Learn about the metabolic energy systems and improve your performance.
Sport Sciences & Medicine Department
October 17, 2017

Tennis is a high demand sport which requires a comprehensive blend of technique, agility, speed, and aerobic conditioning interspersed with explosive power. To play tennis the body needs fuel from two different systems: the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. These physical and physiological requirements make planning an optimal training program for tennis challenging. Advances in Sports medicine, research, fitness technology, tracking devices and development of other innovative training methods are providing players with the athletic edge. Tennis fitness training traditionally involved long slow runs or cardio sessions; recent research indicates that high intensity training may be more effective and efficient to improve aerobic fitness. Read this topic to learn about the metabolic energy systems that fuel the human body during exercise. Apply the correct training to maximize each system and improve your performance.


The metabolic energy systems provide energy to the body by changing what we eat into fuel. Our muscles, heart and lungs use this fuel to power the body during exercise. Different energy systems provide energy at variable rates for each type of exercise or sport. Muscle hypertrophy (growth) is determined by the main energy system used.

The 3 metabolic energy systems are:

The Anaerobic-PC (phosphagen) system supplies energy for very short (5-20 seconds) and high intensity activities such as a single explosive jump to reach a lob.

The Anaerobic glycolytic (glycogen-lactic acid) system provides energy for activities of slightly longer duration than the PC system (1-2 minutes), such as long intense rallies. This system has a byproduct of lactic acid, which can increase muscle fatigue.

The aerobic or oxidative system supplies energy for long duration and low intensity activity such as distance running or during a tennis match replenishing energy stores after repeated efforts during a match.

All 3 systems need to be trained to optimize fitness and the body’s ability to supply energy to working muscles for the sport of tennis.

Health - Get with the system 2


So, how do you plan a training program that takes into consideration tennis requirements for:

  • Explosive ground strokes & serve
  • Rapid changes of direction and short accelerations (anaerobic activity)
  • Repeated efforts sustained over a whole match (aerobic activity)

Simply hitting a tennis ball does not optimize these training adaptations. Hitting the gym and your fitness program does, (if those training programs are designed by qualified strength and conditioning personnel or sports physiologists with expertise and experience in tennis). Tennis uses all three systems (in varying amounts), so each system must be trained for maximum benefit.

Anaerobic PC system training aims to target energy supply for explosiveness

  • Train with maximal intensity running drills 10-15 seconds
  • At least 30 seconds rest to allow recovery on repeated efforts
  • Vary time of drills to mimic duration of a variety of tennis points


Anaerobic glycolytic system training is used to improve ability to perform high intensity exercise for longer periods

  • Drills of 15-50 seconds’ duration
  • Perform on court movements which simulate match play to achieve muscular adaptations
  • Training specific to this system will improve ability of body to tolerate lactic acid, which contributes to muscle stiffness and soreness after exercise.


Aerobic system training aims to improve energy supply over long durations of low intensity activity

  • Aerobic training is optimized with repeated sprint training, which is more time efficient and beneficial to improve tennis specific aerobic fitness. It mimics the aerobic actions required during tennis points and rallies.
  • Scientific studies indicate that long slow runs (more than 30 minutes) may reduce muscular strength training benefits which may be less helpful if you want to improve your strength.
  • Repeated sprint and interval training enhances aerobic abilities more than long slow distance & lactate threshold training


For more efficient and effective aerobic fitness training, it appears that high intensity training is superior to long slow runs.


Discuss with your qualified fitness professional or one of the Primary Health Care Providers and try these points and drills to help you optimize fitness:

Anaerobic Conditioning

  • Drills of between 15-50 seconds involving on-court, multidirectional movements, multiple sets (5+ sets)
  • Rest periods between each of 20-30 seconds (mimics the time between points)
  • Some rest periods of 60-90 seconds (simulates change of ends)
  • 2x week


Anaerobic Interval

  • Maximal intensity sprint drills 10-15 seconds, with 25-30 seconds of rest, multiple sets (5+ sets)
  • Similar to competition needs, with specific explosive reaction times, lateral movement, and first step speed
  • 2x week


Speed and Agility

  • Agility and change of direction sprints 15-45 seconds, 30-90 seconds of rest, multiple sets (5+ sets)
  • Provides better conversion to tennis performance compared with maximum speed sprinting
  • 2x week

A conditioning program should be incorporated into your gym strengthening program, as strength, power and correct movement patterns are also critical for speed & agility.

A well-designed and planned tennis periodization program includes appropriate training AND recovery strategies, in all aspects: physical, mental, emotional and tactical. This provides optimal match fitness and preparedness with minimal fatigue and rapid recovery from competition and your best opportunity for peak performance.

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