Tennis As We Get Older - Tips for Improving/Maintaining Reflexes

LOBALOT

Hall of Fame
Being stuck in the house I have been thinking about what I can do to improve my play and am wondering if you have any tips / drills. I would call myself more of an athlete than a tennis player and I prefer doubles. I used to be one of those guys that drives people nuts at the net as I could react to any ball hit and had decent hands.

As I have gotten older (I am now mid-50s), I have seen a steady decrease in my ability to react with quick reflexes. Does anyone have any tips to improve or at least maintain my reflexes as I age?

I have tried:

- Giving myself more time playing a little further back from the net and that hasn't helped.
- A reflex ball.
- The drill where I stand facing a wall while someone stands behind me and throws a ball over my shoulder on either side and I have to react but that takes a partner and a wall

As an aside my ping pong game is shot too!
 

Sir Weed

Professional
Wall, alone:

Reaction ball against wall > bounce > catch. Two split steps: land when ball makes contact with wall, ground.

Variation: if you're a smartphone owner | slave | user you can randomly make the phone show two different colors (blue image, red image). Red: catch w/left hand, blue: catch right. Or acoustic signals that indicate what hand you've got to use.


Android Slideshow: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=link.standen.michael.slideshow&hl=en_US
 
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tonylg

Legend
Serously question, how are your eyes?

I agree that our reflexes aren't what they used to be, but I don't help myself by waiting too long to get a new glasses prescription. The other day my friend held up two balls before serving and I had to ask how many he had :rolleyes: . That's obviously not enhancing my reaction times and now the optomitrist is closed so I can't get a new script.
 

LOBALOT

Hall of Fame
Serously question, how are your eyes?

I agree that our reflexes aren't what they used to be, but I don't help myself by waiting too long to get a new glasses prescription. The other day my friend held up two balls before serving and I had to ask how many he had :rolleyes: . That's obviously not enhancing my reaction times and now the optomitrist is closed so I can't get a new script.
Good idea. My eyes aren't great that is a good point. My work now switched to a new prescription every other year vs. one. My current script runs out in December.
 
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S&V-not_dead_yet

Talk Tennis Guru
- The drill where I stand facing a wall while someone stands behind me and throws a ball over my shoulder on either side and I have to react but that takes a partner and a wall
You can eliminate the partner by standing with your back to the wall, closing your eyes, and bouncing the ball backwards so it hits the ground and then the wall. When it hits the wall, open your eyes and then react.

Is this as good as having a partner? No. Is it better than nothing? Yes.

Even better: use your off-hand to throw. You'll probably have less control and therefore the result will be more random.

You can eliminate the wall by closing your eyes and tossing the ball behind your back over your opposite shoulder. Assuming you're not accurate with this toss and delaying when you open your eyes, this can be challenging. I know because this is a juggling move and I struggle with getting the arc just right.

See Chris Bliss:


Now, if you're a good tosser, this is no good because you'll be able to toss it in the same position every time. However, I'm a poor tosser so my position is all over the map.
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
As you get older, a smart senior avoids playing 20 year olds who are one level better than him. Sometimes a 45 year difference.
 

3loudboys

Legend
Try and get some hits or a couple of sets in against younger players if possible. Raises your game and keeps you at a level above what your age would try and limit you to.
 

onehandbh

Legend
I don’t wanna believe that aging will slow me down. I haven’t noticed even a tiny bit until now (53). Maybe I was always slow but didn’t slow down!:)
Unless you have an injury, you may not notice it because it happens gradually.

Have you measured your speed to keep track?
e.g. try timing yourself doing the 5 ball spider drill.

Then time yourself again in a year.

Vertical jump. Same thing.
 

Curious

Legend
Unless you have an injury, you may not notice it because it happens gradually.

Have you measured your speed to keep track?
e.g. try timing yourself doing the 5 ball spider drill.

Then time yourself again in a year.

Vertical jump. Same thing.
Ok I haven’t done that. I still don’t wanna surrender .
Well, it should be a fact although I haven’t noticed it. Then my question is can you prevent this from happening by exercising more or in a very specific way?
 

