Being tennis fit isn’t just about swinging hard and running fast (though those things help). It’s also about being flexible, explosive, and having a strong heart. We’ve consulted top fitness experts to help design an exercise program to work all the main areas you need for tennis: a warm-up to get you going and help you avoid injury, strength training so you can muscle balls all over the court, cardio to get you through long matches, drills that mimic on-court movement to sharpen your reflexes, and a cool-down that will help you increase your flexibility. As with all strenuous workouts, you should consult a doctor before you jump in.
Zero to 60 is a cliché in the auto industry, but everyone knows it’s hard on the car. The same goes for your body. You can get right into a workout, lifting heavy weights and running all-out the second you hit the gym, but you would be begging for an injury. A warm-up eases you into your routine, slowly getting your heart rate up and increasing blood flow to the muscles, which can help prevent injuries. Warming up also improves your performance, according to Kathleen Stroia, P.T., A.T.C., vice president of sport sciences and medicine for the WTA. It gives you faster reflexes and releases endorphins to energize you. Basically, your workout will be better if you warm up.
To start, do five minutes of light cardio, such as an elliptical machine with low resistance. Then move into 5–10 minutes of dynamic stretching, or stretching with movement (as opposed to static stretching where you stay still). “With a dynamic warm-up you’re going through your entire range of motion. You’re stretching and warming up your whole body,” says Stroia, who’s also on the USTA Sport Science Committee. Do each of these exercises twice to start your workout.
Warm-Up: Ready to Sweat
Warms: Lower extremities (glutes, calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps)
(1) Step forward with your left leg. Bending at your knee and hip, lower your body until your right knee almost touches the ground. Keep your back straight and your left knee behind your toes.
(2) Push off your right leg to stand up, then step forward with it.
(3) Lower your body so your left knee almost touches the ground. Continue alternating legs 10 times on each side.
Warms: Trunk, hips, and lower extremities
(1) Standing on your left leg and keeping your spine in line, kick your right leg, which should remain straight, forward to about hip height.
(2) Let your leg swing back behind your body. Continue to kick your leg in this pendulous motion 10 times each way, then switch legs.
Warms: Shoulders and arm muscles
(1) Start with both arms straight overhead.
(2) Circle them down behind you,
(3) around to the front, and back up to the starting position. Do 10 circles, then switch directions so your arms go forward and down, then back and up.
Warms: Core and chest
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise your arms out to your sides so they’re perpendicular to the body.
(1) Keeping your hips still and your arms out, rotate your torso from one side
(2) to the other. Do 10 rotations to each side.
Don't Forget to Fuel Up
Getting the most out of your workout can depend on what you put in your body.
DRINK UP: Dehydration makes you tire faster, which can cause you to cut your workout short. Within two hours of working out, drink 14–20 ounces of water and bring some with you to the gym.
CARBO-LOAD: Eat a snack with carbs and salt before you hit the gym. The WTA’s Kathleen Stroia recommends salted pretzels. The carbs keep you going and the salt helps you retain water.
POST-EXERCISE PROVISIONS: “Thirty minutes post-workout is critical” to recovery, Stroia says. To refuel, eat a snack that has a 3-1 carb-protein ratio. Also, weigh yourself before and after a workout. The WTA recommends you drink 20–24 ounces of water for every pound you’ve lost to rehydrate.
Good tennis depends on timing and making solid contact with the ball. But strength helps, too. Not just because it boosts power, says Jeff Metzger, a National Strength and Conditioning Association– certified fitness trainer based in Mequon, Wis. “Tennis players are susceptible to injuries of the rotator-cuff and the Achilles’ tendon, and they need specific strength training to prevent those injuries.”
Even if you don’t love off-court training, you’ll like his workout. It’s quick—about 20 minutes—and the exercises are simple. Several of them also do double-duty: They strengthen key muscles while improving balance and explosiveness. “If you can work these moves into your weekly schedule and do them three times a week, you’ll see a difference on the court within a month,” Metzger says. You’ll have more muscular endurance and generate more racquet-head speed.
Do this workout three times a week (with a day of rest in between), ideally on days when you’re not on the court. Start with two sets of each move. When that becomes easy, add a third. Then increase weight in small increments of about 2 pounds.
INTERNAL ROTATION WITH DUMBBELL
Muscles worked: Rotator cuff
(1) Lie on your right side with your head resting on your right hand. Hold a light dumbbell with your left hand (start with 3 pounds). With your upper arm resting on your torso, bend your elbow to 90 degrees with your palm facing down.
(2) Keeping your upper arm against your side, slowly lift the weight until the back of your hand faces directly behind you. Return to the starting position.
Repeat 10 times. Switch sides and repeat. Do 2 sets.
INTERNAL ROTATION WITH DUMBBELL
Muscles worked: Rotator cuff
(1) Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet fl at on the fl oor. Hold a dumbbell (start with 3 pounds) in your right hand. With your upper arm close to your torso, bend your elbow so that your forearm is perpendicular to the floor with your palm facing in.
