Fitness For Tennis: Tennis is a physically demanding sport requiring agility, strength, power, flexibility, and endurance to perform consistently on a high level.
As previously stated, you can perfect any tennis shot in the book, but you will be disappointed if you lack the physical level required to produce the hit when it matters most. Many players leave a lost match wondering what went wrong. Tennis requires speed, agility, and endurance. All the world’s top tennis players have significant levels of all three.
Tennis requires anaerobic fitness, which is the capacity to sprint in short bursts repeatedly, as well as power and flexibility. Without these, you would struggle to compete against an opponent on the tennis court and enjoy the sport in general.
Your focus may weaken as you begin to get weary. Tennis fitness is vital since it allows you to retain your attention throughout the game and can offer you a mental advantage. A high level of tennis fitness will also help you avoid injuries. Tennis injuries can be caused by a lack of strength, flexibility, muscle imbalances, overuse, and fatigue.
So, now that you understand why fitness is vital in tennis and the various components that comprise tennis fitness let’s look at some tennis-specific examples. Below we describe some of the proven tennis fitness exercises we’ve encountered over the years and hope you’ll benefit from them as much as we did.
Only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions, and the majority give up within two weeks due to unrealistic expectations. Setting goals when sitting in a warm room, sipping eggnog and eating cookies is easy. However, many people’s goals are unrealistic because they begin by doing too much and cannot maintain that routine for very long.
Instead, take the opposite approach and make that habit so simple and easy to maintain that it would be absurd not to. A 10-minute speed and agility routine are recommended for the average tennis player.
It may not appear to be much, but two hours of speed and agility training over a month is significant. You will undoubtedly improve your movement if you work purposefully and intensely during these sessions.
In comparison, set a 30-minute goal 3-4 times per week. The average tennis player who isn’t used to this level of training fatigues after a week or two, takes a few days off, and never returns to his routine (maybe next year). Begin small, establish the habit, and then progress! Small, seemingly insignificant positive habits accumulate over time, resulting in large gains.
Today, there is broad consensus that dynamic movements before intense activity will help athletes perform better and avoid injury. Deep, static stretches should only be done after your workouts; doing them before can increase the risk of injury and even hinder performance.
As tennis players move around the court at a high and explosive speed with little rest while using physical force, dynamic stretches have become crucial for warming up the entire body before match play or practice session. All-around tennis fitness training requires a full body stretch because it works for all major muscle groups.
Stretching: Dynamic vs Static
Stretching is advised before participating in any sport, including tennis. Tennis injuries can occur if you do not stretch properly before you are going to play tennis. Upper-body stretches are extremely beneficial because elbow, forearm, wrist, and shoulder discomfort are all too common among active tennis players. Dynamic stretching, also known as a dynamic warm-up, is recommended before a workout to get the muscles warm and prepare them for physical activity.
When performing dynamic stretches, engage and disengage the stretch repeatedly to warm up the targeted muscle group. A static stretching routine after playing tennis should be a fixed part of the physical activity of your cool-down period. Aim to hold each stretch for a minimum of 20-30 secs. Below find a few hand-selected stretches you can add to your own routine.
The fast pace of the game demands being able to track balls down and recover just as fast. Getting in the ideal position to hit shots requires explosive and precise footwork, meaning explosiveness should be prioritized over endurance training giving the interval-like cadence to match play.
Recent studies have shed light on the dark days of long steady-state cardiovascular training within the tennis community. As you’ve probably seen in fitness magazines, the recent trend of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) conditioning is beginning to replace the old-school idea of spending long hours on the treadmill.
HIIT is defined as short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by longer rest periods. A typical work-to-rest ratio is about one to three. For example, imagine sprinting on a treadmill for 15 seconds, then jumping off and resting for 45 seconds before repeating.
This would typically last about eight rounds or 2 minutes of all-out running. HIIT body workouts emphasize quality over quantity, making them ideal for when you don’t have time for full workout routines or a trip to the gym. However, before beginning a high-intensity practice, you should undergo a physical or visit your doctor to ensure that the severe nature of this regimen is appropriate for you.
Tennis players should do movement-specific strength training to build “muscles with explosive ability” so they can serve more quickly, use ground reaction forces more effectively to put “more weight” on the ball, move around the court faster, and feel like they “float” on the court day in day out.
At this point, it’s important to bust some common misconceptions about strength training, such as the idea that it will make players slower, less agile, or even tighter. Indeed, according to a number of studies, Olympic weightlifters have the highest levels of power and are second only to gymnasts in terms of flexibility.
Here are some proven exercises you can do at your gym without much professional instruction.
The bench press works the chest, triceps, and shoulders, all of which are important components of powerful tennis serve. The bench press, when done correctly, is one of the best exercises for developing upper body strength.
