Tennis is a demanding sport. It requires agility, strength, power, flexibility, and endurance to excel. And having an outstanding racket game isn’t enough to overcome superior training or to last a tough three-set match.
To maximize your performance, you need to train. But how can you reach the level of fitness you need to be competitive when you’re too busy to hit the gym every day? You hear about some athletes training for hours every day, but that’s unrealistic for the average person with a full-time job and a family. How can you compete with that?
Being busy doesn’t mean you can’t improve your tennis fitness. In this article, we will cover smart, efficient ways to train that can improve your performance without causing unnecessary strain on your body or your life. Our techniques are useful and beneficial to all players, from beginners to veteran athletes, regardless of physical strength or your exercise background.
Train Smarter to Maximize Fitness in Less Time
There is a myth that you have to train like it’s a full-time job to reach a pro level of fitness. After all, there are so many aspects of your physical fitness and game, and training each one takes time. So before you sign up for the next fitness program you see online, take the time to identify the parts of your game that need work.
- Understand how you play the game (to understand physical fitness needs and set goals)
- Identify different exercises and routines that deliver the results you want
- Consider your schedule and fitness level to avoid overtraining
Instead of trying to become a professional athlete overnight, focus on certain areas of your game—agility or endurance, for example—and change the routine as you go.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between on-court and off-court training. Both forms of training involve a focus on endurance and strength, and you don’t have to make it to the court every day to improve your tennis fitness. Off-court training, such as weight lifting or running, can be done at your house, the gym, or around the neighborhood, and you don’t need a training partner to get the most out of your routine.
Finally, make sure you understand your schedule. How much time can you realistically put into your tennis exercise routine? It’s important to set goals, but many people set unrealistic expectations for themselves and feel demotivated when they aren’t able to keep up. Start a little slower while you find the right routine, and increase the length and intensity of workouts as you get closer to a competition or tournament.
With the right approach, you can maximize fitness without spending every spare hour in the gym or on the court.
Tailor Fitness to the Way You Play
Many athletes train for multiple hours a day, but you don’t have time for that. Fortunately, you don’t need to train that way to boost tennis fitness and perform at your best. You just need to be strategic about the way you spend your gym and court time.
Get more out of each workout (and in less time) by tailoring your routine to the way you play.
When you work out metabolically, you’re altering length and intensity of workouts and intervals to mirror the physical demands in a match. You can achieve this by incorporating exercises that use the same muscles, types of movement, and require the same amount of stamina. For example, instead of going for a long jog you might do a set of shuttle runs. You’re still getting a cardio workout, but now you’re incorporating quick acceleration and sudden direction changes—just like you’ll be performing on the court.
Tennis is an anaerobic sport with aerobic recovery between points. And that lends itself to high intensity interval training (HIIT)—short aerobic sets that target specific fitness areas and muscle groups, with short breaks between each exercise. Not only does HIIT closely mirror the physical demands of a tennis match, but it allows you to achieve greater and more focused results in less time than many traditional routines.
Training mechanically is similar to metabolic training: the goal is to use muscle groups in the same way you would use them during a match. Unlike metabolic training, however, mechanical workouts won’t mirror the physical ups and downs of a match. If metabolic training represents a tennis match, mechanical training represents the fitness fundamentals.
With power endurance—like running for 30 minutes or lifting weights for an hour—you are repeatedly exerting energy over an extended period of time. This can improve overall fitness, endurance, strength, and reduce the risk of injury. They are easy to schedule, too, and can often be completed at home or the gym first thing in the morning, after work, or even during a lunch break.
If you use mechanical workouts as part of your tennis exercise regimen, make sure you devote the most time and energy to the parts of your body that are most engaged in the game. We’ll get into specific exercises you can use to train muscle groups and achieve fitness goals. But how important is off-court training when you’re strapped for time? And would it be better to spend that time on the court?
