As recently as the 1980’s, John McEnroe famously shunned working out in the gym. To keep himself fit, he would just play as many matches as possible including a lot of doubles. He could get away with this because his talent for the game was simply out of this world.
John McEnroe had unbelievable ball control, touch, court sense and anticipation. However, most of his contemporaries had begun to incorporate lifting weights into their training programs. The player who would immediately succeed McEnroe as world number one, Ivan Lendl, was a total gym rat.
On the women’s side, Martina Navratilova became a pioneer for female tennis players as she became one of the first women to emphasize strength training for tennis. Today, all top pros work out in the gym one way or another; those who don’t get left behind. At best, they become merely talented underachievers.
Importance of Tennis Strength Training
The importance of strength training for tennis cannot be emphasized enough. Obviously, a strong player is also one who is able to hit the ball harder. Aside from power, ball control can also be improved. This is because proper stroke mechanics can be more easily learned if the muscles and joints are well-conditioned.
Another crucial reason why strength training for tennis is now mandatory for competitive players is that it helps protect against injuries. Tennis is a sport that places a lot of repetitive stress on certain joints like the shoulders, elbows and wrists. The trunk and back are strenuously worked out with all the twisting and coiling involved in hitting serves and ground strokes.
Additionally, as the game has become more dominated by long baseline rallies involving a lot of corner to corner movement, the hips and legs have also become subject to more and more stress. Stronger muscles around the joints ensure greater stability and resilience against the high impact that is involved with hitting the ball as well as the constant start and stop motions on the court.
Working on Weight Training for Tennis
Strength training for tennis is usually equated to weight training, whether with free weights, machines or resistance bands. A further component of resistance training is plyometrics, which will be discussed later.
When lifting weights, there are two phases involved. The first is when you lift a dumbbell or pull an elastic band during which you load up the muscle and make it contract actively. The next phase is when you lower the weight. There is a rhythm that is recommended for performing most weight training exercises. First, you should exhale and take only one count while lifting the weight.
Strength Training for Tennis: Proper Way to Perform Each Exercise
Second, you must inhale and take two counts as you lower the weight. Take another count before lifting again. The rationale for this method is that it promotes the development of both power and control. The act of lifting the weight quickly develops muscular strength and power, while the act of lowering the weight more gradually promotes muscular control.
In terms of sets and repetitions, each exercise is usually done in 3 sets of 15 repetitions each. This is because you want to develop both strength and muscular endurance.
You have to make sure that near the end of a two hour long tennis match, you will still be using the proper form on your strokes to hit the ball as hard as you did when the match began. With regards to the actual weight that you use for each exercise, it is usually recommended that you lift only up to 60% of your maximum capacity.
Specifically designing a workout program for tennis
The reason for this is that you are not aiming to build muscle mass. Strength training for tennis is not body building. Instead, what you are aiming for is to condition the muscles and joints properly for the unique demands that the sport of tennis places upon the body. The frequency of performing strength training exercises should be limited to about 3 times per week to allow the muscles to recover.
Strength training for tennis requires the formulation of a program that promotes total body development while at the same time targeting the critical areas that are placed under repetitive stress. The first critical joint is the shoulder. For this part, the following exercises are recommended:
- Shoulder presses
- Lateral raises
- Forward raises
- Strength Training for Tennis: Shoulder Joint
Within the shoulder joint, a vital muscle group that is quite strenuously involved in all racket sports is the rotator cuff. There have been some professional careers that have ended or ruined by rotator cuff injuries. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that this muscle group be strengthened and kept in good condition with the following exercises:
- Horizontal external rotations
- External rotations with knee support
- External rotations while lying on one side
- Internal rotations
Strength Training for Tennis: Elbow
The second critical joint is the elbow. Tennis elbow is usually causes not only by poor stroking mechanics but also weak arm muscles. To strengthen the muscles involved and protect this joint, the following exercises are recommended:
- Bicep curls
- Tricep extensions
- Forearm pronation and supination
Strength Training for Tennis: Wrist
- Wrist curls
- Wrist extensions
- Wrist rotations
It is imperative that both sides of the body are worked out and not just the playing arm. A balanced physique is important for maintaining good posture. Tennis is a sport that taxes one side more than the other. This leads to uneven development.
This can lead to poor posture and misalignment of many joints including those of the spine. Apart from compromising balance, a multitude of neurological and cardiovascular problems may arise.
Strength Training for Tennis: Upper Body Exercises
The chest and upper back are also important in tennis. Commonly recommended exercises for the upper body are the following:
- Bench press
- Push ups
- Single arm dumbbell rows
- Using Free Weights and Resistance Bands
- Alternatively, machine presses and cable pulls can be performed. Many fitness trainers recommend that you mix up using free weights, machines and resistance bands or cords in order to keep your muscle from adapting too well to one method. You can also do your dumbbell exercises on a stability ball or an inclined bench instead of a regular flat bench. The stability ball has an added benefit of engaging the core muscles in the various exercises.Muscular development is better achieved by keeping things from getting too predictable. If you stick to one method only, the muscles will adapt and will have a diminishing degree of positive response from the same exercise as time goes by. Here are some additional upper body exercises that can be mixed into your workout routine:
- Dumbbell fly
- Peck deck machine fly
- Pull ups
- Lat pull downs
Strength Training for Tennis: Core Exercises
Core exercises are another vital part of resistance training for tennis. The abdominal, oblique and lower back muscles are extensively used for the three basic and most important shots in tennis – the serve, forehand and backhand. Core exercises include the following:
- Twisting crunches or side crunches
- Superman exercises
- Standing Russian twists
Strength Training for Tennis: Lower Body
Lower body strength is also important for tennis. Aside from helping improve movement and balance, it can increase the power of your shots because the kinetic chain involved in proper stroke production starts from the ground up.
Better weight transfer can be achieved. Also, injuries can be prevented. Today’s players commonly suffer injuries to their lower extremities because of all the running and frequent changes in direction during long baseline rallies. The following exercises are commonly recommended:
- Dead lift
- Bent over rows
- Machine leg presses
- Split squats
- Knee extensions
- Hamstring curl
- Calf raise
Strength Training for Tennis: Plyometric Exercises
Strength training for tennis is also about converting muscular strength into power and endurance. Plyometric exercises are used for this purpose. However, these are only performed when a certain base level of physical fitness has been established. The following are examples of these exercises:
For the lower body:
- Step jumps
- Side jumps
- Ankle jumps
- For the upper body and core:
- Medicine ball exercises
- Chest throws
- Overhead throws
- Side throws
- If you are a competitive tennis player, be sure to formulate and incorporate a strength training program to your daily regimen. It might sound like a lot of unpleasant hard work, and for many people it is. But the rewards are far too great. Remember, in a competitive world, only the strong survive.
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