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For Great Court Coverage, Build Muscular Endurance

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic patrols the baseline like a border agent, letting nothing past.

There’s no better advertisement for the importance of muscular endurance than Novak Djokovic’s road to victory at the Australian Open. As well as Djokovic struck the ball, his outstanding court coverage was the foundation of his success. The Serb is not a one-and-done big banger, looking to end points quickly with brute force. He’s willing to work the point, scurrying side to side when needed, as he patiently waits for his opportunity to strike.

To play that style of game Djokovic needs great muscular endurance. In simple terms, muscular endurance is the muscle’s ability to repeatedly contract and perform strongly over and over again. A muscle won’t do that by itself; you have to train it to perform that way.

This is quite different to muscular strength, typified by an increase in muscle bulk, explosiveness and raw power, which also requires specific training. So how do players like Djokovic train to improve muscular endurance?

Compeed

Many pros will have built muscular endurance exercises into their off-season regimen, but they can also do it periodically throughout the year.  Cross-training exercises like running, swimming, the Elliptical and StairMaster all help to build muscular endurance. Players also build muscular endurance through weight training, focusing on more reps with lighter weights.  This formula (using lighter weight and more repetitions) loads the muscles to build muscular endurance.

People may think that for tennis only the legs need muscular endurance, but endurance of the core and upper body are also very important. A strong core is needed to protect the spine and to allow players to generate the forces needed to hit strokes. Similarly, players need to have endurance of the shoulder and arm to stabilise the shoulder and generate forces to hit shots. 

How To Build Muscular Endurance
Here are three exercises to develop muscular strength in each key body area for tennis players: lower body, core and upper body.

1. Lower Body/Legs
Lunges: Holding onto dumbbells for overload, do sets of 15 lunges in multiple directions to improve muscular endurance in your legs. Lunge forward for 15 reps, then 45 degrees to the right for 15 reps, 45 degrees to the left for 15 reps and then do 15 reps to each side. This is a great tennis-specific drill working all the directions you move on court while doing a lot of repetitions to build muscular endurance in the legs.

2. Core
Plank exercises are a great way to improve core endurance; they can be done anywhere and no equipment is required! Facing the ground in a fully extended position, use your elbows and toes to support your body weight. All the muscles of your core are supporting you in that position. Do multiple sets of 30 seconds duration. Try to remain as still as possible and look straight down at the ground so you don’t put your neck in a bad position while doing the plank.

3. Upper Body/Shoulder
The seated rowing exercise works on the muscles that stabilise the scapula (shoulder blade). The key is to do multiple sets of 15 reps to be sure those muscles are able to stabilise the shoulder and protect your upper body, which is important for all shots, whether it be a serve, an overhead, ground stroke or volley. Tennis players need muscular endurance in their upper back and scapular area, and the rowing exercise is one of the best to accomplish this.

- Written in association with Todd Ellenbecker, Director of Sports Medicine for the ATP.

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