College Tennis Performance Training Story

– by Cody Anderson 


In strength and conditioning, tennis can be a highly rewarding sport for coaches. It allows us to closely engage with a small group of athletes, allowing for a deep understanding of their individual dynamics. Unfortunately, tennis often finds itself overshadowed by more prominent and seemingly more significant college sports programs. I will share my experience working with college tennis programs in this article, detailing the strategies to drive improvements. Central to these advancements were the Triphasic Principles, which served as the cornerstone of our approach. Additionally, I will dive into the importance of tailoring training regimens for tennis athletes, considering the prevalent injuries in the sport. Lastly, I will explore how these methods have evolved, incorporating new concepts to refine and enhance the traditional approaches employed in tennis conditioning.

Focus on Patterns to Increase Performance to Reduce Injury – Low Backs

Before diving further into my experiences, I must address my equipment constraints. When the tennis team scheduled their training sessions, our weight room often accommodated one to two other teams concurrently. This situation posed a significant challenge, as I had access to only a restricted area and limited equipment. I was primarily tasked with overseeing the team regarded as having the lowest priority in the weight room hierarchy. In most instances, I had to manage my 8 to 10 athletes with just three racks and minimal available floor space. This scenario was a valuable lesson in conducting performance cycles under space limitations.

To initiate the training process for these athletes, I commence with an aerobic-based training block to enhance their overall work capacity. Subsequently, I transition into the first substantive training block, where my primary focus is refining my tennis players’ movement patterns. This involves the strategic application of performance cycling and functional transfer complexes.

A notable observation I made with these tennis athletes is that they exhibited what can be termed “QL driver” when viewed through the lens of RPR (Reflexive Performance Reset). In simpler terms, the lower back muscles tended to be the primary drivers for hip extension, which is not the ideal scenario. The hip extension should primarily stem from activating the glute muscle first. Correcting these movement patterns is a primary objective. The specific sequence in which muscles activate is precise, and the development of incorrect neurological firing patterns over time can impede performance. As coaches, it becomes our responsibility to identify and rectify these issues. We can reintegrate proper neurological firing patterns through appropriate training methods and enhance athletic performance.

Glute Firing Pattern

Proper Pattern = 1-Glute 2- Hamstring 3-Opposite QL

Common Pattern Tennis Players = 3-Opposite QL 2- Hamstring 1-Glute 

Before training, practice, and matches, athletes could swiftly address these issues through Reflexive Performance Reset (RPR). However, the question remains: why do many experts attribute low back pain to these tennis players? The most common explanation is a weak core. Yet, I’ve witnessed numerous tennis players diligently engaging in core-focused exercises such as band chops, enduring hour-long planks, and performing pallof presses, only to continue receiving feedback about their supposed weak core. This observation raises two possible conclusions: either the traditional approach to core training has been ineffective over the years, or there’s another underlying explanation for these recurring low back issues.

The repetitive rotational movements inherent to sports like tennis tend to accentuate the dominance of Quadratus Lumborum (QL) muscle activation. This isn’t to say that other patterns don’t exist, but I’ve consistently observed this as a prevalent pattern.

When rotational athletes continually execute movements that involve the ribcage lowering and the hip rising during rotation, it creates heightened tension and sensitivity in the lower back region. Consider the motions involved in winding up for a forehand or backhand shot. The player locks the hips in place to wind back, leaving the QL to create the lateral flexion and extension to rotate without much movement from the glutes. It’s important to clarify that this doesn’t imply avoiding tennis altogether but rather emphasizes the necessity of understanding the sport’s potential consequences. Our goal is to guide the athlete to a balanced state, ensuring their well-being and improved mobility on the tennis court.

Even though I knew immediate corrections could be made through RPR, we also integrated performance cycling to solidify these corrected patterns. As these patterns improved, the incidence of low back issues significantly diminished. If such issues ever resurfaced, it was often due to external stressors affecting the nervous system’s ability to maintain these newly developed patterns. In such cases, we promptly reverted to RPR and implemented a tailored training session to realign the athlete that day.

Off-Season Findings

Unfortunately, limited space constraints prevented me from executing primetimes. Additionally, due to these space limitations, my emphasis on functional transfer complexes is primarily centered on quad-dominant transfers, with less focus on the posterior chain. Now, let’s dive into their fall off-season preparation for the upcoming primary spring semester. Here’s an illustrative example of a power workout block that my tennis team completed.

