Tuesday, August 20, 2013



The term loading refers to a player interacting with the ground by bending their knees and thrusting out of that position to create greater racquet-head speed.  While that is exactly what happens on all good ground-strokes, serves, returns and overheads, teaching a player to only load the ground can be detrimental.

A player who follows the instruction to load will go through the action of bending their knees.  This is what most coaches want to “see” and with a small percentage of “talented” players that process of loading automatically translates into better timing and increased racquet-head speed.

Unfortunately the majority of players suffer the reverse effect.  For them the timing can actually get worse and they can be labeled slow learners or lacking in talent. The closer they follow instructions the worse it gets.

The problem with the term loading is that it only describes the action of preparing the ground for the inertia that will transfer energy from the ground, through the body in a chain reaction and eventually into racquet-head speed. It’s like sitting someone in a car and expecting them to know how to get to the next destination simply because you have introduced them to the car!

Loading is the beginning of timing, power and consistent ball striking but surely the player needs to be aware that those are the goals, otherwise they continue to focus on simply loading and bent knees.  I have seen players instructed to load by staying down and remaining bent at the knees during the entire stroke, as if bent knees were the magic formula for everything that ails a player!

I encourage players to not only load the ground but to also think in a more wholistic way. I try to encourage players to critique their strokes in terms of timing and ease of effort. A stroke that is timed well and flows easily most certainly has good ground (loading).

Therefore loading also has other applications other than creating racquet-head speed on ground-strokes. Loading is necessary to supply timing for all the other strokes we use. Think of the serve (knee bend), the return (often only toes used but that’s still a form of loading). Even the volley benefits from the step used to get near the ball. That step is also a form of loading.

The next time you are trying to add power to your game be sure to maintain a broader mindset. It’s about transferring ground forces through the body to the racquet-head. It’s a multi-faceted process that goes beyond just loading the ground.

Monday, August 12, 2013



Have you ever watched a racehorse trying to catch its breath at the end of a race? Its nostrils flare as it takes in air but its mouth remains closed. It can be exhausted and be desperate for air but it never opens its mouth.

A dog will pant with its mouth open while running but a dog also uses its mouth to sweat. The horse, like humans, sweats through the skin. This is a fundamental similarity between humans and the horse.

Unfortunately humans have lost the art of nose breathing and never receive its benefits. For a long time sportsmen and women have pushed themselves while exercising to a stage where they must open their mouths to gasp for more air. But is this gasping for air the natural way we were supposed to breathe when exercising? Does breathing through the mouth really making us fitter, healthier or enhance our endurance capabilities?

Breathing through the mouth during exercise only pulls air into a small region near the top of the lungs, leaving most of the lungs unused. In extreme cases this eventually creates a state of hyperventilation. Because we are in this state of hyperventilation, we must push any air we do have in our lungs quickly out again in order to take the next gulp of air. This cycle of gulping air and breathing out again as quickly as possible in order to take the next gulp eventually creates an oxygen deficit. Muscles starved of oxygen and pushed to continue exercising begin to tire and cease to work at their optimal level. What’s more, the athlete will be in pain for several days later until the muscles can recover.

Surely the goal of any competitive tennis player is to achieve optimal efficiency, which in physical terms means utilizing speed, strength, flexibility and endurance over a long period of time. If the muscles are continually faced with this oxygen deficit after long rallies, the body will eventually start to perform below par. Perhaps the humble horse was right afterall!

Like the horse, when humans breathe through the nose the air enters and spirals deep into the bottom of the lungs, making this the most efficient way to take in the maximum amount of air.

Nose breathing during exercise over a long period also allows the ribcage to operate in a way it was always intended to function. With each breath the ribs are supposed to expand on inhalation and retract on exhalation.  If functioning properly this “massaging” action of the ribs further aids the lungs in their work. Many people today have “frozen” ribcages and have lost the ability to benefit from this expanding and retracting action.

Twenty five years ago I started the process of nose breathing when training. The benefits started to show after one week. The benefits were:

·        No more soreness after runs – the muscles were oxygenated  during the entire run
·    My heart-rate dropped by 25% - the hyperventilation state  was gone due to improved oxygenation of the muscles
·       My breathing rate went from 18 breathes per minute to 14 –   again, better and more efficient oxygenation of the muscles
·        Exercising became a more pleasant experience – the stressful state I believed was fundamental to getting “in shape” had been replaced by an almost meditative experience.

This is how you can incorporate nose breathing into your training and during matches:

1.     Learning to use nose breathing while exercising.
Running is perhaps the best way to learn nose breathing. Jog slowly while keeping the mouth closed and breathing through the nose. The breathing should automatically become deeper because nose breathing utilizes the entire lung. Continue to jog slowly and become accustomed to the long and slow breathing rate.

During inhalation and exhalation, try to breathe in the throat. You will begin to create a roaring noise similar to a jet airliner taking off!

As you become more proficient at breathing through the nose slowly increase your speed. This will tax the breath and as soon as you feel the need to open your mouth… reduce speed, even walking is fine, just resist opening your mouth to breath! It will feel a bit like drowning in the beginning but your insecurity will pass.

Continue this speeding up and slowing down process until nose breathing becomes more proficient and the need to slow down becomes less frequent.  The need to slow down less is a sign of progress. This will be the pattern of your runs for about one week and then you will notice the heart rate dropping, the rate of breathes per minute dropping and your running speed increasing!

2.   Apply nose breathing to tennis
With this more efficient method of breathing becoming more natural to you it will now automatically take over whenever you walk up stairs, jog or try to recover from any physically stressful activity.

In tennis we have breaks between points and this is a perfect time tom use nose breathing to recover quickly. Your confidence will now be such that you will switch to nose breathing whenever you need to recover quickly.

While bursts of energy like the serve, overhead and groundstroke winners benefit from an explosive exhalation, the inhalation process will benefit from nose breathing because it’s the best way to fill the lungs and has a calming effect during points.