Conditioning workouts allow your body to adapt to the exercise’s stress or the specific movements required by a certain sport. In fact, professional trainers suggest that the success of an athlete primarily depends on how well he or she is conditioned.
Amateur and advanced tennis players can all benefit from conditioning workouts that specifically simulate the movements used in the court. While the program must always be customized based on your physical fitness level and goals, the aim remains the same: Improve your agility, flexibility, mental alertness (reaction time), coordination, strength, and endurance.
While it might be ideal to perform your customized workout programs under the supervision of a certified personal trainer, a good alternative is to at least spend a few sessions with a professional coach who will create a course that meets your goals and is in line with your physical fitness level and injury profile.
THE IMPORTANCE OF
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING FOR TENNIS
In a nutshell, conditioning workouts for tennis players aim to improve all the components of physical fitness that will allow you to play like a pro. Furthermore, studies have shown that with the right exercise program, you can avoid or at least significantly reduce risk of injury as it strengthens your ligaments and tendons and minimizes muscle imbalances.
Both beginners and advanced tennis players can benefit from strength training, which typically includes lifting weights, using your body for resistance (crunches, pull-ups, and push-ups), and utilizing resistance bands and weight machines at a gym. Ideally, it should be performed three times a week.
To reiterate, your strength and weight training program should take into account your skill level. Hence, the level of exercise should be lower for novice tennis players than advanced or professional players.
Aside from improving your strength, this exercise program also has auspicious effects on your posture, muscle tone, flexibility, and body composition.
Dynamic stretches will serve as your warm-up exercise or workout that is at a lower intensity. They are different from static stretches, which should not be performed before any sports as studies have shown that they can weaken your performance, specifically your speed, because holding the stretch for too long can tire out your muscles.
The goal of dynamic stretches is not just to improve your flexibility, but also to raise the temperature of your body and your muscles, increase your heart rate a bit, and prevent injuries. Good examples include lunge and twist, lateral lunge, alternating side lunges, hip dynamic flex, toe walk, heel walk, and straight leg march. Ideally, dynamic stretching is performed 5-10 minutes, which is enough to give you a “light sweat.”
Endurance is one of the most critical elements that separates advanced tennis players from novice ones. After all, this sport often involves long rallies and matches, which you can only sustain if you have a strong heart and enviable muscle endurance.
A good rule of thumb is to perform a 3-minute cardiovascular exercise three times a week, with its intensity depending on your physical fitness level.
However, take note that most professional trainers suggest that cardiovascular exercise should be avoided before any match.
Tennis requires explosive strokes to outplay your opponents. But without conditioning workouts, you are predisposing yourself to increase risk of injury, particularly strains and sprains. For this reason, rigorous leg workouts and weight training programs should be an integral part of your conditioning.
Short sprints and plyometric exercises (also known as jump training or plyos) cause the muscles to exert maximum force in short intervals of time, which results in increased speed-strength. Meanwhile, sprints are typically done on court.
MINIMIZES RISK OF INJURY
The quintessence of using conditioning workouts for serious tennis players is to create a good, stable foundation—i.e., strong ligaments and tendons and balanced muscle strength—which is the key to preventing or at least reducing the risk of injuries.
IMPROVES MENTAL ALERTNESS AND COORDINATION
Pro tennis players have one thing in common: Their enviable hand-eye coordination skills, combined with enviable speed, allow them to hit the ball and even predict where it will bounce and land.
With good posture, your body performs at its optimal level, which in turn minimizes the risk of injury. Strength and weight training exercises are particularly helpful in improving your posture and promoting healthy bones.
IMPROVES OVERALL FITNESS
It makes your entire body stronger and particularly renders you with more powerful muscle contractions that will allow you to transfer explosive energy to the rest of your muscles. Furthermore, a strong core allows you to perform a myriad of physical activities more efficiently.
Another bonus: Conditioning workouts help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep a stable weight.
PHYSICAL TENNIS CONDITIONING
Read on for the list of most common physical tennis conditioning workouts.
POWER CONDITIONING WORKOUTS
Explosive leg workouts such as around the court sprint and shuttle sprints are good ways to improve your power as they require short, but highly intensive energy. Ideally, do the sprints in a shorter distance first (e.g., from the baseline to the service line) and as you progress, do it at a longer distance (e.g., now reaching the net).
Ball retrieval is another power conditioning workout for serious tennis players. This involves standing on the baseline then sprinting toward the net and picking one ball at a time to put it on the baseline.
Weight training exercise such as a barbell squat, single-leg Romanian deadlift, and a crossover dumbbell step-up can also improve your strength and agility.
DYNAMIC STRETCHES AND WARM-UP
To reiterate, it is advised that you avoid deep and long stretches before any workout or match because they can affect your performance. However, dynamic movements that typically involve quick stretching before doing any intense activity can promote not just better performance but also prevent injury.
Recommended warm-up exercises involving the lower body include alternating side lunges, knee to chest walk (10 reps), straight leg march (10 reps), lateral lunge (10 reps), hamstring handwalk (10 reps), Spiderman crawl (10 reps), cheerleaders (10 reps), leg cradle, hip dynamic flex, and lunge and twist.
Of course, you should not forget about warming up your upper body with these following dynamic movements: plank walkouts, hugs (10 reps), no weight bent-over, and Tyler twist with flexbar."
Best aerobic exercises for tennis conditioning workouts include jogging, cycling, and swimming. Tennis footwork such as ladder drills can also help you build your endurance and improve your speed at the same time.
There are several ways to do the ladder drill; although they all require the same thing. A rope ladder is assembled on the ground or a simple drawing (each rectangle should have a dimension of 38 cm2) using any marking material like a chalk.
Ladder drills can be done through single leg run, double leg run, and double sidestep. Not only they can help you develop your footwork and stamina, but they can also tone up all the muscles in your body.
Aerobic exercises are also sometimes referred to as heart and lung conditioning workouts. Strengthening these two critical organs will allow your body to expel and use more energy thanks to a highly efficient transportation of oxygen and nutrients to your bloodstream and cells.
MENTAL TENNIS CONDITIONING
Quick hand exchange is a perfect example of mental tennis conditioning. It involves hitting a ball in the wall using your two hands alternately with a racket.
Other great examples include: drop the ball in which you need a partner who stands in front of you at a distance enough for you to hit the ball with your racket without any warning from him; and ball over shoulder wherein you stand in the service box while facing a partner standing on the baseline who will throw a ball through your shoulder that you must hit so it lands across the net.
There are more examples of mental tennis conditioning, although they all share the same goal of improving your hand-eye coordination and reaction time.
It is important to mix different training workouts to reach a fitness level that will help you excel in the court and minimize risk of injury. A good rule of thumb is to follow a course that builds your aerobic base, anaerobic base, power, muscular endurance, and mental alertness and coordination. And when you mix and change your conditioning workouts, make sure that it is in line with your specific goals and timing of the competitive season.
Meanwhile, when doing anaerobic conditioning workouts for tennis, it is important to rest about three times as long as your sprint, which simulates the recovery period in a tennis match.
A customized conditioning program is ideal because each player is different due to physical fitness level, injury profile, and individual goals and needs. Hence, it is ideally done under the supervision of an experienced personal trainer who is certified by the International Tennis Performance Association). If you can’t afford this on an ongoing basis, try a few sessions with an iTPA-certified coach.