This post is a comment on an article in the Times (UK that is) on Andy Murray’s new fitness training program. The topic was a hot one in London during Wimbledon as Murray had taken to flexing his biceps after early round wins until stopped by the man with the biggest biceps (Nadal) in the quarterfinals.
The article discusses Murray’s improved fitness, the role of his two strength and conditioning personnel, and several elements of his fitness program. I take issue with the appropriateness (principle of sport specificity) of several of these elements for a tennis player, and broach the topic as a warning to athletes who wholeheartedly embrace the trainers and programs of “celebrity” athletes.
Two examples of exercises that are providing only psychological benefit to Murray are “a 20-kilogram weight belt with which he does chin-ups in three sets of five” and long track intervals where “according to Green, Murray is particularly impressive over 400 metres”. Although some strength (eccentric) in the biceps are important to injury prevention by playing a role in controlling arm deceleration in tennis (and squash) this particular prescription is like using a sledgehammer to kill a flea (2-3 sets of 12 reps of a medium weight would do the job nicely). What hammered this message home is that on the day of the article we were watching Venus Williams serve up a new women’s speed record of 129 mph, while commentators in Murray’s match were noting that his serve was getting to 127 mph. Have you seen the size of Venus’ biceps? Have you ever seen a tiny 12-year old in squash absolutely thrash the ball. This type of publicity only reinforces inaccurate concepts of how to build strength and power for racquet sports.
As for the 400 metres, if you remember Geoff Hunt reputedly used to do twenty-six 400s at a pace of about 75 seconds per 400 – an exercise not out of place for squash in the 1970’s when long attritional, rallies were the norm compared to today, and when there were many more matches won on fitness alone. The average rally length on grass at Wimbledon for men is about three seconds. Even acknowledging the importance of playing style (e.g., baseliners who prefer not to come to the net) on slow surfaces like clay, only a small percentage of points go beyond 15 seconds in men’s tennis (or squash for that matter), meaning that even if Murray was to run his 400m at the same pace as Hunt the training would be useless – thats a bit harsh, let’s just say not an effective use of time. Green himself comments later in the article “Top tennis players do not spring like track athletes”. Kovacs (2006) provides a recent review of tennis physiology which has some definite transfer over to squash considering the dearth of literature in our sport.
To sum up, there is no doubt that Murray is fitter than several years ago, do in no small part to the normal maturation process. And there is no doubt that working hard on his fitness has improved his confidence in his fitness, and consequently his confidence in his game. However, coaches and athletes need to be careful when adopting or adapting publicized training regimes of top athletes as their fitness and success may be in spite of, instead of due to their program.
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