Tennis agility drills are too important to ignore. From increased movement and speed to better balance and footwork, greater agility and fitness can help you outlast opponents who are more powerful or better with a racket.
Agility training can also reduce injury risk by conditioning your body for the types of fast movements and direction changes you’ll be performing on the court.
But how can you incorporate tennis agility drills into an already full workout routine? And what agility exercises are best for tennis players?
There are plenty of exercises you can do quickly on the court or at home, often with little or no extra equipment. Not only will a combination of speed development and agility training benefit your performance during matches, but they can add some much needed variety to your exercise regimen, making each workout a more original, rewarding experience.
On-Court Agility Training
The following on-court agility drills are excellent additions to your warm-up routine. These metabolic exercises train your body while mimicking the movements of a real-life match. And because you can do them on the court before your next match or practice, you won’t have to make an extra trip to the gym.
Four Ball Pickup
Four Ball Pickup involves placing the balls at four different points down the sideline: at the net, the service line, and in between. Start at the baseline and sprint to the first ball. Grab the ball and sprint back to place it on the baseline. Now repeat to retrieve the next ball. This exercise allows players to practice acceleration, direction changes, and develop footwork. Like a shuttle run, it facilitates agility training by teaching you to move quickly on the court.
Want to focus even more on tennis footwork? Try shuffling side to side instead of sprinting.
Stray Pickup involves sprinting to pick up balls for another match, and is best completed with a training partner. Similar to four ball pickup, this exercise works to improve speed and footwork by helping you get off the line faster and stop on a dime to change directions. Treating the lines like hurdles helps train your explosiveness and ability to get off the ground, while picking up the ball (or multiple balls) develops greater hand-eye dexterity.
Ten Stroke Intervals
Ten Stroke Intervals are a powerful warm-up exercise, especially when performed at match speed. Have a training partner toss a ball, and return the ball as if you were competing in an actual match. Every time you swing, the partner tosses another ball so you’re constantly on the move. Ten stroke intervals improve hand-eye coordination and accuracy while mirroring the movements required during a match, giving you a more complete agility drill.
Off-Court Agility Training
Off-court training is most effective when it mirrors the type of movements you need to make on the court. You can do these exercises anywhere you have the ability to run.
Shuttle Sprints involve short runs from the baseline to the service line, while gradually increasing to longer sprints at longer distances (such as from the baseline to the net). Shuttle sprints—or shuttle runs—improve leg power, cardio, and agility, so you can move with speed and ease on the court. Take short rest breaks in between each shuttle sprint so you don’t overwork yourself too quickly.
Square Carioca enhances flexibility in the hips and improves footwork so you can change directions quickly (and with less injury risk). Using cones or natural landmarks, establish a square roughly half the size of a tennis court. Start at one corner in a two-point stance, bend the elbows, and place your arms in front of your chest with your head straight up. Now use Carioca steps to shuffle to the next corner. Alternate between sprints and Carioca steps with each corner.
Carioca is similar to a side shuffle, but you’re crossing over your feet. If you’re moving left-to-right, bring your left leg across the right in the front, then step back out with the right so your feet are shoulder width apart. Now repeat, but cross your left leg behind the right. Perform an equal number of sets in both directions to stay balanced and work both sides of your body.
Lateral Skaters to Sprint
This drill enhances lateral quickness and cutting abilities. Start by standing straight with your feet together. Use your legs to jump laterally side to side. Push off the ground with your left leg and land on your right foot. Wait about two seconds, then push off with your right leg and land with the left. Repeat several times, then finish with a fast sprint around the court.
Alternating between sprints and backpedals can improve reaction speed, quick direction changes, and tennis footwork. Mark a starting and finishing point roughly 30 yards apart. Have a training partner or coach signal to start, and sprint toward the finishing mark. Upon hearing the second whistle or signal, stop and begin backpedaling toward the starting line. With each subsequent whistle, change directions. Try to maintain the same speed throughout the entire drill.
The coach or workout partner should vary the time in between each signal, since the times you’ll need to change directions during a real match are just as varied.
Agility Training Improves Your Game
Tennis agility drills don’t just affect speed: they also help improve balance, coordination, explosiveness, and endurance. When you focus on agility training, you learn to move more effectively on the court. And because so many agility exercises mirror the types of movements required in a tennis match, they’re easy to incorporate into your training routine whether you’re on the court or at the gym.
Proper playing technique is important, but physical fitness. Even a great player can lose a match if they lack the agility and conditioning to keep up with their opponent.
Learn more about tennis agility drills and other training techniques with our ultimate guide to Tennis Fitness.