Injured Again

Hall of Fame
This is a subject very near and dear to my heart. I'm hoping to compete at a high level next year as a 60 year old and this time with the stay-at-home has let me work on physical training more than I typically would.

I have slowed down, in many different ways and due to different causes. I'll go through each of these items with my rambling thoughts.

Reaction speed: I don't believe that my reaction speed has declined much. I've always had a knack for catching things if they fall unexpectedly and my initial reaction continues to this day pretty much unimpaired. I'm pretty clumsy so I'm always knocking something down. I don't believe there's a physiological basis for reaction speed declining due to nerve impulse transmission speeds. Any declines occur in visual processing of the event, and the subsequent processing to determine and implement a physical response. For simple things like I'm describing, there's minimal processing going on - I'm going to try and catch whatever it is that I've accidentally knocked over so it is way more purely reaction based than stabbing a volley in which I have to decide if the ball is likely to go out or not, and to try and determine how to get the racquet there coordinated with the rest of my body.

Movement speed: There is a definitely decline. It's why as wI've gotten older, I can't throw as fast even if what I'm trying to throw is lighter. We can't run as fast, serve as fast, hit a ball as hard. Even though I can leg press way more than I did when I was 20 years old, I can't jump nearly as high. Which leads to:

Explosive movement: I notice the most physical decline here. The last time I tried to do a near one-rep maximum on a leg press sled, I could still moderately easily do eight 45 pound plates on a side. But despite that amount of force generation capability, my vertical jump is probably no more than about 15 inches. I can barely touch the bottom of a basketball net, but when I was twenty years old and not lifting much, I was able to dunk a volleyball. So contractile velocities are down, but it seems more so against significant resistance. That initial step to return a hard serve out wide or to try to reach a wide volley is just not there any more.

Visual acuity: Also a big decline here. Vision is only possible when the eyes are still, and movement tracking is through a series of saccades where we predict the location of the ball and move our eyes there to track it when it arrives in our field of view. The saccades themselves are slower, and there is also a settling time for the eyes to become still enough that tracking can occur. Both are worse, and focusing on the ball as it comes closer is also slower. I've found the most benefit by giving up trying to see the ball within about ten feet of me when it is going fast. Instead, I just keep my gaze forward and have to estimate where the ball will be. Larger racquets with bigger sweetspots help, and this is a lot of the reason why older players need more accommodating equipment.

Positional awareness and balance: Also a decline here. It takes larger inputs before I realize that a movement has made me off balance, and that slows recovery because I get more off balance before attempting to recover. I notice this hurts me most up at net in doubles where a first volley may make me lunge but the balance on the lunge is worse and recovery is slowed to the point that I'm not in good position for the second volley. I became aware of this issue about five years ago when doing high performance driving events. I've always been fastest around a track when my car was set up so that both front and rear wheels lost traction at the same time, but that also mean't that I had to be very conscious of the rear end of the car starting to over-rotate. I realized my inner ear balance mechanisms just weren't as sensitive as when I was younger, and did some medical research that backs this up. I did a couple of track days in the wet and spun because I just couldn't tell soon enough that the rear tires were sliding more than they should.

Flexibility: Worse here, and specifically in back flexibility. I'm about an inch shorter than at my tallest and much of that is due to disc compression in my spine. There are degrees of motion I will never have again and those compromise quick movement and the ability to twist and bend enough to recover balance quickly.

When my son was playing little league baseball, he was an incredible pitcher. He was even lightly recruited by some high level coaches when he was eleven, and I remember thinking that I wish he was just a little bit more physically developed so he could have a bit more speed on his fastball to go with a breaking pitch that moved about 18 inches. I remember thinking then that these age groupings weren't particularly fair because physical growth wasn't the same for every kid. Now on the other end, I've only managed to catch up to my age group peers because my physical decline has been less than other more talented tennis players. It is kind of strange to think how that has come full circle.
 

Curious

Legend
This is a subject very near and dear to my heart. I'm hoping to compete at a high level next year as a 60 year old and this time with the stay-at-home has let me work on physical training more than I typically would.

