When I was learning to play tennis, cross-training was serious old-school, like the kind of old-school where you are dutifully doing things that more than anything else, build your pain threshold. We would run laps around the court, or work on the ever-popular one of picking up the balls as fast as possible. Remember suicides? This involved running to the first line on the court and back to the fault line, back to the net, back to the fault line. This went on until you either pretended you were about to hurl to get out of it, or maybe you hoped it really would help your game and got back in line to do it again. We rarely did push ups, sit-ups or any strength based leg exercises.
Let me introduce you to explosive, dynamic, fast training (EDF). You may have seen people do this in your gym, and it is especially popular with basketball and football players. This form of training is not only incredibly applicable to how your body moves in and coordinates play-execution in tennis, but it will also keep you fit and toned (and looking great).
EDF concentrates on the fast twitch muscle fibers. Those are the ones you use to sprint, the first muscle fibers that react in a fight-or-flight situation and the ones that just make your arms and legs look strong. This is the type we lose as we age. They must be stimulated with short powerful movements to maintain.
Let’s look at a few simple exercises that make you faster, react quicker, and ultimately help you win more sets. You’ll see the correlation of how these exercises simulate your court movements.
One of my favorite basic exercises is the Box Jump. These are plyometric (power x speed) type of exercises designed to produce fast, pow erful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system. Use a short bench, flat rock or any flat stable platform. Six to eight inches is a nice height to start with. You be the judge. With both feet shoulder-width apart squat down, and “explode” up to a smooth “dynamic” landing. Try to land as gentle as possible. This stimulates the coordination area of you brain, and trains the ligaments around the ankles. Reversely, jump down with both feet leaving the platform at the same time, also landing softly by bending your knees slightly when you hit the ground. Continue over and over as fast as possible but keeping the landings controlled, not harsh or shaky. Work your way to higher vertical jumps with time. These are great to do weekly and are rewarding in that you’ll see quick improvements in your height. Muscles targeted are the quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles. One very important muscle used for stabilization and explosiveness on the court is the soleus muscle, one of the calf muscles. This is the muscle that compartmentalizes the front of your shin bone, and is the one that when overworked leads to the “shin-splint” syndrome. Keep up box jumps, and on the court you’ll notice increased responsiveness and better balance and speed.
Another great basic exercise is the fast, explosive dynamic push-ups. When was the last time you tried to do push-ups as fast as possible? Try doing them dynamically so that your transitions from down to up and up to down are very smooth. Explode up and “float” down. You’ll be amazed at how this strengthens the tendons as well as chest, shoulder and triceps. So much of tennis injuries occur in these areas.
You’ll not only prevent injuries, but add speed and strength to your game.
Both of these lower and upper exercises when practiced regularly add a significant amount of stamina. Stamina, strength, and injury-prevention equal staying on the court for years to come – and lots more enjoyment of this great “power” sport!