Tennis and Olympic lifts

Power expression is what makes the difference between players in every sport arena. No matter in which way is expressed, as a faster acceleration, more powerful punch or higher jump, to have higher power capacity is a huge advantage on the court! For years the best method “prescribed” to develop power were Olympic lifts and their accessory lifts. In my opinion, they still are one of the best methods, but far from the truth that they are the only ones and that they suites for everyone.

When I’m creating a program for one athlete, first and foremost I’m always trying to analyze the cost and benefits of every exercise for an individual athlete. My first goal is to choose exercises based upon athlete’s need, movement patterns, preventative measures against injury, etc. There are no exercises that everyone must and should do, and the Olympic variations are no different.

In this post, I made a list of 4 biggest reasons why we don’t use Olympic lifts in Piatti Tennis Center, and why I’m against them for tennis player as a tool to develop power.

1) Highly technical

Olympic lifts are highly technical exercises and to learn them properly they need to be practiced almost daily for a long period of time. It takes a considerable amount of time to groove the proper movement pattern on such a complex lifts. Technique is something that can take weeks, months, even years to develop properly. Moreover, tennis is also a highly technical sport, players are spending a lot of time practicing. 3 and more hours daily at the court is considered normal. They need to do so to be able to learn how to execute every shot as perfect as possible, and for that, they need a lot of repetitions. In a perfect world, you should start with Olympic lifts at a young age, using stick to learn proper techniques which you need to repeat daily. But reality is completely different, after spending so many hours at the court there is almost no time left to work on some basic things outside the court. So, in my opinion, there are much more simple exercises solutions which we can introduce under power development.

2) Sagittal plane power

There is a big debate in the physical preparation community if bilateral, sagittal plane dominant exercises (like clean and snatch) are appropriate for rotational sports. Olympic lifts are not plane specific for a rotational athlete’s needs. What’s that mean? Olympic lifts are focusing mainly on triple extension in the sagittal plane of motion, they are missing hip and pelvic rotation, thoracic rotation, contralateral and ipsilateral force absorption and generation. Power for the rotational athlete is coming from the external rotation of the hip and so are we interested in too much sagittal strength and/or power? In my opinion, athletes can benefit more from med ball throws, different jumps and bounds, sprinting, pushing/pulling sleds…some exercises will mimic classic tennis movements from the court, using those means more pattering of force development in appropriate planes – frontal and transverse.

3) Accumulative stress

As mentioned before tennis players already at a young age (12 and younger) are spending a lot of time on the court (rarely less than 2 hours a day). By doing so they accumulate more stress in some areas of the body because of the repetitive nature of the sport. Olympic lifting puts extra stress on the same, already “overload” tissues = wrist-elbow-shoulder and back. There is a higher demand for wrist and shoulder mobility to be able to catch the bar regardless if we are talking about clean or snatch. When we start to load these patterns we start to put more risk in the lumbar region which is already under a ton of extension based stress during overhead movements = serve and smash.

4) Mobility demands

Proper execution of Olympic lifts – clean and snatch, require some specific mobility demands bilaterally. I emphasize this bilaterally, because rarely in my daily practice I can find a tennis player who has equal ankle mobility or hip mobility or shoulder/wrist mobility. Tennis is a unilateral sport, where there is always more stress in some areas like right shoulder girdle for right-handed players. Previous injuries, especially at the ankle or hip area are creating even more “mobility misbalance”, so I need to be very careful with my approach because the last thing I want to accomplish is to feed more into dysfunction! That’s why I put Olympic lift’s out of my toolbox. Why to take unnecessary risk when I have so many other choices.

Examples of Safe Alternatives to Olympic Lifts

1) Landmine Split Step Jerk

As you can see LSSJ does not require a true overhead catch, which automatically will eliminate stress on the shoulder – the lower back. Wrist is staying in a neutral position. Thanks to only one arm under load Jannik can adjust his elbow position to avoid too extreme closing angle. The overhead angle is far from vertical what is sparing compressive forces on GH joint. Exercises is easy to teach and execute, does not require high load when progressing because of unilateral pattern which makes exercises challenging. LSSJ can be regressed to bilateral starting position, or progressed to 1 arm Landmine Pivot Press which includes more rotational force production.

2) Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

This is pure rotational power. First 2 throws Jannik is trying to reinforce the pattern of using hips for more rotational power. Next he is doing lateral step to load back leg and then by using foot-hip-core-shoulders connection create rotational power.

3) Vertical Medicine Ball Squat Catch and Throw

If we want to incorporate some sagittal plane oriented work then this one is exercises we can use with everyone day 1. So easy to teach, only a few tips and med ball trajectory will show the athlete if he is using more hips or arm power. Actually, this one is a small progression because Jannik must react and control eccentric forces first and then explode vertically by using his hips as a primary source of power.

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