On-Court vs Off-Court Training
One of the first challenges many busy tennis players face is how to split their training time. Sticking to an exercise routine that utilizes both on-court and off-court training can deliver better results in less time per workout, allowing you to improve fitness and performance without taking time away from your job, family, and other responsibilities in your life.
The demands of on-court and off-court training, when taken as a whole, should be fairly consistent. Tennis fitness drills on-court typically start lower and ramp up as you get closer to competition. Conditioning for tennis off-court, however, typically starts at a higher intensity and decreases as you get closer to competition. By incorporating both on-court and off-court training measures, you can continue progressing toward your fitness goals with a steady, predictable workout routine.
If you aren’t playing competitively, you won’t have to worry about ramping up on-court time or tapering off time spent in the gym. Instead, focus on finding a balance that works for you. Determine how much time you spend on the court and how much time you can put into off-court training. Also consider weaknesses in your game (even professionals have them): it may be beneficial to reduce on-court time to allow for additional off-court training that will help boost endurance, agility, strength, or help recover from injuries like lateral epicondylitis, more commonly referred to as tennis elbow.
You don’t have to work out every day; in fact, rest days are an important part of training, so long as you continue to eat healthy. Rest days allow the body to heal, and can prevent overtraining and reduce the likelihood of injury.
By training just 3-5 days a week, you can boost strength and power, increase endurance, and improve other important aspects of your tennis game. Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, giving yourself plenty of rest days, and eating a healthy diet that incorporates anti-inflammatory foods like salmon and avocado.
Taking care of yourself happens both on and off the court, and finding a routine that works for you ensures that you are in top shape and can play at your best.
Tips to Increase Fitness On a Busy Schedule
Your tennis fitness is a priority. But so is work, taking care of the kids, visiting friends, keeping up with housework, running errands, and getting a full night’s sleep. With so many obligations and such a busy schedule, how can you stick to a tennis workout routine without pulling time away from other priorities?
Here are a few of our favorite tips to help you stick to a new fitness program and plan your training schedule.
Use a Schedule
If you aren’t blocking off time for training, it won’t feel like a priority, and you’re more likely to skip a workout when you’re busy or stressed. Schedule workouts the same way you would any other activity: set a certain time (preferably the same time each day that you work out) so you don’t allow your fitness to become a lower priority.
Next, use a workout routine/schedule so you know what you’ll be training that day. This way, you don’t waste time at the gym or on the court thinking about what you want to work on.
There are only so many hours in the day. Something has to give, right?
Instead of putting an hour into training and an hour into catching up on your favorite show or podcast, you can do both at the same time. Bring your iPhone to the gym (make sure you also bring headphones!) or set up a workout space at home in front of a TV or computer. The average adult in the U.S. spends five hours every day watching television. By multitasking in this way, you can fit in your workout without sacrificing entertainment.
Combining entertainment and exercise can also be a great motivator. If you only listen to a certain podcast or watch a favorite show while training, you’ll need to get back on the proverbial treadmill in order to find out what happens next.
For on-court training, you can save time by getting more out of your warm-up and cool-down. Start with a dynamic warm-up, like playing a few light rounds of tennis, that gives you extra practice while also stretching and strengthening muscles.
Embrace High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT workouts focus on quality, not quantity, which is perfect for when you’re too busy for a long workout or a trip to the gym.
High intensity interval training incorporates short stints of powerful exercise with short workout recovery periods, until you are too exhausted to continue. These workouts typically last as long as 30 minutes and as short as 5 minutes. The timing will vary depending on your current fitness level and endurance. Download a workout tracking app, like Jefit, or pick up a calendar and portable timer to keep track of the number of rounds, intensity, and overall progress.
Compared to other workouts, HIIT isn’t as effective for reducing obesity or building muscle mass (though it makes a great addition to your routine if those are your goals). It’s most effective as a metabolic training tool to improve overall fitness and conditioning, which will make it easier to maneuver around the court. In addition to improving on-court performance, HIIT has also been found to lower insulin resistance and reduce the overall risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
HIIT workouts can also be tailored to your unique training goals and needs. Full body workouts and circuit-training intervals deliver powerful results in a fraction of the time you’d put into running or weight lifting. You can incorporate a range of exercises into a small amount of time in order to focus on a particular goal, like agility, or to work toward many fitness goals in one routine.