(2) Lower your hand toward the floor and out to the side as far as you can and lift it back up.
Repeat 10 times and switch arms. Do 2 sets.
Muscles worked: Quadriceps, glutes (also improves balance)
Stand with your feet hip to shoulder width apart and your hands behind your head. Squat like you’re going to sit in a chair, keeping your back straight, chest up, and your weight on your heels. Don’t roll forward onto your toes or allow your knees to go past your toes. Keeping your quadriceps and buttocks tight, press your heels into the floor to push back up to the starting position. Don’t rest between reps—you should be in constant motion.
Repeat 10 times, resting one minute between sets. Complete 2 sets.
SINGLE-LEG DEAD LIFT
Muscles worked: Hamstrings (also improves balance)
(1) Hold a 5-pound dumbbell in one hand and stand on the opposite leg. (If it’s too diffi cult to maintain proper form, don’t use a weight to start.)
(2) Keeping the knee straight and your back fl at like a tabletop, bend at the waist and
(3) place the dumbbell near your opposite foot. To help you balance, lift your opposite leg back behind you so your heel reaches toward the ceiling and your leg is parallel to the ground. Return to the starting position.
Repeat 8 times, then switch sides. Complete 2 sets on each side.
Muscles worked: Calves (also helps prevent Achilles’ injuries and improves explosiveness) Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and jump without bending your knees. Keep your body in a straight line and don’t use your arms to gain height. Try to get about 2 inches off the ground. While you’re in the air, pull your toes up. As you get stronger and are able to jump higher, this will become easier. Land on the balls of your feet and don’t let your heels touch down. Jump up again.
Do as many jumps as you can in 20 seconds, aiming for 50. Rest for a minute and repeat.
Muscles worked: Core
(1) Sit down and secure your feet, either by putting them under something like a sofa or a weight bench or having a partner hold them. Lean back slightly, keeping your back straight, and clasp your hands in front of you, arms out.
(2) Keeping your arms straight in front of you, rotate your trunk from side to side.
Complete 10 reps on each side. Rest one minute and repeat. When you can complete three sets, do this holding a medicine ball.
Cardio: Get Heart Healthy
Being in decent cardiovascular condition is essential to having a good tennis season. Not only does regular aerobic activity keep you spry on court, it helps you shed extra pounds that can slow you down. Below, Jeff Michaud, of Fitness With Jeff, an Atlanta club that offers tennis instruction and personal training, gives his tips for getting your heart in shape for the court, whether you want to run, ride, swim, or use a machine in the gym. “Mixing it up is great, too,” Michaud says. Tone different muscles by doing a halfrunning, half-biking workout, for instance. For effective cardio, keep your heart rate elevated to your target heart-rate zone (70–80 percent of your maximum) for at least 30 minutes. To calculate your target heart rate and get recommendations on heart-rate monitors, see the boxes “What’s My Target Heart Rate?” and “Monitor Your Progress” here.
• When you start this workout, walk 20 minutes at a brisk pace every other day for a week.
• After about two weeks, run 10- to 11-minute miles, for 30–40 minutes, every other day. Strive to stay at 70–80 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes of the workout.
• Eventually run 7- to 9-minute miles for 30–40 minutes, 5 times a week.
• Start on a stationary bike, if possible, so you can control resistance. Do 20 minutes on low resistance, 3 times a week, every other day for 1–2 weeks.
• Now you can head outside. Work up to a 40- to 60-minute ride, 3 times a week, every other day. Mix in hills as you get more comfortable. Strive for 70–80 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes of the ride.
• Work up to a 40- to 60-minute ride, with hills, 5 times a week. Stay at 70–80 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes of the ride.
• Michaud says more advanced riders should try to stay off the seat as much as possible, to tone leg muscles and generally trim down.
ELLIPTICAL TRAINER OR STAIR-STEPPER
• Start at 20 minutes at a brisk pace, every other day for 1–2 weeks.
• Work up to 30–40 minutes, every other day. Strive to stay at 70–80 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes.
• Work up to 30–40 minutes, 6 times a week.
• If you’re pressed for time, try Michaud’s secret cardio weapon: the jump rope. You can tuck one in your suitcase if you’re traveling and don’t have a gym to work out in.
• Do 100 jumps per set, resting for at least 30 seconds between sets. It’s harder than it sounds.
• Do 5–6 sets every other day.
• Start swimming continuous laps for 10–20 minutes, 3 times a week, for 1–2 weeks.
• Work up to swimming laps for 30–40 minutes, 3–4 days a week.
• Eventually work up to 30–40 minutes, 5 times a week. To keep your focus and improve your speed, keep track of your lap count.
WHAT’S MY TARGET HEART RATE?
But whatever you choose, just get out there and be active. “It makes all the difference in the world if you’re fi t before you play,” says Todd Ellenbecker, D.P.T., chair of the USTA Sport Science Committee. “People play tennis to get in shape, but you have a lot more fun if you get in shape before you play tennis.”
