T Nation

Training for tennis

Can any personal trainers offer suggestions to correct the unilateral muscle imbalances created by tennis.

Yeah, quit! I’m a former all-state tennis player who has now devoted all his attention to bodybuilding. Unfortunately, I’ve got a chronic case of impingement in my shoulder that is constantly putting me in excruciating pain. As such, I’m tremendously bitter at the sport. I don’t see much of a problem in terms of size imbalances between dominant and non-dominant hands due to tennis, but strength (especially in the forearms and shoulders) could be an issue. I would do specific grip work with your non-dominant hand, and be sure to stick with dumbbells frequently in your training to ensure that both sides have equal strength. Also, be sure to include LOTS of rotator cuff work, especially external rotations.

I’m not sure if what you’re looking for is sports performance or just improving the look of your body. A lot of times in sports, you are imbalanced because the body is more efficient that way, for exampple golf. It might be counter-productive to have a golfer swing opposite to their stroke in order to correct or compensate for the many repetitive swings they do normally. If you’re looking to improve your strength and such because you want to be better balanced with both arms/sides of your body then do more dumbbell work. If you have a big deficit, you might want to do 2 for 1 reps on the weakside. (i.e. 2 reps for everyone 1 rep) If it isn’t too bad, just limit the strong side from getting stronger by not lifting heavier and wait for you weak side to catch up.

Hey guys, thanks for your response. Specifically what I’m looking for is not a sport performance improvement but rather a method of protecting myself when I work out in the gym. Example - when performing heavy deadlifts my right side (I’m right handed) will lead my left side. I think this demonstrates that my right side is obviously stronger (muscle or neural, I don’t know) than my left and is doing more of the work which makes it even stronger. I’m wondering if an exercise like the Turkish get up for my left side might help improve left sided strength.


You know Al I was a tennis player also, for years, and have alot more back and lat mass on the right side of my body than on the left.

I NEVER thought that the reason was that I had played tennis for so many years. But your explanation totally makes sense now. DUH, I can’t believe I had never thought of that.

No wonder my chins go up weird sometimes.

I can say that as I’ve been getting older, I’ve preferred using dumbells for everything as much as possible. I get just as much if not more development from them. Though the dumbell deadlift is a bit awkward and I can’t do a one handed chin. So those lifts I’m stuck with one bar.

Good post Al. I just had an epiphine!

I wish I had an answer for you but I seem to have this same problem. I just try and keep my form as good as possible and make sure I’m always using a mirror. (You’re like, “no shit Sherlock.”)

Hey Al, I too am a tennis player. I am also a student strength coach for a big twelve team. My suggestion is to try unilateral movements. I know you are saying “DUH” but it is really the only way you are going to “equal out” you body. There are so many exercises you can do with one arm, or leg. Try one arm snatches, one arm benches, rows, squats etc. Always work your week side first and try to work in more reps. This will help some. I also suggest you do what Ian recommends. If you push, PULL, If you work your quads, work your hams. For each rep and set, do the same in the opposite motion/muscle group. This should balance you out as well. If you are looking for more performance or have anymore questions let me know. Try to be specific so I can help you with them or do my best answering them. If I don’t have the answer, I can at least lead you in the right direction. This was a pretty general response but I Hope this helped.

I like your suggestion about one are DB snatches. This will certainly compliment the Tukish get-up as I think both will work to balance out the core as well as the extremities if I focus on the left side. I have noticed (now that I have been trying Coach Davies ab exercises) that I also have an imbalance in my core (due to serving and running around my backhand). My right to left twisting motion is much stronger than the reverse. This can’t be good for back & spine health. Any other suggestion for unilateral whole body & core movements would be greatly appeaciated. When training tennis players do you train them to prevent the imbalance from occuring in the first place?

Hey Al, I think you will definetly like the one arm snatches. When you do these remember that all olympic lifts should be done with traps and legs. Arms are just ropes that keep the weight to the body. The DB or Kettlebell should be over your head and in line with the middle of your stance. I really like One arm overhead squats. Overhead squats are an athletes best friend. Walking lunges are also very good. This is also good with overhead DB walking lunges. When we train the athletes we try to incorporate injury prevention as well as performance. I believe you can do both if things are done together. I wanted to ask what level tennis player are you and are you a high school, college or rec tennis player. Are you looking for performance or just injury prevention. I believe both can be accomplished if done right. I really recommend Coach Davies tennis program. I’ve got it and done it and it kicks your ass. But you will notice your performance goes up but I recommend slowly easing into it. Its not for the weak of heart. As far as more unilateral movements the Turkish get up is a great exercise. I know alot recommend it with a Kettlebells and DBs but try it with an EMPTY 45pd bar. Try balancing that bastard. Try kettlebells, you can use DB’s but I like K-bells a little more. I like King deadlifts, and one arm olympic lifts. Remember sports are not a Body building sport, its for performance and this is where the olympic lifts come into play. I fully recommend finding a certified Olympic weightlifting coach in your area. I just finished my certification cource for USAW. Let me know where you live and I might be able to look up one for you.


