Why You Need To Build Single Leg Strength For Tennis

john-fornander-4r9ccbdqteg-unsplashWhy You Need To Build Single Leg Strength For Tennis


Rianna Poskin, CSCS


(Image from:Photo by John Fornander on Unsplash)

Have you ever thought about the strength that is required to start and stop over and over again in a game like tennis? Athletes need to change direction in split seconds! Have a look at the following images to see what I’m talking about!


Roger Federer Link:https://images.app.goo.gl/nScZwJg5EXstQDh88

Have a close look at Roger Federer’s feet. When he slams on the breaks he has to do so controlling the stop, the deceleration, with a lot of strength so that he doesn’t get injured. In this picture he is absorbing a lot of force on the left leg preparing to then explode as he positions himself again for the return.


Serena Williams https://images.app.goo.gl/1WYuPqMWhFfYhXaEA

In this photo of Serena Williams we can imagine how this will play out. She’s going to plant the left leg while she tries to position herself to return the ball with power and precision.

In order to create force we need to have ground contact and control. Serena is not only looking to create force, she’s looking to absorb force! That single leg needs to be strong enough to do this!

Nitto ATP World Tour Finals - Day Three

Dominic Thiem:(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Lastly have a look at this perfectly positioned foot and knee position while Dominic Thiem separates his upper and lower body! Dominic is not twisting his knee, he is rock solid in a great “1/4 squat”.

Loren Landow once said that “you want to be able to do all the right things from the wrong positions”!

Tennis is a game that requires so many skills that puts you in crazy positions! For this article we’ll focus on how agility and change in direction is paramount to the athlete’s performance, but also the ability to stay free from injury.

This is where single leg strength comes in!

Here’s the progression to build single leg strength even if you don’t have any equipment to work with:

Progression 1: Bodyweight Squat


  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward. If the athlete needs to turn their feet slightly out, that is ok.
  • Brace the core, and maintain good posture.
  • Push the butt back first, sink the hips to descend until hips are parallel to the knees.
  • Drive through the heels to return to standing.
  • Use the glutes to extend the hips.
  • Engage the side glute muscles in order to keep the knees from collapsing inward.
  • Once the body weight squat is perfect the athlete can progress to the Split Squat.

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Progression 2 Split Squat:

split-squat-top-position split-squat-bottom-position

  • Begin in a standing position with core braced.
  • Step one foot forward into a split-stance.
  • The athlete can lower the back knee to check their alignment.
  • The 2 knees should be around 90 degrees in their bent position.
  • Balance on the toes of your back foot.
  • Keep both toes pointed forward.
  • Keep the front knee behind the toes.
  • Maintain good posture as the athlete rises and lowers through the split squat.
  • Drive through both legs to maintaining a flat front foot.
  • Perform a designated amount of repetitions on one side and then switch sides.
  • If the athlete cannot maintain good form allow them to rest before completing the set amount of reps.
  • If the form looks bad from the beginning the athlete can build up more leg strength by regressing back to the body weight squat.

Progression 3 Skater Squat:


  • Stand on one leg with the opposite leg just slightly behind the body.
  • Brace the core and maintain good posture.
  • With the athlete’s weight in the heel of the standing foot, perform a squat by pushing the butt back, hinging at the hips, and bending the knee.
  • The back leg will track behind with a slight knee bend until the shin and foot nearly touch the ground.
  • Descend until the hips are even with the knee on the supporting leg.
  • Drive through the heel to extend the hips and return to standing.
  • Repeat designated amount of repetitions on the same leg before changing sides.
  • If the athlete cannot maintain good form allow them to rest before completing the set amount of reps.
  • If the form looks bad from the beginning the athlete can build up more leg strength by regressing back to the split squat.

Once you build up your single leg strength, then incorporate deceleration drills.

Something as simple as jogging forward and then transitioning to backwards jogging in good low positions can help with deceleration. After a few times going forward and backward always finish in a complete stop to overemphasize the control required to stop safely.

On a separate day use a side to side shuffle as the drill to work on lateral change in direction. Again always stop in good positions.

Finally the athlete can work on stopping in good positions on a single leg.

It is really important to develop single leg strength and work through the progressions safely in order to make sure that the end goal, developing athleticism and decreasing injuries, is met.

With a little extra intention and a great plan, more fun can be had!

If you’re a coach and want incorporate a warm up that works on strength, speed and power please learn more here!

Check out this short clip to see why mastering “starts” and “stops” are so important!

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