronger you are the greater the intensity at which you can perform and the less risk you face of injury. But can you be too strong?
Could the new gym rats who want to look like and play like Nadal be doing themselves more harm than good?
There is no question that strength without skill or even good skill levels with low strength will produce less than optimum results. But is it really that important for a tennis player to be able to perform a traditional gym exercise like a squat using a 200+kg bar?
It could be argued that a squat of 100kg along with great stability, power, body control and skill is a far better combination.
This begs the question, “Why not have all these and a 200+kg squat?” Although this sounds like the ideal solution, discussion of this nature is totally misguided.
The main problem is that when it comes to weight training, players (and their coaches and fitness trainers) are often guilty of using old, non-sports-specific bodybuilding principles that focus on building size in isolated muscles through use of exercises that operate in only one plane of motion.
In tennis you need to be able to convert muscle strength into explosive power very quickly. Although traditional weight training will make you stronger, it won’t necessarily enable you to convert that strength into power quick enough for maximum tennis performance.
Let’s face it, in a multi-skilled sport like tennis, the objective is to improve sport performance and reduce injury potential, not build entrants for bodybuilding competitions!
You may possibly start to look a bit like the heavily muscled Nadal, but you still won’t be much nearer to producing his level of power ‘ that’s assuming you haven’t injured your back in along the way!
Let’s examine the example of the 200+ kg squat.
To work on the squat in the traditional way means at best the player loads up the bar to the point where they need a ‘spotter’ (someone who provides support) for safety reasons. Alternatively, they use a cage that is safer but because the bar is fixed it does not allow them to work in a multi-plane environment ‘ which after all is how the game of tennis is played.
One of the biggest problems with both of these scenarios is that the excessive loading that occurs to the spine and joints on an ongoing basis impacts on the risk/safety ratio over time. The greater the loads, the greater are the chances of injury. Often players get to the point of ‘failure’ because of the physical and mental pressure of the bar on their backs rather than because of fatigue in the legs.
There is no doubt that for a player to improve strength they must train at intensities high enough to elicit a strength response (the principle of overload), but there is a better way to increase muscular loading AND nervous system loading ‘ thus improving core stability and balance in the process and lessening the strain on the spine and joints.
This can be achieved using single-leg exercises ‘ replicating the game of tennis that’s played predominantly on a single-leg basis anyway.
You can still do maximal lifts just as you would with traditional double-leg squatting, but without the excessive loads on the spine and joints.
Note – You can also use this type of training on the upper body with the use of dumbbells.
This kind of training means that unlike traditional weight training you are working more muscles ‘ the primary muscles (big muscle groups) as well as the smaller stabilisers.
Furthermore, this kind of strength training also provides an added skill component to your physical training that will reap rewards when transferred to the court.
As far as Nadal is concerned, he is clearly a very talented player who was born with great tennis skills, which he has honed over the years.
His physique and the physicality of his style of play only go to enhance his considerable racket skills, without which he would not be the same player.
Try incorporating some single-leg and single-arm exercises to help maximise your tennis performance while staying injury-free.