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Getting into Tennis Shape

Q. “With the spring weather upon us, I’m ready to get out on the courts and start playing tennis again. What are some good exercises to get back into tennis shape, before I actually hit the courts?”

From Coach Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

Well, you always need to be in shape to play tennis, more so in singles but also in doubles.

I like to run in a pool, both forward and backward and also side to side. Your upper body is key. Do some weights for all the different muscles. Also, for the core, or your stomach muscles, do lots of sit ups, crunches and use a weight ball for resistance. Tennis is a very tough, full-body sport, but take your time in losing weight and getting in shape. It took time to get out of shape, and nothing good happens overnight.

The spring weather outside is sometimes cold and very windy, so dress right, and don't get mad that your ball is being mis-hit or it’s not the perfect condition of indoor courts.

Stretching is also very important, both before playing and also at home or in a gym. Learn some yoga, and combine it with your weights and running. Also watch tennis on TV. Get The Tennis Channel. Watching and copying the pros and visualizing your strokes is very important.

Don't be mad if at first you don't get it. Tennis is very challenging, and to reach your potential, you have to train both on and off the court and in your mind.

From Jake M.:

Try to maintain a good base of cardiovascular fitness by exercising three (or more) times a week on a treadmill, stationary bike, stairmaster, etc. Lift weights a few times each week, while concentrating on your legs, shoulders, upper back and your core. And be sure to maintain a consistent stretching program to improve your flexibility.

There is no substitute for hitting the tennis ball, though, and that is definitely more fun than grinding away in the fitness center.

From Gail R., St. Louis, MO:

Be sure to stretch every day. Stretch prior to playing or exercising and also after you have completed your match or workout. Once you have developed a sound cardiovascular base, maintain it by taking a brisk distance run each week and jumping on the stationary bike for some interval training another day of the week.

As for weight lifting, concentrate on developing your core muscles, especially your abs, lower back and your hips, strong shoulders and upper back, and sturdy, well-balanced legs.

From Phil, Briarcliff Manor, NY:

The most important thing is to train the muscles that you use in tennis so that you don't get injured: squats for the legs, sit ups for the core, rowing for the back, shoulder presses, pronation and supination for the wrist and forearms and rotator cuff excercises. Don't go for heavy weights because you can injure yourself. Use the resistance for each muscle group that will allow you to do two to three sets of 10-20 reps. That way, you build strength and endurance of the muscle groups. And, believe it or not, low-resistance, high-rep training is aerobic. Have a great time.

From Kyle S., Washington Heights, NY:

Strength and conditioning is one area where most tennis players can afford to put in a little more work. Any player can benefit by participating in a properly designed strength training program.

Tennis is a full-body activity, so you need to train the muscles in the entire body. The core, which includes the abdominal muscles, is one of the more important areas to train since it links the upper and lower halves of the body.

From Bobby, Florida:

One of the worst things you can do when starting up an exercise program or coming back after a long time off is to do too much too soon. It is important to build into an exercise program and not just jump into things all out. It is very easy to put too much stress on the body when you suddenly change your training routine, especially when you are eager to do something you love – like playing tennis.

A good suggestion when re-starting a program is to first get an evaluation by a medical professional, clearing you to engage in a training program. Then you should focus on building endurance and a base level of cardiovascular fitness. While you may start off by performing a low-level activity, like walking for 15 minutes several times per week, set a goal for eventually engaging in some type of aerobic activity every day.

Increase the amount of time you spend doing this type of training about 5-10 percent each week. If you go for 30-minute walks three times a week, next week walk for 33 minutes each time, and 37 minutes the next week. Increase things gradually.

Weight training should be approached in the same way. Focus on building muscular endurance throughout the body but also take special care to target areas that can assist with injury prevention (e.g. upper back, rotator cuff, core, and legs). This means using low levels of resistance while performing 15-25 repetitions of each exercise.

You will also benefit by starting a regular stretching routine. Stretch every day if possible, focusing on the muscles of the legs, hips, chest and upper back.

Finally, once you do step back on the court, take the same progressive approach. Do not go out and play every day for an hour. Start by playing one or two times per week and build up the amount you are playing a little bit each week.

Taking this approach when re-starting your exercise will help you get your body ready to play tennis while reducing the risk of injury.

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