When played at a high level, tennis is an extremely physically demanding sport. Players hit the ball hard, repeatedly, and need to be able to move rapidly about the court in all directions, jumping and sliding as necessary.
Trying to play at this level for any length of time without an extensive physical training program would inevitably result in all kinds of injuries, so anyone with aspirations of playing at a high standard must work out thoroughly and frequently. So, what kind of workouts might a serious tennis player need to incorporate into their routine?
Given that tennis is a complex sports, tennis players do different types of workouts that include weightlifting, stamina workouts, agility workouts, and flexibility workouts. These workouts strengthen and improve different muscles, allowing the player to improve in different physical aspects of the game.
Periodization of training is important in tennis, and particularly with weight-training, due to the demands of playing matches. There will be three main phases: a pre-season phase for building strength; a phase for the end of pre-season and the beginning of the season when power is the focus, and finally an in-season phase where the player seeks to maintain strength and power.
During the pre-season phase, strength will be developed through exercises like rows, squats, pushdowns and deadlifts, carried out 2-3 times per week with moderately heavy weights.
In late pre-season and the early season, power, which is a combination of strength and speed, will be developed through a range of exercises involving rapid movement of weights, carried out twice weekly. Medicine balls are particularly useful during this phase.
During the season, players are likely to alternate between strength and power training for up to two sessions per week, with a rest week approximately every month.
Stamina is a key requirement in tennis, especially for slower court surfaces like clay. An endurance training block prior to the start of the season will be needed to make significant gains.
Running is highly recommended as a means of building tennis endurance, as it is fundamental to the game. Steady running for 30-60 minutes, around 4 times per week, is a great way to improve stamina. In a training block, this can be combined with a couple of intensive, 20-30 minute running sessions per week. This will improve the player’s stamina and capacity to push themselves during a match. A weekly 30-60 minute steady run should be included during the season to maintain these gains. It is also possible to enhance stamina through tennis drills or playing other sports.
Agility is crucial for winning points where twisting and turning are required, as well as for preventing injuries. There are many agility drills, some of which are designed to be carried out on court and others elsewhere.
Some of the more popular ones involve placing balls or cones on the court, and asking a player to pick them up as quickly as possible, returning to the starting point between each pick-up. These drills can be timed to enable players to challenge themselves. There are also useful drills which involve rapidly returning a series of balls fed to you by a partner. Off-court exercises might include shuttle-sprints, backpedalling, and a wide variety of other tennis-relevant step types. In all cases, the key is to aim for speed, accuracy and controlled movements.
Flexibility is important for reaching awkward low balls or stretching for wide ones. The two most commonly used types of exercise to enhance flexibility are static and dynamic stretches.
Static stretching increases muscle flexibility and range of motion, and is generally recommended to be performed twice daily, possibly after training and in the evening. The basic method is to stretch a muscle to the point where slight discomfort is felt, then hold for 20-30 seconds. As you hold, you should be able to gradually extend the stretch a little. Static stretching is regarded as good for body in general, but its benefits for the type of movements performed in tennis are unproven. In particular, it should not be performed in the 60 minutes prior to competing, as it has been found to impair speed and power for that period.
Dynamic stretching involves swinging arms and legs, or twisting the torso, until the limit of the range of motion is reached. It has benefits for dynamic flexibility, and is recommended as an important part of a pre-match warm-up. Dynamic stretching increases muscle temperature and improves blood flow. It is normally done in sets of 8 to 12 repetitions, although there is no need to go on if you have reached the maximum range of motion of a specific joint.
What Muscles Does Playing Tennis Work?
The answer to this is: ‘A surprising number!’. We can split the relevant muscles into three groups.
The muscles of a player’s lower body are in many ways the most important for tennis. The power for many shots emanates from the legs, and players are constantly running and jumping to get in position to hit the ball. Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are all used almost continually.
The core, or lower back and stomach muscles, are also subject to constant demands during a game of tennis. They help you to remain stable when hitting the ball, and are crucial for quick changes of direction. The abdominal muscles are also an important part of the service action.
The least surprising muscles involved in playing tennis are those of the upper body, specifically biceps, triceps, shoulders, upper back and chest. Although the power is developed by the lower body, the upper body controls the shape of the shot and the follow-through.
Tennis is a sport which constantly challenges your body. If you aim to play at a high level, you must take physical training seriously. All of the exercises referred to above are helpful for improving your play and preventing injury.