Before you adopt a high intensity routine, however, it’s a good idea to have a physical or consult your doctor to make sure the extreme nature of this regimen is right for you.
Choose Exercises That Train Multiple Areas
Targeting specific areas of the body helps improve certain muscle groups or aspects of your game more efficiently. That doesn’t mean every exercise only works one muscle group, though. By choosing the right exercises, you can get multiple benefits in significantly less time.
Instead of doing a set of lunges and a set of overhead presses, you can do a reverse lunge with an overhead press. Instead of doing an arm workout and then stretching to alleviate pain from tennis elbow, consider using a Flexbar (or Twist Bar) routine to strengthen arm muscles, stretch tendons, and help prevent or treat tennis elbow simultaneously. Don’t wait until an injury occurs before incorporating preventative measures into regular workouts.
If you’re working on aerobic fitness and endurance, swap out your planned 3-mile run for shuttle sprints. Sprints get the heart rate up (which is good cardio) while working on agility and explosive bursts that closely mirror the types of movements you’ll be making on the court.
Split Up Workouts To Fit Your Schedule
Not everyone has large blocks of time to commit to training. By dividing up workouts, you can reach fitness goals in a way that fits your schedule. If you’re strapped for time, do 10 minutes of cardio in the morning and 10 minutes of stretching with a Twist Bar after a workout or as a cool-down after on-court training. Both activities are important components of a tennis fitness routine and can help reduce the likelihood of developing tennis elbow or another soft-tissue injury.
Splitting up workouts also allows for greater variety and can make each exercise more enjoyable. Additionally, the rest time between each shorter workout can also help muscles heal, which helps avoid overtraining and reduces the risk of injury.
Hold Meetings On The Court
No, this won’t work for everyone. But in the same way people will play a round of golf while talking shop, you can use your time on the court to catch up with a coworker or friend. And if you’ve been incorporating high intensity workouts on a regular basis, you’ll have plenty of lung capacity to keep the conversation going even while your friendly match picks up speed.
The Best Tennis Fitness Exercises You Can Do On a Limited Schedule
Many workout routines are built around a competition schedule, which can be a good starting place to avoid overtraining and help pick exercises. But you also need a routine that focuses on your specific goals as a tennis player and those areas of your game that need improvement. That means incorporating tennis strength training for more powerful serves and returns, tennis agility drills for fast direction changes, and flexibility training to keep your body loose and reduce the risk of injury.
How to Boost Flexibility
One option to boost flexibility is to implement a twist bar routine. The twist bar, or flex bar, is an ideal form of exercise to strengthen and rehabilitate muscles in the arm, hand and wrist. Not only does it help increase flexibility and range of motion, but many athletes report decreased pain and improved grip strength.
Clinical studies have shown that incorporating a twist bar routine can decrease elbow pain by up to 81 percent and strengthen tendons by up to 72 percent. The twist bar is ideal for people who have experienced elbow injuries caused by repetitive motions in the arm and elbow, including lateral epicondylitis, elbow tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or arthritis.
The patented “all in one” product includes a resistance exercise plan with three different levels of resistance so you can get the right workout for your strength level. You can use the twist bar not only to assist with the healing process from tennis elbow, but also to strengthen your hands, arms, and shoulders at the same time. Its ridged design makes gripping easy, and it’s small enough to fit in a gym bag, purse, or glove compartment. Physical therapists and neuromuscular specialists recommend flex bar exercises to help improve grip strength in athletes or anyone who regularly engages in physical activity involving the arms, such as housework or heavy labor for their work.
A dynamic stretch routine and warm-ups are another great way to increase flexibility when you’re short on time. Dynamic stretches are gaining popularity in sport science because the benefits can be directly applied on the tennis court or playing field.
