Conditioning is an essential part of tennis. While the average point may only last 3-5 seconds, a match can go on for hours. Several years ago at Wimbledon, the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut went on for three days, lasting a total of eleven hours and five minutes.
Exercises designed to improve cardio can boost your endurance during those long-lasting games, so you can spend more time playing and less time catching your breath on the sidelines. If your footwork or endurance falters, then it won’t matter how talented you are with the racket.
With the right tennis conditioning—both on and off the court—you can increase endurance in every phase of your game.
Conditioning Before You Get On the Court
Playing tennis carries more injury risk than many athletes recognize. Long matches require explosive bursts, direction changes, and rotations of the arms, legs and body that can pull a muscle. Gripping the racket can cause carpal tunnel, while repetitive swinging motions can cause lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).
Instead of just using tennis as a way to get fit, it’s recommended that you get in shape before focusing on the finer points of your game. Whether you’re ready to get on the court or you’ve been playing tennis for years, it’s important to incorporate endurance training into your workout routine. In this way, you can reduce injury risk and get the most out of any tennis conditioning you do.
Start by doing about 30 minutes of cardio three times a week. This could include short sprints, jogging around the neighborhood, or participating in more organized races. If you can’t run a 5-10k, you might struggle to make it through a full tennis match. Once your endurance is up, shuttle runs and similar exercises help with speed and agility.
You should also incorporate stretching and strength-training exercises—such as a Flexbar/Twist Bar routine—into your exercise regimen to help prevent injury. While a twist bar workout isn’t designed to boot endurance, it can help prevent tennis elbow while strengthening muscles and increasing grip strength.
On Court Tennis Conditioning
With the right on-court training, you can improve conditioning at the same time you are working on your serve, return, or swing. Here are a few of our favorite on-court exercises to boot endurance.
Dynamic Warm-Ups are a type of flexibility training that help prepare the body for the physical demands of tennis. Effective warm-ups help the muscles work efficiently, prepare the heart and lungs for intense activity, and “awaken” the nervous system. Dynamic warm-ups differ from many traditional stretches by mirroring the demands of a tennis match. Shuttle runs, lunges, and jumping jacks are a few basic examples of dynamic warm-ups (you can find a more complete list on the USTA website).
Cross Court Rallies
Cross Court Rallies are a specific type of dynamic warm-up that mimic the movements of playing tennis and help prepare you for actual matches. To do this, players organize themselves into pairs, and compete against each other by hitting the ball into an isolated area. The receiving players hit a winning ball to score points.
Ten Stroke Intervals
Ten Stroke Intervals are a way to improve your form, accuracy, and hand-eye coordination while focusing specifically on upper body conditioning. Have a partner toss a ball and hit it as if you’re in an actual match. Repeat 10 times, switch places, and repeat.
Four Ball Pickup
Four Ball Pickup involves placing four tennis balls at different points down the sideline: at the net, the service line, and in between. Players run from the baseline to pick up the first ball, run back to put it down, and then run to get the next ball, as if it’s a shuttle run. Change from sprints to side-shuffles to develop your footwork: another key part of your performance on the court.
Quick Hand Exchange
The Quick Hand Exchange involves hitting the ball against a hard surface, such as a wall, using only one hand. Gradually move forward towards the wall to decrease the distance the ball travels—and how much time you have to react—to tune up your hand-eye coordination. Like 10 Stroke Intervals, the Quick Hand Exchange can improve upper body conditioning and help you maintain swing and volley strength hours into a match.
While stretching is typically done before conditioning exercises, it’s just as important to stretch after a hard workout. Post-exercise stretching helps prevent injuries, supports faster recovery, and enables your body to better “power up” during a game.
Off Court Tennis Conditioning
Off-court conditioning is often viewed as completely separate from on-court exercise. But with a few strategic exercises, you can work on specific aspects of your tennis game at the same time you are increasing endurance and strength.
Ladder Drills are intended to improve footwork on the court. Place a rope ladder on the ground—or draw one with chalk by creating rectangles approximately 15 inches wide. Now incorporate one or more of the following ladder drills:
Single leg run: run with the balls of your feet touching the ground, with only one foot contacting each rectangle. Start slow and increase speed to avoid getting tangled in the rope or touching the chalk.
Double leg run: similar to the single leg run, except both feet step down in each box. Go as fast as you can without losing control of your movements.
Double side step: instead of sprinting, shuffle sideways, placing both feet in each box.
Shuttle sprints involve short runs from the baseline to the service line, while gradually increasing to longer sprints (such as from the baseline to the tennis net). This exercise is designed to improve leg power, agility, and short bursts of speed. And as a cardio exercise, shuttle sprints are a great way to train endurance while mirroring the types of motions you will need to perform on the court.
Burpees are a high-energy exercise that utilize leg, chest, and shoulder strength. They’re one of the more intensive conditioning exercises, and you may feel a little sore if you’re still early in your conditioning training. But burpees are a great full-body workout that can benefit your strength, endurance and explosiveness on the court.
Lay down on the ground in a plank position, leap into a crouch, then explode into an upward jump. Land softly with a bend in your knees and drop back into a plank position. That’s one.
Diet & Sleep
It probably goes without saying, but a healthy diet and adequate amount of sleep are necessary for good health, which is a key part of succeeding in any sport. Regarding conditioning specifically, a balanced diet and good night’s sleep helps the body recover from vigorous training, providing energy during workouts, strength through rest, and lowering injury risk.
Train Your Body & Your Game
Conditioning doesn’t just refer to endurance; conditioning exercises also help improve speed, agility, strength, and mental conditioning. Together, all these things make for a successful tennis match. And by incorporating proper tennis conditioning into your workout regimen, you can reduce injury risk and give yourself a leg up on the competition.
Learn more about tennis conditioning and exercises you can add to your workouts with our guide to Tennis Fitness for Busy People.