I have slowed down, in many different ways and due to different causes. I'll go through each of these items with my rambling thoughts.

Reaction speed: I don't believe that my reaction speed has declined much. I've always had a knack for catching things if they fall unexpectedly and my initial reaction continues to this day pretty much unimpaired. I'm pretty clumsy so I'm always knocking something down. I don't believe there's a physiological basis for reaction speed declining due to nerve impulse transmission speeds. Any declines occur in visual processing of the event, and the subsequent processing to determine and implement a physical response. For simple things like I'm describing, there's minimal processing going on - I'm going to try and catch whatever it is that I've accidentally knocked over so it is way more purely reaction based than stabbing a volley in which I have to decide if the ball is likely to go out or not, and to try and determine how to get the racquet there coordinated with the rest of my body.

Movement speed: There is a definitely decline. It's why as wI've gotten older, I can't throw as fast even if what I'm trying to throw is lighter. We can't run as fast, serve as fast, hit a ball as hard. Even though I can leg press way more than I did when I was 20 years old, I can't jump nearly as high. Which leads to:

Explosive movement: I notice the most physical decline here. The last time I tried to do a near one-rep maximum on a leg press sled, I could still moderately easily do eight 45 pound plates on a side. But despite that amount of force generation capability, my vertical jump is probably no more than about 15 inches. I can barely touch the bottom of a basketball net, but when I was twenty years old and not lifting much, I was able to dunk a volleyball. So contractile velocities are down, but it seems more so against significant resistance. That initial step to return a hard serve out wide or to try to reach a wide volley is just not there any more.

Visual acuity: Also a big decline here. Vision is only possible when the eyes are still, and movement tracking is through a series of saccades where we predict the location of the ball and move our eyes there to track it when it arrives in our field of view. The saccades themselves are slower, and there is also a settling time for the eyes to become still enough that tracking can occur. Both are worse, and focusing on the ball as it comes closer is also slower. I've found the most benefit by giving up trying to see the ball within about ten feet of me when it is going fast. Instead, I just keep my gaze forward and have to estimate where the ball will be. Larger racquets with bigger sweetspots help, and this is a lot of the reason why older players need more accommodating equipment.

Positional awareness and balance: Also a decline here. It takes larger inputs before I realize that a movement has made me off balance, and that slows recovery because I get more off balance before attempting to recover. I notice this hurts me most up at net in doubles where a first volley may make me lunge but the balance on the lunge is worse and recovery is slowed to the point that I'm not in good position for the second volley. I became aware of this issue about five years ago when doing high performance driving events. I've always been fastest around a track when my car was set up so that both front and rear wheels lost traction at the same time, but that also mean't that I had to be very conscious of the rear end of the car starting to over-rotate. I realized my inner ear balance mechanisms just weren't as sensitive as when I was younger, and did some medical research that backs this up. I did a couple of track days in the wet and spun because I just couldn't tell soon enough that the rear tires were sliding more than they should.

Flexibility: Worse here, and specifically in back flexibility. I'm about an inch shorter than at my tallest and much of that is due to disc compression in my spine. There are degrees of motion I will never have again and those compromise quick movement and the ability to twist and bend enough to recover balance quickly.

When my son was playing little league baseball, he was an incredible pitcher. He was even lightly recruited by some high level coaches when he was eleven, and I remember thinking that I wish he was just a little bit more physically developed so he could have a bit more speed on his fastball to go with a breaking pitch that moved about 18 inches. I remember thinking then that these age groupings weren't particularly fair because physical growth wasn't the same for every kid. Now on the other end, I've only managed to catch up to my age group peers because my physical decline has been less than other more talented tennis players. It is kind of strange to think how that has come full circle.
Say you’re trying to do it as fast as possible, do you think you now flex your elbow or knee while just sitting, much slower than you would do 30 years ago?
 

