Q. “Are there any good, specific drills or gym work that the pros do to enhance their speed on the court? I want to get quicker when I play matches, but no matter how hard I train in the gym or run in circuits, I always seem to be slow in reacting on the court. The pros make it look so easy. Do you have any drills or ideas? Thank you."
From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:
Running in a pool – forward, backward and side to side – at full speed is good. Also, sprints – again, forward, backward and side to side. Light weights with many reps also make muscles work quicker and faster. Jumping rope is great. Also jumping up and down with your legs getting up to your chest, or kangaroo hoops, and jumping to the side with both feet together, over a line.
Getting better with anticipating the ball takes lots of on-court time. I always feel the reaction should come naturally, and you don't want to have to think about how to hit the strokes; that’s already built into your game and mind. Lots of on-court play, guessing at times, and watching the player’s movement and eyes can help with this. On a serve, the toss and stroke usually are different for different serves, so use this to get a leg up on the return.
From Mike P., Cedar Park, TX:
This is a great question. There are resources out there, but you have to be careful to look for tennis-specific training, rather than just a generic workout.
For starters, there is a wealth of information right on USTA.com. Go to the Sport Science section and pick the link for Strength and Conditioning. There are exercises for warm-up, running, movement and strength training, which would be a great start for a tennis workout.
Beyond that, here are two other resources I’m aware of for a more tennis-specific workout. Both have exercises that you may think are strange looking because the focus is on movement patterns specific to tennis rather than traditional exercises for specific muscles:
1) Core Performance Tennis DVD, available from www.coreperformance.com.
2) Etcheberry Experience DVDs, available from www.etcheberryexperience.com.
I’m sure there are others, but these are what I’ve seen and found useful.
Finally, remember that the goal of all of this is to boost tennis performance. For example, you won’t see much long-distance running in these programs because you don’t run long distances in one direction on a tennis court (a little long-distance running is useful to build aerobic capacity, though).
On the other hand, there is lots of focus on first-step quickness, lateral movement, balance, etc., and related topics like nutrition and hydration. I’ve focused on my tennis fitness for several years now, and over time I’ve found that it helps me move noticeably better on the court. Another benefit is that I’ve greatly reduced the number of tennis injuries I used to get.
Good luck with your efforts!
From Dusty, Ft. Wayne, IN:
I don't think your problem is necessarily speed. I think you are having more difficulty picking up the angle of the ball coming off your opponent’s racquet early enough to react.
Get a reflex training ball. You can pick these up at any sporting goods store. Bounce the ball off the floor into the wall. The odd shape of the ball causes the ball to come off the wall at different angles every time. Work on reacting to the ball coming off the wall and catching it. This will simulate the ball coming off the opponent’s racquet. This really helped me, and I hope it will help you too.
Also, work on getting yourself back towards the mid-baseline after each of your shots. This shortens the distance you have to travel on your next shot.
From Detlef H., College Station, TX:
I have the same problem. I am a big guy (6-foot, 6-inches) and am built like a linebacker. I have worked with trainers who have recommended excellent footwork drills. The easiest to set up and do is ladder drills. Lay down a rope/mesh ladder on the ground and create patterns of running up and down the ladder. I am sure you can find several on the web. Links I found include:
The key is to take fast small steps. It will help you explode to the ball, as well as setting yourself up for the easy shot because you will naturally take more stutter/adjustment steps as you prepare to hit the ball.
From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:
Sometimes the body can just go so fast, reaching its potential for height and talent. But never say die – you can use your will to get that next ball, fight for the drop shot or lob over your head.
Jumping rope, pool running, yoga and stretching will help. Be Jimmy Connors. Fight till the end. That’s what makes a person faster – the desire.
When it comes to anticipation, sometimes it’s a guessing game; sometimes it’s watching the eyes of the other player, like Mike Singletary of Chicago Bears' fame.
On the serve, watch the toss. Don't be afraid to catch the ball early, via Agassi. It cuts off the court and gives the player less time to think.
But the key is staying on your toes at the ready position. Get to the ball at the right level to hit it, and don’t think about your shot.