***Kieran Foy is the current National Training Centre (NTC) Fitness coach. The 31 year old Dublin born has been in Montreal since 2007. He completed M.Sc. degree by research with concentration in exercise physiology at University of Quebec, Montreal (UQAM). He was a soccer player, current UEFA ‘B’ and Canadian Soccer Association ‘B’ licensed coach. To learn more about Kieran and his passion for fitness, please visit his website http://www.unchainedfitness.com/.***
ONcourt: Your approach to physical development is based a lot on running, why is that?
Kieran Foy: Running is the fundamental activity in the majority of sports, including tennis, so it makes sense that a considerable part of a tennis athlete’s training should be devoted to running. Physically, running is great for developing general endurance and for the muscles & tendons of the legs. In soccer for example, the research indicates that players with the best endurance have more touches of the ball and cover more distance on the pitch. These are key performance indicators. In my mind, there’s no reason why the same principle shouldn’t apply to tennis. An athlete with good running skills will cover the baseline with ease, will have good footwork, and will always return cheeky drop shots or flat shots that clip the net.
Mentally, running is great for building toughness and determination. A friend of mine sums it up nicely: “running is an attitude”! I was interested to read the comments of David Ferrer (ATP #5) on the ATP website, an article which was titled Fitness is Ferrer’s Foundation. He says: “Tennis is a sport with one of the highest physical fitness demands … I dedicate one and a half hours of training in the gym, in the morning, and another hour in the afternoon, minimum, to go running”.
Finally, Rafael Nadal heavily endorses running in his 2011 autobiography stating: “Tennis is a game that requires the speed of a sprinter, sharp off the blocks, and the stamina of a marathon runner”.
ONcourt: Can you describe some details of the type of running you do with the NTC players?
Kieran Foy: Generally, I like to mix it up. A good session is one where we warm-up for 20-30min gradually in preparation for a 45-60min distance run. Oftentimes we’ll have a target distance to complete within a time frame, in other words the pace is important for me. In other sessions, we’ll work within set intervals of anywhere between 1-4min * 4-6 reps. This 4 * 4 method is very popular, and has been demonstrated in the literature numerous times as being very effective in developing endurance. However, you need to work at 90-95% VO2MAX. Closer to competition time, I think it’s important to move towards speed and specific footwork so that we’re ready to play with both speed and endurance.
ONcourt: How strong do you believe is the relationship between physical training and mental strength, which is often described as the deciding factor in tennis?
Kieran Foy: Indeed, mental strength is a big part of the game. I love watching Nadal play big matches, because his demeanour exudes mental toughness all of the time; he’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong and you always feel that he has more in reserve than his opponent. To play against him must be so difficult, because he gives you nothing for free due to the fact that he runs down every ball. In my opinion, his physical fitness separates him from the rest.
It’s very important for a youth athlete to be physically fit. The process by which fitness becomes part of the daily routine needs to be continuously re-enforced, and it should last for many years. My personal philosophy on fitness is to do a little something everyday. The research in sports psychology demonstrates that fitter athlete’s are more confident in their abilities, and this is a huge motivator in sports performance at any level.
ONcourt: From your experience how much do Canadians understand the importance of physical training?
Kieran Foy: I have had the pleasure of working with some very good athlete’s here in Canada, one of whom has just signed for The Montreal Impact Academy. Recently, I went to see The Vancouver Canucks play at Centre Bell, and what struck me right away was their speed and size. Similarly, the Olympic medalist Joannie Rochette displays terrific strength and flexibility, whilst the majority of Montrealers I know enjoy a pretty packed winter ski season. All in all, the state of fitness over here is pretty healthy.
I guess that the big difference in Europe is that we play a lot of field sports as well as skiing in the winter, because our climate suits it. So it was natural for me to get on the field of play and run 9-12km per match twice per week, on top of five day per week training schedule and weight training routine. However, I haven’t come across that over here quite as much. For any aspiring tennis player, the goal should be to perform 60-90min running in the morning, training on court for 2hr in the afternoon, followed by a good 90-120min of strength training in the evening. This routine is challenging and demanding, but at one point needs to become second nature to become a good athlete.