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Improve Your Game

Player to Player: Exercises To Help on Court

March 5, 2012 08:09 AM
Have a question? Receive advice from your fellow tennis players!
Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For and Offering Advice on the Sport They Love
 
Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.
 
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Player to Player:
This week's question from Doug:
 
How do I handle fast, slicing, sidespin, wide, low serves?
 
Please share your thoughts by e-mailing Player@USTA.com, and include your name and hometown.
  
Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!
 
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READ OTHER PLAYERS' ADVICE
Last week's question from Maryann
(Please note: There is no need to send additional responses to this question.)
 
When I go to the gym, I just do random exercises. Are there any specific exercises I should be doing that will help prepare me better on the court?
 
Player Responses:
 
Coach Leonard, Concord, Calif.

When working out at the gym, building muscle mass is a popular goal. Tennis players don't require large, rippling biceps and abnormally huge calves. Other than Guillermo Vilas, you'll find the majority of the top players as well-toned. An extremely hard frame can restrict speed and agility.
 
Here are some of the exercises that I prefer as part of a tennis player's workout:
 
1) Serving for Dumbbells - Use 1 or 2-pound dumbbells for this exercise. Hold one dumbbell in your toss hand vertically. By vertically, hold the handle between your index and middle fingers. The end of the dumbbell will rest in the palm of your toss hand like a tennis ball. Hold the other dumbbell the conventional way in your racquet hand. Now do your service motion nice and easy. Be sure no one is in harm's way. This will help correct your service toss by focusing on the proper vertical lift. Inconsistency is commonly caused by what I call the "pendulum toss." This is when the toss arm drops straight down, swings out fully extended, and the wrist flips the ball back, causing a "rainbow arc." With weight on hand, you become more aware of this and realize how much simpler it is to lift, rather than swing.
 
2) Hit and Run - This is a treadmill workout. It's crucial that you do this at lower speeds for personal safety. A good walk or a light jog speed will do. With a brisk walk or jog, alternate forehand and backhand strokes. I use this exercise while walking or jogging outdoors, too. This helps with footwork, balance and technique. If maintaining balance is an issue, do your shoulder rotations and strokes on a recumbent bike.
 
3) Cable Pull - Again, lighter weights are preferred. Basically doing forehand and backhand groundstrokes. If the pulley height is adjustable, raise it to shoulder height for slicing, waist height for flat strokes and knee height for topspin. Do not alternate forehand and backhands with this workout. This way, you have the proper body position for all your reps. The pulldown can be used for serves and overheads. Remember to pronate your hand at the finish.
 
4) Push Volleys - An alternate way to do pushups is to break it down to three steps up and down. Have your hands shoulder-width apart. Doing pushups this way will help strengthen your volleys.
 
These are just a few suggestions for your next gym visit. As a coach, I like to emphasize reinforcing muscle memory over adding muscle mass. What makes tennis special as in life is that it's not about the mass production but the sweet memories.

Eric R., Northern California

What is good about the many options of the modern gym can also be confusing. So many choices. Look first at where your weakest areas are and put those first on your list.

For example, are you a singles player who loses three-set matches or wilts against pushers and retrievers? Then you have to add cardio work on an incline with interval training programs. Since tennis involves quick bursts and then easy walking, try to replicate that balance in your training. Google "interval training," and you will get a ton of examples dependent on your level and aspirations.

Is your backhand weak? Use a pulley at the gym, and imitate the motion of the stroke after you check with a pro so that you practice the correct movements. Don't just let the weight pull you around on the downward phase. Use that phase with a slow, determined resistance to the fall. It has been researched to be a key part of improvement in strength.

Is your serve weaker than your groundstrokes? A good serve is almost identical to "throwing high" with a relaxed whip action. It is a kinetic chain of fluid motion that harnesses the largest muscles in the legs and core, as well as the obvious shoulder and forearm ones. If you tie a paperback book knotted at the end of a pillow case, you can practice a circular motion in the mirror until you get tired. Start with something light weight before you put in "War and Peace."

