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Dissecting what makes a great tennis athlete: Charlie Faulkner talks training, recovery, mindset, and mechanics

Charlie Faulkner, a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Lawn Tennis Association, talks to us about his tennis philosophy, sharing what makes a great tennis athlete, from accelerating recovery and having the right mindset for success.

When it comes to tennis, Charlie Faulkner knows a thing or two about building great players. A Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Lawn Tennis Association, he works with some of the biggest names and most exciting up-and-coming talent in the game. Having already learned how Charlie was among the early adopters of BFR, we caught up with Charlie to hear more on his tennis philosophy. 


“Tennis is predominantly a skill-based sport,” said Charlie. “Those who are the best players aren’t always the best physical athletes, but they are almost always the most skilled athletes. During games, they’re the most consistent with those skills and make the fewest mistakes. Players such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray are able to demonstrate that consistency day in, day out. They tend to also have a very solid serve. If you assess the top 50 in the world rankings, players can either produce a lot of ball speed or hit their spots on serve really well. Djokovic is someone who doesn’t have a massive serve but hits his spots well and builds points consistently. John Isner, on the other hand, has a huge frame that allows him to generate lots of force and speed with his serve. Looking higher up the world rankings, the top 20 also usually have a big forehand, where their average ball speed is consistently north of 80mph.” 


Despite Charlie’s belief that tennis is primarily skill-based, he admits that physical preparation and conditioning help athletes reach their potential. “It’s predominantly skill level that separates a great player from a good tennis player, but there is also a massive physical element,” he said. “For men, there are five sets in a grand slam, with matches taking place at unpredictable times, lasting for unpredictable lengths. If you’re winning, you have to be able to do that again and again. If you can’t recover between matches then you’ve got no chance of going five sets.” 


The Australian Open saw superhuman efforts from some tennis stars as they competed with quick turnaround times. “Andy Murray played two five-hour matches and came back from two sets down in both,” Charlie pointed out. “That highlighted both the psychological and physical side of the sport. Those two sides are coupled. Djokovic, for example, came into the tournament with a three-centimetre tear in his hamstring, yet pushed himself to play some of the best tennis of his career. Such feats are going to need to become more regular with the increasing physical demand of match play. Players are becoming stronger and faster, they’re hitting bigger, rallies are lasting longer – it’s only going to get tougher for the players coming through.” 



Given such evolution of tennis, alongside the back-to-back scheduling of tournaments and the physically draining nature of matches played on a variety of different surfaces, optimal recovery is essential for players. “Most tennis players use ice baths as passive recovery, then stretch for active recovery. They supplement that with good sleep, nutrition, and hydration. I’ve found in tennis there is a real culture around ice baths and massages. I want to give players more opportunity to direct their own recovery. I ask questions about how they can recover better between matches. BFR was a modality I thought could add huge value.” 


“When you look at the research, Blood Flow Restriction has a real acute effect. Straight after using BFR, there’s a marked improvement in neuromuscular performance. 24-hours later, those markers are still up. There’s also a psychological element. Players know that they’re doing an aggressive form of recovery. The next day, the players I work with who have utilised passive BFR as a recovery tool are reporting they don’t suffer from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Before using BFR, lots of my players suffered from DOMS post-match. That’s now stopped.” 


With ever-increasing numbers of elite athletes from a whole host of sports deciding to use Hytro BFR wearables, coaches believe that the modality offers a competitive advantage. Positive experiences, such as the prevention of DOMS, help buy-in. For those athletes who truly buy-in, and want to keep using BFR, Hytro’s integrated BFR technology allows athletes to self-administer their own recovery. Rather than inflate cuffs to a specific pressure, they can simply pull the Hytro strap to 70% tightness and go. 


“Last year I was in the USA with two players for three back-to-back tournaments,” said Charlie. “One of my players made the semi-finals of a tournament on the Saturday, but was due to start their next tournament on the Monday in a place an eight-hour drive away. They lost the semi-final, which finished at 7:30pm. We needed to drive straight away to that next tournament. After getting off the court, they went straight into the shower, gathered their stuff, and then put on the Hytro BFR Recovery shorts for the car journey. They did three sets of five-minutes-on, two-minutes-off to start the recovery process as soon as possible. The shorts are so versatile and practical that players can even recover in places as cramped as a car. In fact, it was the player who suggested doing so!” 


Charlie Faulkner, Strength and Conditioning Coach, coaching a tennis athlete


“In the big tournaments, recovery is so important because you get a dense schedule. The whole year is condensed, except for those players at the very top who can be more selective as to which tournaments they compete in. It’s impossible to get much training time in, especially if you’re progressing deep in tournaments and flying to different continents to play. Most tennis players need to prioritise recovery so they’re fit and healthy to play. When they’re travelling, they may not always have the equipment they need, and they don’t know what the gyms are going to be like when they arrive. That’s why BFR is an important part of my training philosophy.”  


Though Faulkner primarily uses BFR for recovery purposes, Hytro BFR is a versatile tool that allows for gains in other areas such as strength, aerobic endurance and rehabilitation. I used Hytro BFR recently with a player that returned from a tournament with an ankle injury. Occluding his lower limb allowed him to get a decent stimulus in the injured limb without putting any load through the ankle, which then limited atrophy. We also utilised BFR, combined with EMS early in the rehab process to minimise atrophy of the calf which was completely offloaded. I’ve also used Hytro BFR as part of players’ warm-ups, to increase flexibility and mobility with great success. For me, being really clear on what my physical outcomes and adaptations I am trying to elicit are, allows me to utilise BFR in a variety of exercises to facilitate these changes.” 


Faulkner believes that the options available to coaches makes Hytro BFR a no-brainer. “As a coach, identify what your ideal outcome is with the athlete,” he advised. “How can you achieve it, what adaptation is required? Once you know that, you can understand and implement the methods available to you. BFR is a great tool that can be utilised for lots of different outcomes. Hytro BFR offers different tightness settings which allow an athlete who hasn’t used the modality before to ease into it. Educate the athlete. Tell them why they should use it, and what it’ll feel like, then get their opinion on it. Soon enough, the athlete will be thinking how they can use Hytro BFR for recovery or hypertrophy.” 


By building physical attributes and enhancing recovery, tennis players can focus on showcasing the skills that separate the great from the good. As the tennis season continues at a rapid rate, so too do Charlie’s athletes. With Hytro BFR in their toolkit, they’ll be ready for whatever is thrown at them. 


Learn more about the ways elite sport is using Hytro BFR for success. 


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