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Endurance: Pay Now, Play Later

Endurance Training

Andy Murray© Getty ImagesEndurance is key at Roland Garros, where match times and length of points are greatest.

From the club player to the ATP World Tour pro, an up-front investment in endurance training will have its pay-off down the road.

Success on the ATP World Tour demands extraordinary athleticism: Speed, power, flexibility, and – particularly at this time of the year – endurance. During the clay-court season, especially over five-set matches at Roland Garros, endurance is tested more than any physical attribute. Research has shown that match times and length of points are the longest at Roland Garros than at any other Grand Slam.

But training for endurance can be a tricky business for ATP World Tour players, many of whom are competing most weeks of the year. It’s tough to fit in a five-mile run between matches on back-to-back match days. That’s why the players who train the hardest during the off-season will reap the benefits this time of the year in Paris.


Todd Ellenbecker, the ATP’s Director of Sports Medicine, says that endurance work during the off-season is critical. “It is very hard for high-level tennis players to do additional aerobic training during an event as it will fatigue them further for their upcoming match. It’s so important to build a foundation of endurance prior to the season or prior to an event. It cannot be gained at the last moment.”

Importantly, superior endurance also has a hidden benefit for tennis players: It allows a faster recovery between points, which in turn allows a player to retain the ability to use explosive movements during points. That’s helpful for everything from thumping a big first serve to running down a drop shot.

“The energy you need to perform explosive points during a match is manufactured by the body between points,” Ellenbecker says. “The time between points and during changeovers in tennis is very short, so the body has to be very efficient to continue making energy. Players who have a greater aerobic base can produce that energy more efficiently between points and thus will have greater energy stores to use during the explosive bursts of activity during points.”

Because tennis places heavy demands on the body, many players shun the obvious choice to boost endurance – distance running. Many will use an exercise bike or regular bike to avoid the pounding inherent in running. Using a stairmaster, eliptical trainer or swimming are other good low-impact alternatives to running.

Tips For Club Players
One of the easiest things to do to improve endurance is to add aerobic training several times a week to your workout routine. Ideally, this should be done during the off season, not in the week or days prior to a big tournament. 

By adding this type of training to your program (for example a 4-6 week period prior to an event) you will boost aerobic endurance that can be exploited during the tournament. Begin by adding three sessions a week of an activity like cycling for 30 minutes at an intensity that is approximately 75% of your maximum heart rate. (220 minus your age is a good guide for your maximum heart rate.) 

Keeping this intensity during extended activity will help to further develop your aerobic endurance.  You can also have your aerobic endurance tested to see how fit you are.  This test is done in a graded fashion on a treadmill or bike, by gradually increasing the intensity level while monitoring the response of your body.

An estimate of aerobic fitness is made and can serve as a baseline. Then, after periods of increased aerobic workourts, you can be re-tested to gauge improvement.  Aerobic fitness takes time, but adding several 30 minute or more runs or bike rides to your training program is a relatively easy step to improve endurance. 

Putting in the hard yards now is the best way to reduce the risk of running out of gas deep into the final set of your match.

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