Squats are a great exercise for lower-body strength, and goblet squats are an excellent variation for a beginner, intermediate and professional athlete.
Tennis players can train their bodies for powerful jumping and diving movements with low-impact workouts like box jumps. Additionally, it enhances your capacity for shock absorption when landing on your feet again, which is essential for preventing foot and leg problems. They work the glutes, quadriceps, core, and arms, making it a well-rounded exercise for tennis players.
Although lateral movement is a crucial component of the game, many conventional strength programs ignore it. Lunges engage the glutes, hip abductors, knees, hips, and the rest of the lower body. Once you’ve nailed the movement, you can increase the difficulty by adding free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags or resistance bands.
Medicine Ball Slams
A full-body exercise that focuses on the abdominals. The force you use to slam the ball results in stronger core muscles and more potent strokes on the court. Additionally, medicine ball slams need little to no weight training experience and present a low risk of injury.
Agility is an important aspect of success in tennis, as it allows you to change direction quickly while keeping your balance and control in high-pressure situations. The tennis agility exercises listed below should be done while holding your racket and with high intensity. Concentrate on acceleration, movement speed, and deceleration.
- Use an agility ladder and emphasize bringing your knees to your chest as you move through it, alternating between your left and right leg.
- 2 cones should be placed 8 ft apart. As you move past them, touch the cones with your hand while maintaining a low center of gravity.
- Along the length of the court, place hurdles spaced a couple of feet apart. Sprint as quickly as you can over them without touching or knocking them over.
- 2 cones should be placed 4 ft apart. Run around them twice in an oval shape, then go on to run the entire length of the court after that.
- Skip rope (regular jumps, split jumps, side to side (down the line), forward and back (down the line), hip twists, high knees, one leg jumps.
Tennis players frequently lack adequate training in coordination. A player would greatly benefit from the ability to take quick and timely preparatory or adjustment steps on the court.
Players frequently take either lazy small or large power steps. Taking small, controlled steps while maintaining a wide base is essential for getting in the right position before making contact with the ball.
If you improve your reaction time, your anticipation improves (your ability to read/foresee the next shot). Reaction exercises for players should be practiced beyond their comfort zone.
The nervous system is stimulated, and the response time is tested when a sensor is overloaded, which causes reaction time to improve quickly. Reaction exercises should only be practiced for 5–10 mins at a time.
Have a friend stand 15 feet away from you with a ball in their hand. They drop the ball at random from above their shoulders.
Your goal is to catch the ball before it hits the ground a second time. This exercise is excellent for improving coordination and reaction time.
Your partner positions himself 15 feet away with a tennis ball in each hand. Your partner raises both hands to chest height and lets one of the balls drop. The goal is to catch the ball before it hits the ground a second time.
Give the ball back to your partner and do it again. It’s a very effective tennis reaction drill for improving reaction time, agility, and decision-making.
Your partner positions himself with a tennis ball around 60 feet behind you. They must toss you the ball randomly. When you hear the ball bounce off the ground, you turn around and catch it before it a second time.
Recovery is critical to ensuring that the body positively adjusts to the rigors of exercise. Training adaptations happen following recovery, not during training. If recovery is inadequate, the body does not strengthen and the chance of injury increases. Excessive exhaustion and injury are indicators that you are not giving your body enough time to recuperate from the demands you place on it.
Numerous recovery methods are available, including foam roller self-myofascial release, massage, percussion guns, hydro therapies, electrical muscle stimulation, and compression therapy. Proper nutrition, sleep, and rest days are also essential. Your weekly calendar should always include at least one relaxation day.
It is critical to set reasonable goals to improve your tennis fitness level. You’re not going to go from feeling exhausted or hitting weak backhand strokes in the second set of a tennis match to playing like a pro in the fifth set in a matter of weeks. A specific tennis fitness routine takes time to develop, but you can set minor goals that add up to show an overall improvement in all of the characteristics described above.
Do not be discouraged if you do not see an improved physical performance within a few days; it may take several months for your efforts to be rewarded. However, if you stick to your tennis fitness plan, you will reap the rewards and become a better tennis player as time goes on.
Christoph Friedrich is a German tennis player and coach currently residing in Oakland, California. He began his tennis journey at the age of eight and has since dedicated his life to the sport. After working as a tennis coach and hitting partner in New York City for eight years, Christoph decided to share his knowledge and experience with tennis players around the world by creating the My Tennis Expert blog. His goal is to make tennis education accessible to everyone and help players select the best equipment for their game, from racquets and strings to shoes and overgrips. Christoph's extensive research and expertise in tennis technology make him a valuable resource for players of all levels.