Curious

Legend
Can we do an experiment? How many times will I be able to flex my right elbow in 30 seconds?
I’ll video it and I want one of the 30 year old guys here do the same and compare the numbers. Easiest experiment.
 

onehandbh

Legend
Can we do an experiment? How many times will I be able to flex my right elbow in 30 seconds?
I’ll video it and I want one of the 30 year old guys here do the same and compare the numbers. Easiest experiment.
You should measure something more applicable to sports. Make videos of it.

Try these simple things:
1) Measure standing vertical jump. Standing flat-footed next to wall reach as high as you can. Now jump as high as you can and measure the difference.

2) how many pushups can you do in a minute?

3) spider drill on tennis court. I actually tried this a couple years ago (running spider drill)

If you play against your peers who are near your age then it is hard to tell if your reflexes are declining because as a group most of you may be declining together.

Try occasionally playing against higher level, young players.
 

Curious

Legend
I’m doing the elbow flexion speed experiment with one of my pretty athletic friends half my age. We’re doing it for 15 seconds. Will report results here.
Thinking of doing the same for knee and hip flexion speed.
 

Curious

Legend
You should measure something more applicable to sports. Make videos of it.

Try these simple things:
1) Measure standing vertical jump. Standing flat-footed next to wall reach as high as you can. Now jump as high as you can and measure the difference.

2) how many pushups can you do in a minute?

3) spider drill on tennis court. I actually tried this a couple years ago (running spider drill)

If you play against your peers who are near your age then it is hard to tell if your reflexes are declining because as a group most of you may be declining together.

Try occasionally playing against higher level, young players.
That way you’re involving other factors like strength and stamina which is not age dependent at all. I might easily be better than a lot of guys 20 years younger than me at those you recommended. I think my experiment is a much better indicator of speed only.
 

onehandbh

Legend
That way you’re involving other factors like strength and stamina which is not age dependent at all. I might easily be better than a lot of guys 20 years younger than me at those you recommended. I think my experiment is a much better indicator of speed only.
Use your measurement as a benchmark for yourself.

Check if you improve or decline in 6 months. 1 year.
 

Injured Again

Hall of Fame
Say you’re trying to do it as fast as possible, do you think you now flex your elbow or knee while just sitting, much slower than you would do 30 years ago?
I'd guess about 20% against low resistance. It would be a greater decline against higher resistance.

I used to do a lot of high performance cycling, and one of the training protocols was to do "spin ups", in which you pedal a medium gear from a sitting stop to as fast as you can turn over the pedals. 200 RPMs was the goal and it was something I could easily surpass by going up to 210 to 215 RPMs until some time into my 40's. A few years ago, I was doing some more intense cycle training and did these same spin-ups and could barely reach 180. I'd probably be limited to about 175 or maybe less now.

Same thing with throwing a ball. At one time, I could throw into the lower 80's. I don't think I could even hit 70 MPH now.
 

Injured Again

Hall of Fame
As you age, your recovery time takes longer and longer.
I actually find the opposite is true for stuff that isn't physically damaging. Back in my cycling days, a super-intense ride would leave my muscles wasted for two days, and I could still feel it on the third. This past month, I've been pushing it hard on the bike again but find it's easy to repeat the next day. I don't think the reason is that my overall recovery is better, but it is that my ability to push my body as hard as when I was younger has declined more than my recovery capability. So relatively, recovery is better.

I think this is also true for activities that do cause damage, like hard singles. Most older athletes just don't have the joint health or physical ability to push their bodies to the point where recovery is an issue, at least in my experience.
 

Injured Again

Hall of Fame
You should measure something more applicable to sports. Make videos of it.

Try these simple things:
1) Measure standing vertical jump. Standing flat-footed next to wall reach as high as you can. Now jump as high as you can and measure the difference.

2) how many pushups can you do in a minute?

3) spider drill on tennis court. I actually tried this a couple years ago (running spider drill)

If you play against your peers who are near your age then it is hard to tell if your reflexes are declining because as a group most of you may be declining together.

