Do you want to have a faster serve or return the ball with more force? Wish you had a more explosive burst off the line to get to a tough ball? Strength training is a key part of tennis fitness, but many athletes overlook strength conditioning to focus on better form or greater endurance.
Strong players not only last longer on the court, they can hit the ball harder and demonstrate better ball control. Proper stroke mechanics are easier to learn and maintain when joints and muscles are conditioned well off the court.
Competitive players also know how important strength training is in protecting themselves from injuries. The nature of tennis puts repeated stress on the joints, particularly those in the shoulders, wrists, and elbows. And because tennis requires a lot of short, quick twisting movements and direction changes, strength training can also reduce injury risk to your back, hips, and legs.
Stronger muscles around the joints increase bodily stability and resilience. Tennis strength conditioning makes it easier to serve, swing, and make rapid start and stop motions without shocking the muscles or adding additional strain.
There are many ways to add power and explosiveness to your game, many of which you can do without lifting weights or buying extra equipment.
Start With Your Bodyweight
Bodyweight training can be just as effective as weight training when done properly. It helps train stability and balance as well as strength. And because you aren’t straining to lift more weight, you can focus on maintaining good form (which helps reduce injury risk).
Don’t worry about plateauing—you can increase the difficulty of many bodyweight exercises by adding weight or repetitions after you perfect the form.
Tips to Get the Most Out of Strength Training
There are many ways to approach strength training. However you train, keep the following tips in mind to get more out of each workout.
Remember to Breathe
For each repetition you complete, you’ll want to inhale for at least two whole counts. This is especially important when doing exercises that involve free weights. Breathing for two counts helps promote adequate power and control.
Train the Way You Play
Instead of focusing on individual muscle groups, select exercises that require the same types of movements you’ll need to make on the court.
Include split squats, step-ups, and lunges—most shots rely on dominance of one leg, and most of the match will see one leg in the air.
Incorporate strength training exercises that require explosive movement. Your ability to serve, volley, and get off the line faster to get to a tough ball all rely on explosive movements. But be safe—not all strength training exercises are designed for explosive movements. Stick with lighter weight and faster reps rather than trying to maximize weight for each exercise.
Vary Your Routine
Sticking to one form of strength training or a single muscle group can create bad habits, reduce on-court performance, and increase injury risk. Alternating your routine between lower weight, faster lifts, and heavier weight, controlled lifts helps keep your routine balanced and fresh.
Variety also makes it easier to control your development and avoid overworking a specific joint or muscle group, so you can increase strength without reducing accuracy or suffering an injury. If you train legs one day, focus on upper body the next so your body has time to heal.
While it’s a bit of an oversimplification, it can help to approach strength training in pairs. If you work out your chest, spend some time on your back. If you do bicep curls, incorporate tricep pulldowns.
If you spend too much time developing one muscle group and avoiding others, it can increase strain on the body and joints and could lead to long-term issues, strains, or tears.
In the same way you should alternate muscle groups, avoid focusing solely on acceleration. While more explosiveness can improve your serve and reaction time on the court, your body also needs to decelerate and change direction. Incorporate resistance training (like catching and slowing a medicine ball) into your strength conditioning regimen to practice deceleration.
If strength training is causing you to change your mechanics on the court, it’s likely time to switch gears and focus on agility, conditioning, or skill training. Overtraining can also lead to injury, so make sure to give your body time to rest. The number of recommended repetitions in each exercise is 3 sets of 15 repetitions to develop muscle and strength endurance. If you start to experience joint or muscle pain during a workout, give yourself a day of rest so you have time to heal.
Strength Training Exercises from Andy Murray
Not sure how to start a strength training regimen? Start with this ready-made routine used by professional tennis player Andy Murray.
Warm-up by going through all the lifts you plan on completing: do 10 reps of each exercise at 50% of the weight you plan on lifting during the workout.
Here are some exercises you can include into your routine:
- back squats
- box jumps
- walking lunge (with or without weights)
- alternating split leg squat jumps (cycle split jump)
- pullups (bodyweight or weighted)
- medicine ball throw-down
- dips (bodyweight or weighted)
- medicine ball chest pass
- lateral side lunge
- max distance lateral hop
- cable wood chop
- medicine ball throw
- power clean
- complex training
- 1m box jump
You don’t have to do each exercise every time you work out. Instead, focus on upper or lower body, and incorporate a plyometric exercise (like box jumps) for every lift.
When it’s time to finish the workout, do an Olympic lift, like the power clean, for 5 sets of 5 repetitions. This finishing exercise builds extension power, which is a fancy way of describing the transfer of power from feet to hips (something you’ll need to improve acceleration and serve).
Finally, take 10 minutes at the end of your workout for a cool-down. Do some stretching and put ice on any sore areas. For additional strength training tips and how to complete different exercises, read more about Murray’s workout.
Improve Your Game With Strength Training
Whether you’re goal is to increase explosiveness and power or to reduce injury risk, you’ll need the right approach to strength training. The benefits can be easily seen in your game—especially when compared to players who don’t do any kind of tennis strength conditioning.
Only the strong survive… and win more games.
Learn more with our complete guide to Tennis Fitness.