Tone Up for Tennis


As I headed out for a semi-compulsory (for a mental break) run the other day, I passed by the tennis courts at Zilker Elementary on my way to the trail, and was struck by a very unusual thought. “I really would rather be playing tennis right now.” Huh?

To be clear, I am not very good at 
tennis, and it certainly would not be 
much of a physical challenge or “work-
out” as much as it would be just an
 annoyance and an exercise in my
“opponent” chasing balls. But,
 tennis is fun. Running, this particular day, seemed rather uninspired – it happens to the best of 
us. I could however, keep running on down to the gym and do a tennis – inspired workout. Awesome!

Tennis is so engaging because it consists of repeated short bursts of power, matched with meticulous (hopefully) eye-hand coordination. There are a number of ways to improve your tennis game with some handy cross-training at your favorite fitness facility.

Bands, cables, medicine balls, and stability balls are great tools for tennis-specific training. With the band or cable, a twisting motion with a pivot has great relevance to the tennis swing. To build power, keep the reps low and the weight heavy. When you want to work on endurance, increase the reps. When using the cables, stand facing slightly away from the cable stack, with the cable arm either at a low or high setting.

The medicine ball is unparalleled as a tool to develop rotational power. Medicine ball chops are a good basic exercise for rotational power. Standing with feet about hips-width, touch the ball down outside one foot, then bring it up overhead on the opposite side (chop). After a set of those on each side, try it on one foot. Exercises done standing on one foot will further develop strength around the ankle joint, which can help prevent injury. To further develop these muscles, do this same one-legged version, but stand on an unstable surface like a dyna-disc. Another good one-legged exercise is hopping side-side, then front and back, across a body bar or a line drawn on the floor.

The medicine ball can also be used to develop core power through a throwing motion. Lie down in a traditional sit-up position and have a friend stand by your feet and throw you the ball. Try to throw the ball back to her in one motion. No friend or partner? Lie on a stability ball and throw the ball overhead at the wall. Make sure to time it right and catch it on the way back (you can also try this without the stability ball).

Cross-training in the gym can also really help with speed, agility, and quick changes in direction. Sprinters decrease their time out of the blocks through strength training in the gym. For the same reason, strength-training in the gym can help with the braking and quick-direction changes that are crucial to a great tennis game. Examples of lower-body exercises that emphasize power are the power clean, kettlebell exercises, or squats done dynamically (with some oomph!). Side lunges are also going to be applicable to the tennis game. The agility ladder is another way to improve neuromuscular efficiency – how quickly your body can respond to your brain.

Upper-body exercises that emphasize strength can also help prevent injury in the long run. Exercises that work the forearm extensors help balance out the muscles that are overworked in tennis. A hammer curl is one way to help increase forearm extensor strength. Upper body exercises can also serve as an opportunity to work other core stability. Try a one-arm bicep curl to a shoulder press standing on one leg. Up the ante by adding an unstable surface like a bosu or a half-foam roller. A one-arm dumbbell chest press while lying on a stability ball is another way to build core strength and stability while increasing upper-body muscular strength.

Forethought can be in short supply some days. If you haven’t lined up your tennis game, you can hit the gym and get inspired for your next shot. Because of all the power and agility inherent in tennis, the gym is a great venue to increase your strength and perform exercises that will prevent injury.