The benefits of dynamic stretching include:
- helping muscles work more efficiently
- stretching muscles effectively for tennis
- preparing the heart and lungs for physically demanding activities
- mimicking the movement and coordination patterns that are commonly used in tennis
- alert the nervous system so the brain “talks” with muscles, allowing for easier movement
Whether you are just practicing or working toward competitions and tournaments, these routines are designed to ready the body for the demands that come with playing tennis.
According to research, non-mobile (not dynamic) stretches can actually reduce the effectiveness and power of your muscles, which can last for an hour or longer—and that isn’t good for game time. By incorporating dynamic stretching into your game, you’re actually exercising and warming up at the same time.
Chances are you already know a few dynamic warm-ups you can incorporate into your workout routine: jogging, arm circles, carioca, three-way jumping jacks, high knees, and lateral lunges to name just a few. Find more warm-up options recommended by the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
How to Increase Strength and Power
To increase strength and power, try jump roping. The benefits include an increase in leg strength and explosiveness, increased heart rate, and greater agility so it’s easier to move on the balls of your feet (as you do during tennis games).
Alternately, you can perform exercise ball wall squats to enhance core stability, strength and conditioning (all of which are key components of physical development and a foundation for higher performance). Place an exercise ball between yourself and a wall, and bend into a standard squat position. Now push your feet away from the wall slightly so you feel the stretch in your thighs, quadriceps, and gluteus maximus.
Squat jumps are a plyometric exercise you can use to build up core stability and strength, enhance explosiveness, and increase power (all without any additional materials, like a flex bar or exercise ball). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend into a squat, and jump straight up. As you land, lower your body back into the squat position. That counts as one rep. You’ll want to land softly and quietly, which requires more control of the upper body.
How to Improve Conditioning and Endurance
Cross-court rallies are a great way to improve fitness conditioning and endurance training while working on different aspects of your game. Basically, the ball is continuously played between training partners with changes in direction after every second or third stroke. Cross-court rallies typically last for 20 or 30 minutes, though if your endurance is particularly good, you can go up to a full hour. It’s an aerobic conditioning method you can do on the court, all while practicing your game technique and stroke power.
Ten stroke intervals is another common tennis warm-up that can improve conditioning and endurance. Serve 10 strokes on the run, followed by 30-45 seconds of active recovery time. Repeat over 20-30 minutes, or longer if you can, for an anaerobic conditioning routine that benefits technique, speed and stroke power.
How to Increase Speed and Agility
Four Ball Pickup involves four tennis balls, a racket, and just 5-10 minutes of warm-up time. Place four balls in a straight line on one end of the court. Sprint to the first ball, pick it up and return to where you started. Keep going until all the balls have been retrieved. Alternately, you can side-shuffle to focus more on footwork. This exercise can be done before on-court training so you can improve speed and agility without setting aside extra time for off-court training.
Ball drops, like four ball pickup, can be completed on the court so you don’t have to make a separate trip to the gym. One player stands in front of you and drops a tennis ball, and you must hit the ball before the second bounce. Keep going for at least 5 minutes and as long as 15 to 20 minutes. Ball drops help improve reaction speed, starting speed, agility, and hand-eye coordination.
There are dozens of other warm-ups, cool-downs, and exercises you can use to train your body and improve your game without investing hours every day. Each exercise was selected for effectiveness, and each one can be completed quickly (often right on the tennis court).
By incorporating a few of these recommended exercises into your practice regimen, you can quickly build up multiple aspects of your game and your fitness simultaneously.
Fitting In Your Fitness
Tennis fitness is important not only because it’s a valid form of exercise (which is good for your overall physical health), but because it can improve your form on the court. And with the tips in this article, you can elevate your game, improve performance training and reduce the risk of injury without taking time away from on-court training or other personal and professional obligations.
Learn more about tennis conditioning, strength training, agility drills, and active recovery.