At the gym you can have a pro instruct you how to systematically strengthen your core, legs, shoulders and forearm.

Are you losing strength in your arm and hand in a long match? Use a squishy, old tennis ball as a grip strengthener. You can use it in your car and arm chair when sedentary. Twist (pronate) your arm as you squeeze. Put your palm flat on a table, holding a weight of a few pounds or more. Make the top portion of your wrist move the weight up, then your forearm.
Count the reps that it takes to make your arm tired.

In all cases, consulting a good pro makes sense first. If your current form is lousy, then the gym won't matter much. Gradually increase reps rather than injuring yourself by attempting to be "Famous by Friday." Lower weights with higher reps are a must. Tennis is not a muscle-bound, power-lifting Sport. It is based on stamina and "The Motion of the Ocean." Your goal is to evolve a more fluid stroke.
 
Enjoy the journey.

Kenny S., Highland Park, Ill.

It is good to use cross training to improve your tennis. Balance is a very important thing in life and getting better at tennis. Maybe playing some basketball or soccer. In the weight room, doing lots of reps with smaller weights is good. Yoga or lots of stretching is very important. Also make sure your core is very strong. Doing lots of work to strengthen the stomach and back. And try to eat a high-protein diet and some carbs the night before a match. All things I am working on as I try and get to tourney   shape once again.

Evalin D., Evans, Ga.

Hi Maryann. You didn’t mention your age (I am 52) or level of play (I am low 4.0), but you can incorporate the exercises below into your routine, regardless of age or level.

If you are a beginner in the gym, please get a medical check-up before starting a work-out routine.
Divide this workout so that you are working with weights three times per week. The run/walk can be done almost every day. Give yourself one day to rest from all activity. You can do arms, abs or cardio on the same day as tennis practice. I usually don’t do anything the same day of league play. If you haven’t been doing squats, please don’t start out with the 10-pound weights. You won’t be able to walk the next day, regardless of age.
 
The fitness component of any game can mean the difference in winning or losing. I focus on cardio and strength training. My workouts can be done at home or the gym with hand weights and/or a medicine ball.
 
Run/walk on the treadmill or in your neighborhood – 30 minutes (increase your speed until you can do three miles).
 
Grab some hand weights – 3 pounds, 5 pounds, 8 pounds, 10 pounds. Start with 3 pounds or 5 pounds, and work up to 10 pounds. Do the following sets of 10 repetitions with weights:

3 sets of squats with upward press (you will be sore!)
3 sets of walking lunges
3 sets dead lifts
3 sets arm curls
3 sets biceps extensions
3 sets of dumbbell flys
3 sets of side-to-side ski jumps (plyometric)
3 sets one-legged squat and reach (proprioceptive)
 
Finally, do three sets of womanly push ups, but try to do a few manly push ups. Work up to 10 manly push ups if you can.
 
My favorite abdominal exercises are:

Bicycle kicks – 3 sets of 30
Lying Leg Lifts – 3 sets of 10
Russion Twists or Crazy Ivans - 3 seconds (add med ball for more strength)
Plank for 1 minute
 
Stretching, warming up and cooling down:

Calf stretch, quad stretch (bend leg and hold), side bend, knee to chest, hip flexor stretch.
Lie on your back, legs up – point and flex your feet (helps prevent plantar fasciitis)
Hold arms out – point and flex hands.
Important – do these before and after tennis game and workouts.
 
I believe this is a fairly advanced workout, so start slow. Do the exercises without weights, and get the proper form first.

P.S. – Your legs are like rockets. The stronger they are, the faster they take off.
 
 
 
*Please note that any advice given out in this forum should in no way be confused with actual medical advice. Before starting any new exercise regimen or altering your existing one, we strongly urge you to consult with your regular physician.
 
 
Click here for USTA.com's Player to Player Archive.
 

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