SPORTS: Medicine ball training can hurt tennis serves and strokes, at least in the short term.


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Strength training in tennis has traditionally focused more on building up a mixture of endurance and strength than strength alone. Common thought among trainers and players is that too much strength training adversely affects serves and groundstrokes by diminishing accuracy and, counterintuitively, power. This is especially true in the short term, i.e. in the days following strenuous workouts. A pair of researchers from Balearic Islands High Performance Sports Center (CTEIB) and  National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia (INEFC), University of Barcelona (UB) investigated the acute and delayed effects of medicine ball throws and resistance training in competitive tennis players. Their findings were published in PLOS One.

Several studies recommend medicine ball throws (MB) and resistance training (RT) methods to increase ball velocity in tennis or overhead throw sports. Proper groundstrokes and serves involve a mixture of velocity and accuracy. Stroke mechanics include ground reaction forces that are transferred through the feet, legs, trunk, upper body, and finally to the racket using the stretch-shortening cycle in the main muscles. Therefore, improving power is a key point in conditioning tennis training.

According to the authors, 

Our working hypothesis was that RT and MB could impair ball velocity, but would have no effect, or only a slight decrease, on accuracy, and that these impairments could be recovered after 24 or 48 hours. Also, RT may cause a greater decrease in ball velocity and accuracy due to the powerful nature of tennis strokes, the higher loads used and probably due to the higher time under tension.
a couple exercising together using a medicine ball
Photo by Andrej Klintsy on

From both medicine ball and resistance training sessions, players’ service velocity were affected most, though only slightly (-14.8 and -17.9 for 3 minutes post-session, respectively). Even when improving, serves continued to show the most effects 24 and 48 hours post-session. Backhands showed some negative effects and forehands showed the least. Ultimately, there were no significant (p > 0.05) differences in all strokes, regarding ball velocity and accuracy after each method and each recovery time, compared to the basal situation. 

According to the authors,

These results suggest that medicine ball throws and resistance training methods have no acute and delayed detrimental effects on stroke velocity and accuracy in young competition tennis players.

That is good news for players and trainers who rely on medicine ball exercises to practice storing and releasing energy that correlates to the player’s backswing, the winding and subsequent unwinding of the body, and the final burst of energy when swinging the tennis racket.

Common exercises using medicine balls in tennis training include medicine ball tosses, parallel throws, and overhead slams (the one of the subjects of this study).



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