Your reply was MONEY. Thanks so much for that.

I recently started doing the dumbell snatches, and I have to tell you, those are the FUNNEST exercises EVER. Especially if you are a tennis player, your body already has alot of the explosive form of the exercise preprogrammed into it. (It’s similar to serving).

Also, what you mentioned about the arms just being ropes, it took me a few sets to figure that out. Once I stopped using my arms, that stuff just FLEW into the air.

Oh I’m getting excited just thinking about doing them!!! :slight_smile:

Just finsihed a workout with one arm DB snatches and Turkish get-ups. As striker mentioned - the one arm DB snatch was great. I can’t wait to do them again. I am a rec tennis player now. When I was in high school I use to play everyday, all day. I now work out regulary with weights. My goal is injury prevention not sport performance. I do not want any interruption with my weight training. I’ve tried some of Coach Davies programs and at my age (43 yrs old) I really had to cut down on the volume. I also like king deadlifts and have started doing them again. It would be great if you could teach me some of the olympic lifts however I live in Canada (25 minutes from Buffalo)

I will try to get a friend of mine - who is heck of a tennis coach, to provide some interesting commentary. Tennis is possibly one of the most neglected sports in the S&C community and I hope that it will change soon. In faith, Coach Davies

Isn’t Andre Agassi on a S&C program utilizing a S&C coach. I thought this was one of the main reasons his comeback was so successful. He would literally wear his opponent down as the match progressed. The longer the match the better Andre’s chances were of winning

Interesting point Al, I’d like to know how Andre’s routine is going.

I remember when he was younger, and bigger, at one point Andre was benching over 300. (Which is damn good for a full time tennis player). This was right after he started shaving his head and made his first comeback. If I recall, I believe it’s was his Uncle from Iran that was training him back then. His Uncle is huge, he’s a big strongman type.

Recently I saw his workout and they were making him alot lighter, but his power was definitley still there, he was shredded. Not sure if he is still using his Uncle as his strength coach.

OK Al, for injury prevention I FULLY recommend rotator and shoulder work. They are kinda the same but kinda not. Did that make sense? You really need to read, if you haven’t already, Coach Davies Man of Steel article. I fully use this system and my shoulders haven’t hurt as much. I have been known to really tear those babies up. That article writes about the shoulder girdle and the lower back. As far as learning the olympic lifts there is a book and video set in Ironmind.com called Olympic style weightlifting for the beginner and intermediate weightlifter. I haven’t seen them but I was going to get them before I took my certification course. Now I won’t need them as much. I think together they are only $38 or something. You should really look into it.
Striker, you can do any of the Olympic lifts in one arm. I think the snatches are the best however. They really do kick ass. I told you, arms are just ropes. It takes a few times to get that right. Hell even I sometimes “reverse curl” my cleans and I KNOW that isn’t right. What level of tennis player are you. Are you a high school, college or rec player. Like I said before, I’m a BIG Davies fan and use alot of his ideas in the workouts I make up. You should really look into his tennis workout. Let me know if there are any other things I can help you with. Tennis a Huge passion of mind and would love to help out my fellow court brothers and sisters.
P.S. Agassi is the MAN!!! I believe he is still with his same S/C coach. I don’t beleive he is an uncle though, but I’m not too sure on that. Might have to look that one up.

Hey Coach Davies, I agree with tennis being a low priority in the S/C field but hopefully I can but a dent in that. I REALLY would love to work with tennis players, due to the fact my passion for the game.

Drop me a line. Within Renegade Training - tennis is not ignored. We have a series of clinic’s in Florida and many more planned in the north-east specifically for the tennis community. Glad you liked the program - at some time we should talk how you evolve from Phase I, Level 1 to Level 4 and eventual competition. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance. In faith, Coach Davies