Monitor Your Progress
A heart-rate monitor can be a great tool to help you measure and track your progress. New, affordable models can uplink with your computer and log nearly endless data about your workouts, such as average and maximum heart rates during exercise, recovery times, and calories burned. But if all you want to do is make sure you stay in your target heart-rate zone and track calories, opt for one of these simpler models.
Agility: Drilling Down
Tennis calls into action all aspects of fitness—speed, agility, flexibility, quick-burst sprinting, as well as stamina. By doing drills specific to the skills you need on the court, you can improve your game and quickness more effectively than if you just play matches. Then, when the heat is on, you’ll pull out these skills without even realizing it. You’ll be playing at a higher level and having more fun.
Here are some of the experts’ favorites drills. Most of these can be done in a park, in your backyard, or while you’re waiting for a court with a partner. Todd Ellenbecker, D.P.T., chair of the USTA Sport Science Committee, recommends doing these drills for 10–15 minutes, two or three times a week. Rest for 90 seconds between drills, he says, just like during changeovers between games.
Make a hexagon on the ground with duct tape, or lay a 10-foot jump rope on the grass in this shape. Each side should be 20–24 inches long. Stand at the center and jump with both feet to one corner of the hexagon, then back to the center. Going as fast as you can, proceed around to each corner of the figure, jumping back to center each time. Reverse direction and go back around. Keep your knees bent and your weight on the balls of your feet as you jump. Do 3–5 sets and rest at least 30 seconds between sets. For a more advanced version, place a cone between the center and each corner of the hexagon and jump over it each time.
Improves: Ankle stability, acceleration, lateral direction change
Notes: “Tennis players change direction 4.2 times per point,” Ellenbecker says. This drill readies a player for all that high-speed mobility.
Stand about 6–10 feet from your partner. Put a pile of 10 balls next to you. Throw the first ball to your partner, who should let it bounce once before catching it. Your partner should throw it back to you, but you throw another ball before catching the first one on the fly and setting it aside. Continue until you get through the 10 balls. Vary the speed and position of the ball to move your partner up, back, and side to side, as though he were playing. If you have the luxury of an empty court, you can practice this drill there—you should stand at the hash mark and your partner should stand on the same side near the service line. To modify the exercise in the next round, your partner shouldn’t allow the ball to bounce before catching it. Switch positions for each round of 10 balls for 3–5 rounds.
Improves: Hand-eye coordination, agility, speed, balance
Notes: This drill teaches tennis-specific skills but at a faster pace than in a regular match, says David Hodge, assistant men’s tennis coach at Stanford University.
If you can find a free court, use the area formed by the baseline, service line, and singles sidelines for this drill. If not, use cones to mark four corners of a 27-by-18-foot box to mimic that part of the court. Start in the center of the baseline, facing the net. Turn to your right and sprint along the baseline to the singles sideline. Decelerate and touch the corner with your foot. Sprint back to center and touch the hash mark with your foot. Sprint to the upper right corner, where the singles sideline meets the bottom of the service box. Touch it with your foot, then sprint back to the hash mark. Sprint to the upper left corner, touch, and sprint back to the starting position. Finally, sprint directly left to the corner, then back to center. Rest 30 seconds and repeat in the opposite direction. Repeat in both directions 3–5 times.
Notes: This drill is great for on court quickness as it mimics a player’s movement during a game, which, according to Ellenbecker, is never more than 20 feet in one direction.
By Sarah Unke
Cool Down: Before You Shower
After you’ve finished your workout, you shouldn’t just run out of the gym. You should ease out of your exercise with some cardio and stretching to relax your muscles, reduce muscle soreness, and help with flexibility. Start your cool-down with 5–10 minutes of light cardio, such as a light jog or elliptical workout at a low resistance. Following the cardio, do static stretching to increase flexibility, which can prevent injury, says Kathleen Stroia, P.T., A.T.C., vice president of sport sciences and medicine at the WTA. Stroia recommends you hold each of the following stretches for 30 seconds and repeat them three times on each side.
Lie on your back with your legs straight. Keeping your left leg straight, pull it up toward your chest and hold it where you feel a stretch at the back of your thigh. If you can’t reach your leg, loop a towel around your calf.
FIGURE 4 STRETCH
Lying on your back, place your left ankle on your right knee. Bend your right knee up and hug it toward the chest. You should feel a stretch in your left buttock and hip.
Stand with your left leg extended behind your right. Keeping your left heel on the ground, bend your left knee until you feel a stretch in your Achilles’ tendon.
Lie on your right side with your right arm in front of you so it’s perpendicular to your body. Bend your right elbow to 90 degrees so that your forearm is perpendicular to the floor and your fist is pointing up. Now, use your left hand to gently push your right forearm and hand toward the ground alongside your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder. If you start to feel a pinch, ease up on the stretch.