FUZZED: Making Muscles

Should tennis players develop large muscles? It’s a trade-off, like most things. Bigger muscles allow you to hit and serve harder. It can mean more explosive power. But how you time your strokes has a lot to do with power. Hitting the ball early & hitting a serve at the height of the toss means you use more of the ball’s energy, rather than having to generate more on your own.

Skinny players like Davydenko, Gilles Simon, and Marin Cilic do this. Then there’s S Williams and Verdasco, whose muscularity slows them down – remember when Agassi started working with Gil Reyes and started packing it on? His stamina grew, he started serving harder, and he was fine as long as he controlled the center of the court, but his weakness was in retrieving and defending. He just couldn’t scurry around fast enough. Remember when Justine grew bigger muscles working with Pat Etcheberry? Her pace of shot increased, but her movement suffered, and then the extreme training caused her health to suffer. Things improved when she backed off and returned to a more natural weight.

Jankovic has also been growing muscles working with Etcheberry. Her performance is also suffering because her movement is suffering. She says she will be working with a new trainer because she doesn’t like how her body feels.

So is Etcheberry’s training appropriate for tennis players? He says, “… the goal is to get the most out of an exercise program in the shortest amount of time so that players have more time to train on the court.” OK, sounds good, he’s famous, and all that – but I’d like to know why so many of the players he trains seem to develop problems later on – Justine, Andre, Seles, Jankovic. It’s not easy getting players to talk openly about the details of their training, but you reach a point of diminishing returns where muscle is concerned. You can also suffer from overtraining. Short term gain doesn’t necessarily mean long term benefit.

Tennis is less like power lifting and more like dance, so top tennis players usually have muscles more similar to dancers’ muscles. We also know that extreme programs drain your energy – Justine was ill for a long time; Andy Murray’s health has been iffy after his holiday training, but he seems better now.

Greater weight and bulk also mean additional strain on joints. That’s why S Williams and Tsonga are prone to injury. While we’re on that subject, looks like oft-injured Kim Clijsters has been missing the grind and is asking about a wildcard for the US Open. She’s been asking Lindsay Davenport about how to combine motherhood and the tour, since she’s become a mom too. Well, the WTA badly needs a shot in the arm. If Kim has recovered from those injuries and comes back, I hope she’ll refrain from trying to slide around on cement courts. Monfils, I hope you’re listening too.

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