This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Australian Tennis Magazine. Subscribe now!
It can be a tough balancing act as you strive to improve your tennis and overall fitness level without damaging your body. As admirable and important as your intention to invest the hard work may be, difficulties can arise when the work ethic is undermined by injuries, illness or fatigue.
Overtraining is common in tennis and the best way to avoid it is through prevention techniques and a thoroughly thought out training and playing schedule. Doing too much too quickly will result in injury or muscle damage – but at the same time, doing too little, too slowly will result in only minimal improvement.
Overtraining can generally be described as the imbalance that occurs between training and recovery or stress and recovery – in otherwise, asking too much of your body without allowing it time to regenerate.
There are myriad ways in which you can find yourself pushing beyond your physical barriers and some players will comfortably manage extremely demanding training sessions, where others need to place completely different expectations on themselves. It’s important to arm yourself with some facts about overtraining.
What causes overtraining?
Exactly what causes overtraining can be complex to define, especially considering that many individuals will experience it differently. There are, however, some common causes:
Increasing your training or competition intensity too rapidly may overwhelm the body’s ability to adapt to a sudden change. For example, a 10–20 per cent increase in training volume over a three week period is too dramatic for an amateur athlete. How quickly you progress your training level depends on the individual but it’s always wise to adopt a gradual approach and learn how you respond.
Given the potentially repetitious nature, playing one particular sport regularly can cause stress on your body, so aim to vary your training schedule and the type of sports you’re involved in. Most of us are passionate about tennis and therefore want to play it often – but don’t let that come at the expense of your body’s best interests.
Rest and recovery is paramount for athletes at any age or standard. Suggested rest and recovery will depend on the intensity of your training sessions but after a high-intensity training session allow for a two day break to refresh and regenerate. It’s still possible to exercise during this break but do so at a much lower level in terms of the demands on your body. A handy tip is to regularly record the intensity of your session, types of activities undertaken and how you recovered physically in order to track your progress.
Signs of overtraining
It’s wise to keep an eye out for signs that you’re training too much. To avoid a prolonged period on the sidelines, be aware of:
- A noticeable drop in the quality of your performance during training or competition.
- General and ongoing fatigue – especially if it’s affecting your sleeping patterns.
- A change in mood. Overtraining can lead to a lack of enthusiasm for day-to-day activities and perhaps even depression.
If you have been training hard and some of these symptoms exist for more than a handful of days, ensure you rest and seek professional advice.
What will happen if I train too much?
Understanding how – and why – overtraining occurs is critical to keeping yourself healthy and on the court. By pushing your body’s capabilities, you risk ongoing pain and injuries that steadily become more prevalent. Your immune system may also weaken if you fail to re-hydrate and re-fuel before, during and after intense play, leaving you susceptible to illness. These risks can compound and result in leaving you feeling run-down, and develop into a loss of appetite and weight loss.
How to avoid overtraining
Hydrating before, during and after a training session is imperative and often underestimated. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to re-hydrate as you can lose up to 1.5 litres before you realise. Start hydrating the night before and early during the day before competition or a lengthy training session. It’s particularly significant for younger players due to the unpredictable nature of their bodies. The more demanding conditions (heat, duration, intensity), the more fluid you need to consume.
Fuel and refuel
Allow around one hour to fuel your body prior to play, with a particular focus on carbohydrates and glycogen intake. Possessing an adequate storage of both will support the energy your body requires and aid the recovery process.
Within approximately 20–30 minutes of the end of your session consume foods high in protein and carbohydrates. Popular choices include bananas, chocolate milk, dried fruit bars, yoghurt and granola cereal.
Re-align the body
Tennis is a unique sport in that it can torque and rotate the body’s muscle systems, leading to an imbalance in the length and strength of your muscles. The flexed posture you’re often placed in, particularly on serve and return, further adds to this stress on your body shape.
In order to avoid this scenario, research specific exercises and stretches that will re-align your muscles back into proportion.
Possessing strong balance and body awareness during your time on court will aid injury prevention and can generally improve your movement, performance on court and your ability to rehabilitate injuries.
There are various avenues to facilitating a better recovery, including while you’re on court. During breaks in play lactic acid builds up when you are in a static position and the body is lacking energy and oxygen circulation. To reduce lactic acid build up keep your feet moving between points and if you’re sitting down between games pump your knees and ankles to stay active.
After each session develop a routine of recovery exercises focusing on the muscles you have been working and ensure a variation. Light aerobic exercises including cycling at a high pedalling rate, pool running and walking are popular among athletes.
Variation in exercise routines
Overloading on one sport can lead to wear and tear on certain parts of your body. If you’re only ever playing the one sport then it’s likely that only select muscles will continue to be developed, leading to injuries or fatigue.
Design your exercise routines to include different sports and exercises to ensure underexposed muscles are also worked on.
Manage the duration, frequency and intensity of exercise
The simplest way to manage the duration, frequency and intensity of your exercise is through a professionally developed training and competition program. This doesn’t mean it needs to be painfully detailed or take up a huge amount of your time. The best way is to consult a professional who can guide you in appropriate progression and rest periods.
Work with coach or trainer to develop proper form
Injuries and stress-related issues occur when not using proper form or technique, particularly in tennis where the body is placed under an unusual amount of stress. A professionally trained coach will ensure correct technique and minimise any unwanted pressure.
Once you have an understanding of proper movement and technique, set up your phone or camera and film yourself in each area of the game. It’s helpful to have a comparison between your original poor technique and the ideal scenario to visualise any alterations.