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Effects of different H.I.I.T. protocols on the specific performance in tennis

by A. Manolova | 26 April 2018

HIIT, science, Sport, tennis, sport, performance, sprint, repetition

Tennis is a sport of opposition that requires great endurance to short, intense and repeated efforts. These efforts are spaced by more or less short periods of active rest (i.e., when the ball is in the opposing court) or passive periods (e.g., at the end of each set), and the duration of the matches may exceed 5 hours. Efforts such as ball strikes and sprints from one end of the playing field to the other require players to develop abilities to support the repetition of brief and intense efforts and recover very quickly.

High-intensity interval training, better known as "HIIT", showed significant gains in cardiopulmonary capacity and maximum oxygen uptake (ie, VO2MAX, in ml/kg/min) by decreasing the working time between 15 seconds and 4 minutes with a ratio between work periods and rest periods of 1:1 to 4:1 (eg, 15s of effort and 15s of rest or 60s of effort and 15s of rest).

Like HIIT, training based on speed endurance and sprint repetition (ie, RSA) is characterized by an increase in anaerobic muscle capacities (eg, increased enzyme activity, improved rate production of anaerobic energy, muscle capillarization, etc.) but also an increase in VO2MAX. The ratio between work periods and rest periods is from 1:3 to 1:6 (e.g., 5s of effort and 15s of rest or 10s of effort and 60s of rest).

These two types of protocols therefore seem appropriate to the efforts that tennis players provide in training and in competition, both to improve aerobic (ie, long-term low and medium intensity) and anaerobic abilities. (ie, brief and intense efforts).

The Study

In 2012, a team of researchers from the University of Bochum, Germany, compared the impact of these two types of sprint-based training (HIIT vs. RSA) on maximum oxygen uptake (VO2MAX), the tennis-specific endurance, the maximum speed over 20m, the ability to repeat sprints and the height in vertical jump. The objective was to evaluate if there was a protocol of training better adapted to the exigence of tennis.

For this, 32 national level players participated in this study. The study consisted of 1 week of pre-tests, 6 weeks of training, 5 days of rest and 1 week of post-tests. The 32 players were divided into 3 groups : the group "H.I.I.T." (n = 11), the group "R.S.A." (n = 12) and the control group (n = 9).

Tests performed before and after the training protocol :

  • Laboratory Evaluations : VO2MAX and the rate at which blood lactate concentration is equal to 4 mmol/L were determined in an incremental treadmill running test.
  • Hit and Turn Tennis Test : This test was performed on synthetic terrain. The player stands in the center of the field and leaves in one of the directions indicated by a sonor signal. When he reaches the corner, he must simulate a forehand or a backhand stroke then return to the center of the field using side steps or crossover steps while looking at the net, and start again in the opposite direction. When the player no longer reaches the corners in synchronization with the sonor signal, it is the end of the test (Fig. 1).
  • Vertical jumps : The players performed 3 Countermovement Jump (CMJ), each spaced with 45s of passive recovery. Only the best performance was retained.
  • Maximum speed on 20m : Each player has made 3 sprints of 20m, each spaced with 3 minutes of passive recovery. Only the best performance was retained.
  • R.S.A. Shuttle Test : This test was performed on synthetic terrain. The player runs in one direction. His foot must pass behind the corner and the racket must touch him. Then he runs in the opposite direction, touches the corner with the racket, and returns to the center of the field. The times of each sprint are measured using photocells (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Hit and Turn Tennis Test... (Click to enlarge)

Figure 2. R.S.A. Shuttle Test... (Click to enlarge)

6 weeks of training :

The 6 weeks of training were done during the pre-season. The tennis players performed 3 sessions per week (H.I.I.T. or R.S.A.), so 18 training sessions in total. The two types of protocol were :

  • H.I.I.T. : The test consisted of performing the tennis specific shuttle test (Fig. 1). Players realized 3 × 90s with 3 minutes of play as active recovery. Everything was repeated 3 times.
  • R.S.A. : The test consisted in carrying out the test explained in Fig. 2. Players performed 10 x 5s efforts with 15s of play as active recovery. Everything was repeated 3 times.

The researchers then statistically compared the test results before and after the training protocol to see if there were any significant differences.

Results & Analyzes

Both protocols improved the VO2MAX by 4.9% for the R.S.A. group and 6% for the H.I.I.T. group. No changes were observed in the control group. The H.I.I.T. group had better gains in the Hit and Turn Tennis Test, + 28.9% vs. + 14.5% for the R.S.A. group. While the R.S.A. group has obtained better gains on the R.S.A. Shuttle Test. These results can be explained mainly by the specificity of the training.

Both training protocols can improve both aerobic (i.e., tennis specific endurance and VO2MAX) and sprint repetitions abilities. This can be explained by an increase in glycolytic and oxidative enzyme activity, muscle buffering capacity (i.e., acidity regulation) and/or ion regulation.

Although neither of the two types of protocols can be clearly differentiated for the gains that they could provide to tennis players, the RSA training volume is only 2.5 minutes of effort versus 13.5 minutes of effort for the HIIT. These two protocols have the advantage of allowing the tennis players to practice on the court, in a very specific way, while working on technical and tactical aspects.

No improvement was observed for vertical jump and 20m maximum speed tests. The authors attribute this lack of results to the fact that the improvements observed in tests like the R.S.A. are mainly due to changes in coordination and agility. It also suggests that there is an adaptation to a specific training and that there is little transfer between straight-line races and right-to-left round trips on the court.

Practical Applications

Both types of sprint-based training allow for an improvement in tennis specific endurance, but also VO2MAX and the ability to repeat sprints. The integration of these protocols in the training of players is practical with a very low training volume (from 2.5 to 13.5 minutes, easily modifiable and adaptable). According to this study, there does not seem to be a better protocol than the other because they both allow improvements in specific endurance and repetition of short sprints. It could be interesting to integrate both types of protocol into the annual planning of tennis players.


  1. Fernandez-Fernandez J, Zimek R, Wiewelhove T and Ferrauti A. High-intensity interval training vs. repeated-sprint training in tennis. J Strength Cond Res 26 (1) : 53-62, 2012.

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