Power can be defined as the production of maximum force in the shortest space of time. While strength can be exerted in a slow manner, power relies on the speed of execution. In tennis, power allows players to hit ground strokes with greater pace, generate more force when serving or initiate that explosive first step so crucial in tennis. In order to gain more power we need to be able to combine strength and speed. Again strength comes before power. Once strength is established in your body, we can convert it into power through various explosive drills.
How do we gain more power?
One way of increasing power is through what is termed ‘plyometric training’, which is commonly known as ‘jump training’. Plyometric training, just like Olympic weightlifting, allows us the ability to exert maximum force in the shortest period of time. The main muscular mechanism in plyometric training relies on the short stretch cycle (SSC). The muscles are firstly loaded eccentrically (when muscles lengthen against tension) and then rapidly contract (when muscles shorten against resistance). The eccentric phase of this cycle allows muscles to store elastic energy which then produces greater force when pushing against the ground. The power generated by the SSC is why we split step in tennis. A correctly timed split step (aligned with the ground stroke or serve of our opponent) permits us to make an explosive first step and get to the ball earlier.
The most common methods of plyometric training rely on various jumping exercises. These include jumps on or over objects, bounds (repeated jumps), takeoffs, landings or depth jumps. Depth jumps are probably one of the most advanced methods of developing power. They require jumping off a platform (50-100cm high), landing on both feet and then immediately jumping upwards. It is recommended that individuals who would like to implement depth jumps into their training routine should be able to squat 1.5 times their own body weight.
Plyometric training needs to be carefully planned and executed. It is not about quantity but quality and gaining initial strength prior to doing plyometric drills is a must.
Another method used in developing power includes Olympic weightlifting. This involves performing lifts such a snatch and clean and jerk. These lifts can’t be performed slowly. They require quick force production and engagement of the whole body in a simultaneous triple extension of 3 main joints: ankles, knees and hips. Hence, these lifts produce great stimuli for the nervous system and is why weightlifters are amongst the most powerful athletes on earth! S&C experts have noted the benefits of Olympic weightlifting training across a wide spectrum of sports. In tennis, it allows us to maximise the the forces exerted against the ground, hit the ball with greater pace and develop that crucial explosive first step.
Medicine ball throws are also an extremely effective way of increasing power and are relatively easy to learn. These throws can greatly mimic the kinetic chain used in specific tennis stances and are hence brilliant for tennis specific drills.