Original 3 Day Tennis Power Program

Example Program

  1. Reverse Hyper Band Single Leg Contra-Lateral OC 4x7s ea
    1. This was performed on a GHD with only a band.
  2. Sport Reactive Hex Bar Squat Jump 4×4
  3. Speed Switch Jump Lunge 4×3 ea
  4. Spring Ankle 4x7s ea


As illustrated in this example, I diligently adhered to the guidelines of a performance cycle. This program, designed to enhance my athletes’ muscle firing patterns, was straightforward yet effective. However, despite witnessing positive changes over the subsequent six weeks, the progress was not as rapid as I had initially anticipated. It became evident that my athletes should have been further along in their development by this point.

This realization prompted me to reassess my approach. It dawned on me just how crucial primetimes were to our program. Primetimes, I discovered, significantly sped up refining the athletes’ movement patterns. However, the critical issue remained the limited space at my disposal. It was then that I devised a solution. I decided to implement a condensed version of primetimes, and they are called Primetime Mini’s covering 5 yards. While this setup had constraints, including reduced space and slower velocities than I would have preferred, it yielded remarkable improvements in the athletes’ movement patterns. Below, you’ll find an example illustrating the modifications made to address this challenge.

  1. Reverse Hyper Band Single Leg Contra-Lateral OC 4x7s ea
    1. This was performed on a GHD with only a band.
  2. Primetime Mini Straight Leg Start 4×5 yds
    1. No 1080 was utilized
  3. Sport Reactive Hex Bar Squat Jump 4×4
  4. Speed Switch Jump Lunge 4×3 ea
  5. Spring Ankle 4x7s ea

After my time at this university, I returned to the University of Minnesota, working under Cal Dietz & with Jesper Mårtensson. Our research revealed that alternating between agonist and antagonist muscles more frequently during the exercise block led to accelerated results. With that information, I would reorder the same exercises above to produce faster results.

  1. Sport Reactive Hex Bar Squat Jump 4×4
  2. Reverse Hyper Band Single Leg Contra-Lateral OC 4x7s ea
    1. This was performed on a GHD with only a band.
  3. Speed Switch Jump Lunge 4×3 ea
  4. Primetime Mini Straight Leg Start 4×5 yds
    1. No 1080 was utilized
  5. Spring Ankle 4x7s ea

In-Season Execution

Ironing out the intricacies during the off-season resulted in a program that delivered consistent and widespread results. These athletes improved speed, vertical jump height, change of direction capabilities, and strength gains while navigating the demands of a competitive conference championship season. The workout presented below represents one of the final weeks of the season. Before this, the team underwent a triphasic cycle in the fall semester. This allowed us to focus on speed and power during the in-season.

Before stepping onto the basketball court, a team leader guided them through a Reflexive Performance Reset (RPR) warm-up. Following a series of build-up sprints, the athletes engaged in 2-5 full-speed sprints and agility drills, the specifics of which varied depending on the day’s plan. The GOAT drill served as an active recovery tool between these sprints and agility drills, helping to maintain their readiness. The team then transitioned to the weight room.

Regarding the initial two exercises in Block A of the workout below, let me clarify the rationale behind their execution. The first exercise involved a Hex Deadlift for three repetitions, during which a teammate timed their completion speed. This setup fostered friendly competition among athletes of similar strength levels, motivating them to achieve faster times. Subsequently, they transitioned to a vertical jump on a jump mat, emphasizing maximal output rather than performing something like four medium-intensity hurdle hops. This approach allowed a single coach to efficiently manage a group of ten athletes during a complex cycle, minimizing the need for excessive coaching intensity while offering another avenue for competition among the athletes. The rest of the block was performed with standard technique. You can see how I set up this block with ten athletes and a 10×10-yard space. Some athletes would start on TBDL, and others on the Bent-Knee Hamstring Single Leg Rebound.

This tennis team had a higher training volume than most other in-season programs. The workout session typically took approximately 30 minutes, with athletes staying active throughout the entire duration—an aspect the coaching staff greatly appreciated. This season resulted in a conference championship and the first at the Division 1 level for this university.

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