Game, Set, Match


By Yael Grauer |

Tennis may look straightforward, but it’s a sport that’s both physically and mentally demanding. Whether you’re running across the court, twisting for a swing, or extending on your serve, you’re getting a full-body workout.

“Most people start playing tennis to get in shape,” says Ajay Pant, Life Time’s national tennis director. “But you actually have to get in shape to play tennis.”

To improve your game, Pant recommends supplementing your tennis regimen with time in the gym — but not for weight loss or larger muscles. Instead, focus on full-body gym workouts that build strength, explosiveness, flexibility, agility, conditioning, and speed.

The multidimensional sport requires your body to work in sync so you transfer kinetic energy from the ground up, starting with the legs and moving through the torso.

Justin Baker, a veteran tennis coach at Life Time and former U.S. Tennis Association competitor, agrees that leg and core strength — not arm strength — are the engines of a tennis player. In fact, many wrist, elbow, and shoulder complaints can be attributed to overly taxing the arms by not properly using the quads, glutes, and core.

Because tennis is aerobic and anaerobic and involves quick stop-and-go action, experts also recommend speed drills. The following exercises will help keep you at the top of your game.

Tennis Training and Techniques

Drill 1: Back Squats

“Tennis players have to work the main power groups of their lower body,” Baker says, and back squats are a good way to do it. The move also places more load on the glutes and hamstrings than other squat variations. Working the posterior chain is particularly helpful because tennis is such a front-loading sport.

  1. Maintain an upright torso throughout the movement and avoid falling forward by driving up from the bottom of the back squat.

Avoid maxing out with heavy weights; instead emphasize more reps with lower weights. (For more details on proper squatting form — and additional squat variations — visit “Break It Down: The Squat.”)

Drill 2: Rotational Med-Ball Wall Throws

This move works on the rotational action and powerful leg-and-hip drive that mimic a ground stroke. “Building strength throughout that twisting range of motion is crucial,” says Baker.

  1. Let the ball drop or catch it on the bounce, then repeat for three sets of 10 reps per side.

Drill 3: Interval Sprints

Tennis involves directional changes and quick pivot action, so speed work will help your performance on the court.

  1. If you don’t want to fuss with timing each set, sprint once for 20 seconds, noting your start and stop points. Then sprint forward and walk back to the start point, repeating for three to five sets.

Tennis can be a frustrating sport, but Ajay Pant, Life Time’s national tennis director, recommends embracing that challenge. Pay attention to mental blocks or patterns that hinder your performance. If you tend to get nervous and double-fault, for example, work on replicating those high-stress situations and your reactions.This type of training doesn’t focus on your stroke or movement mechanics. Rather, it homes in on what’s going on in your head. Imagining, replicating, and reflecting on difficult situations with a coach or a training partner can be just as useful as working through flaws in your technique.

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