Try occasionally playing against higher level, young players.
I play (well, when we were allowed to play) quite often against young players, including my 26 year old son and a couple of former college players. They can hit the ball scary fast - I don't doubt that my son could whack a groundstroke near 100 MPH if he really slapped at it, and he often challenges me with a hard hit shot down the middle when I come to net. My philosophy actually is to ask my son to try and hit the ball harder than any of my peers because if I can be relatively comfortable with his pace, then none of my age group peers are going to overpower or significantly rush me. But I can tell that even over the past four or five years, it's harder make good contact with those shots. It's a combination of decreased visual acuity, slower muscle contraction speeds, and that I'm using a heavier racquet now than before because that's the only way to keep up the levels of ball speed that I used to hit.

Strength is not the issue. I can do 60 pushups in a minute, and can leg press several hundred pounds. It doesn't help me run faster or move quicker, though there are lots of other health benefits outside of athletic capability.
 

LOBALOT

Hall of Fame
Try and get some hits or a couple of sets in against younger players if possible. Raises your game and keeps you at a level above what your age would try and limit you to.
Thanks I actually hit with younger kids mostly. Heck there aren't many my age left!

Seriously, a good split between people my age and kids including former D3 players.
 

Curious

Legend
Elbow flexion 35 in 15 seconds.


To my surprise, knee flexion was better at 37 in 15 seconds.


Still waiting for the numbers from my quite athletic 27 year old friend.
 

LOBALOT

Hall of Fame
See there you go.... Slow. I did have a glass of scotch (or two) so maybe that is what is slowing me down. I should probably take in the morning!
 

LOBALOT

Hall of Fame
I do need to work on this though so all the tips have been great. I suspect a lot of us that are aging are seeing this and I really think we should be able to push our lack of quickness back with work. I for one am not going to let these younger kids take it easy on me.
 

Curious

Legend
Elbow flexion 35 in 15 seconds.


To my surprise, knee flexion was better at 37 in 15 seconds.


Still waiting for the numbers from my quite athletic 27 year old friend.
Ok my friend’s was a whopping 55 in 15 seconds. 20 more than mine.
But he did it a little differently, like a chest thumping motion instead of a typical biceps curl . Anyway I tried the same and got 54. My elbow extension is a little limited though compared to his which may be playing a role in my number being close to his this time. He’s actually much faster than me.


 

3loudboys

Legend
Thanks I actually hit with younger kids mostly. Heck there aren't many my age left!

Seriously, a good split between people my age and kids including former D3 players.
It's a great way to push yourself and reaction speeds etc are only really relative to your opponents. Personally love the challenge of keeping up against the younger guys and it's not just the physical. One massive plus of getting older and dare I say it wiser, is playing experience. Hard to calculate a metric for that but it can be a real leveller against the younger players.

Sent from my SM-A705FN using Tapatalk
 

1H-Backhand

New User
A good drill you can try to keep busy during lockdown to improve your reflexes and concentration is to bounce the ball as many times as you can off the frame of the racket.
If you have never tried it before, it might look difficult at first, you might struggle to get into double figures the first few attempts, but keep at it and you should be able to get better at it.
I got the hang of it after half an hour of practice and I now get over 100 every time :p
 

3loudboys

Legend
A good drill you can try to keep busy during lockdown to improve your reflexes and concentration is to bounce the ball as many times as you can off the frame of the racket.
If you have never tried it before, it might look difficult at first, you might struggle to get into double figures the first few attempts, but keep at it and you should be able to get better at it.
I got the hang of it after half an hour of practice and I now get over 100 every time :p
Thats impressive - here is a recent attempt nowhere near as good as 100. Warning: 1980's retro T-Shirt alert and have already gone over this with @SystemicAnomaly .

 

LOBALOT

Hall of Fame
A good drill you can try to keep busy during lockdown to improve your reflexes and concentration is to bounce the ball as many times as you can off the frame of the racket.
If you have never tried it before, it might look difficult at first, you might struggle to get into double figures the first few attempts, but keep at it and you should be able to get better at it.
I got the hang of it after half an hour of practice and I now get over 100 every time :p
Thanks, I will give that a go. I have tried it before as you see the pros do it and if it doesn't clank off the racquet the first time it surely does the second...

I will give it a shot. I need to do something. I do mostly hit with players that are better and younger than me.
 
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