Of all the racket sports tennis is the most demanding – it’s played in the largest court with the heaviest ball (56g) making the optimum blend of endurance, power and agility crucial for successful play.
Because of tennis’ unique scoring system, if you’re well-matched with your opponent, a game can literally last as long as a day’s work. Professional games in recent times have exceeded five hours, so if you’ve got skill but limited stamina you’re likely to concede defeat to the fitter, less skilled player.
Pro players like Andy Murray subscribe to a ‘complex’ training programme which alternates intense, plyometric work with challenging sets of resistance training. This keeps the heart rate elevated for the long term and ensures the body is asking for muscular strength while it’s physical endurance is being challenged, so if you want to improve your game we suggest you do the same.
Here are five key exercises the pros use that will improve your game:
1. Weighted pull-ups
Weaker players will need to start working with their own body weight or maybe even a machine with a platform that counterbalances body weight. But you should aim to advance to at least no assistance and at best donning a weighted belt within four weeks of starting this training program.
Hold a pull-up bar with your hands hip-distance apart and your palms facing you.
Slowly pull your body up with your arms until your chin is just above the bar then slowly lengthen your arms to the start position. Aim for three sets of ten reps.
This exercise will bring strength to your serves and power to your returns.
2. Medicine Ball Throws
A powerful throw of a medicine ball is great for building upper body and core strength, driving more strength to the racket and more stability to your play.
On the first week start relatively light and execute all throws by holding the ball firmly in each hand and pushing from the upper back and chest to throw.
If you’re exercising alone, throw to the floor and pick the ball up and also throw the ball against a wall and catch it with as much force as you can manage. If you have an exercise partner, throw and return the ball to one another face to face in a straight line and also at varying angles from side to side.
3. Lateral side lunge
This exercise is great at it powers up the legs generally while preparing them specifically for the many fast lateral movements during play.
Start standing with your feet hip-distance apart then take one leg wide to the side and bend deep at the knee of the leg you’ve moved but keep the leg of the static foot long. Aim to tap the floor with your hand on the outside of the mobile leg too, this will encourage a deeper knee bend. Then bring the foot in and repeat on the other side.
Technique really matters here so start slow and concentrate on keeping your spine long and the stride wide. As you build your confidence and control add resistance by holding dumbbells and gradually increase your speed.
4. Box Jumps
There are loads of plyometric moves to choose from but we’ve chosen box jumps as they’re a regular feature in Andy Murray’s regime.
Use a step or stable platform at a height of roughly half way up your calf. Stand facing the step and jump on to it landing both feet at the same time, then step off and repeat.
Aim to keep going for at least 45 seconds and record how many you can do as the weeks progress.
5. Olympic Clean and Press
The clean and press is a powerful and impressive move that strengthens your legs, torso and arms. You need a barbell and you should find a weight which challenges you every time and of which you can only just manage 10 reps without compromising your form.
It may take a while to establish what weight you need to work out, but once you’ve got it you’ll love the results.
Stand in front of the barbell with your feet hip-distance apart, bend your knees deep and hold the barbell with your hands shoulder-distance apart with your palms facing in and knuckles down. Extend your legs and come to standing with your arms extended and the bar rested against the top of your legs. Perform a squat and as you do so shave your body with the bar as in an upright row then roll at the shoulders to bring your elbows under your hands. Then lengthen your arms above your shoulders.
Reverse the process to return the barbell to the floor.
Putting it all together during tennis sessions
We recommend at least two 30-minute workouts per week adhering to the ‘complex’ training principles mentioned above.
To achieve this, build a circuit that alternates all the strength and power moves listed with the box jumps and other plyometric exercises of your choice. Complete all the reps for the strength moves and devote at least 45 seconds to each plyometric move. Allow 10-20 seconds rest between stations in the early weeks gradually reducing the rests to 10 seconds max.
If you manage two sessions per week then within a month your power, agility and stamina will be noticeably better. Spend an equal time on your skills too and your game overall will be better than ever.
And if you do give it a try let us know how you go!