Strength & Conditioning: Performance Strategy Doesn’t End at Match Point

By Kathleen Stroia M.S., P.T., A.T.C., AVP Sport Sciences & Medicine/Professional Development , WTA Tour Helen Lee B.Sc. (PT), Physical Therapist, Humber River Regional Hospital                                           

Most players and coaches are familiar with warming up and getting the body prepared to engage in a high-intensity activity.  The cool-down, on the other hand, is less understood but no less important to performance.  A proper cool-down is an essential part of a post-match routine and can aid a player’s physical recovery and preparation for the next practice or match.

An effective cool-down period is broken down into two parts:

1. Performing light cool-down exercises (e.g. a cool-down ride on the bike or a light jog), active and passive stretching and deep breathing exercises.
2. Recovering and regenerating.  This includes proper post-competition nutrition, re-hydrating the body, and addressing other physical needs of the body.

Cool-Down Exercises

There are a number of benefits that come with performing cool-down exercises following practice or a match.

• Cool-down exercises are performed to slow the body’s systems down, in a controlled manner, from the high performance levels demanded during a tennis match/practice to normal levels found at rest.
• They help “flush out” metabolic waste products that accumulate in the body during exercise.  These waste products can impair muscle function and performance if they are not removed from the body.  Performing a light activity following a strenuous practice or match, as opposed to sitting around after a match, has been shown to help the body remove these waste products more effectively.
• They are also used to maintain the flexibility or range of motion of various components of the musculoskeletal system.

Performing a light exercise, preferably non-weight bearing, will help the body to cool down and rid itself of metabolic waste products like lactate.  The amount of time a player should spend cooling down is dependent on the individual and the intensity of the exercise.  However, research indicates that a good average is to exercise at a light intensity for approximately 15-20 minutes after intense play.

Active and passive stretching, combined with deep breathing exercises can also be included as part of the cool-down.  In general, passive stretching techniques are slow and sustained (30-60 seconds in duration), are performed in a pain-free range and repeated 2-3 times. Active stretching techniques are performed by moving through the entire range of motion of the joint/joints, using a fluid and slow pace combined with deep breathing activity, again repeating 2-3 times.

Rapid bouncing or ballistic movements are not recommended. There should be no pain associated with stretching. If pain is felt, the player should stop the stretch and seek help from a qualified medical/health care practitioner.  To help in this process, the coach should learn about proper stretching technique, frequency, duration and regularly solicit feedback from the player. 
Recovery and Regeneration

There are a number of activities that the athlete should perform in addition to the cool-down exercises described above.  Always re-hydrate and eat plenty of carbohydrates to promote recovery and regeneration.  An athlete may also use massage, or other techniques, to aid in the recovery of post-exercise muscle soreness.

It is essential that the athlete incorporate hydration before and during the match, as well as re-hydration (water and electrolyte replacement are essential) after the match during the cool-down period, even if they have consumed fluids during the match. It is recommended that players consume 50-60g of carbohydrate per hour of play. 

As an example, one 20oz. bottle of a typical sport drink contains approximately 30g of carbohydrate.  It is important that the sport drink is not too concentrated, as this may impair digestion and cause stomach upset.  Also, to better understand how much fluid is lost during play, a player can weigh in before and after playing.   Players should then drink 20-24 ounces of fluid for each pound of body weight loss.

With respect to refueling, the cool-down period should be used to replenish muscle energy stores. The best way to do this is to eat carbohydrates within the first hour after play is concluded and throughout the day. The consumption of a high-carbohydrate drink immediately after exercise is a popular and appropriate choice for athletes. 

Other good sources of carbohydrates are gel packets, bagels, or crackers.  Research suggests that a player should eat 0.3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight immediately after a practice or match and 3-4 grams per pound of body weight within the following 24 hours. For example, a 150-pound player would eat approximately 50 grams of carbohydrate immediately after practice and another 450-600 grams over the next 24 hours. High-fat and high-protein foods should be avoided immediately after playing.

Muscle massage and contrast baths can be used to enhance recovery.  Various massage techniques are popular and are used by tennis players after a strenuous workout or match. Contrast Baths are another option to accomplish the aforementioned results is the use of contrast baths, interchanging from warm to cool baths, spending 1:4 minutes in each bath for up to 20 minutes total.  After a practice or match also is a perfect time to apply ice to any injuries


The coach plays an integral role in helping the athlete during the cool-down period. Both coach and athlete are responsible for understanding the importance of and implementing proper cool-down exercises and activities. By incorporating some of these activities into your post-match routine you will be helping to develop habits that can lead to improved performance, quicker recovery and a longer, healthier career.