Tennis is a superb sport. It requires excellent hand-eye coordination, good agility, and keen spatial awareness. In addition to the physical and mental challenge, a good singles match provides both anaerobic and aerobic conditioning. Although skill is essential for top-level tennis, technique development is easier if you are fit—which is also the critical factor for staying power during the second and third sets.
Fitness comes in many forms, and conditioning is specific to the training program. For example, joint flexibility is enhanced through stretching exercises, cardiovascular endurance is improved through aerobic activity, and muscular strength is increased through resistance training. Certainly, all of these fitness components may contribute to better tennis performance. If you were to focus on one area of physical conditioning for tennis, however, it should undoubtedly be strength exercise.
Basic Strength Exercises
Tennis play involves a lot of musculoskeletal activity, including all kinds of movements in the legs, midsection, upper body, and arms. You should therefore train all of the major muscle groups. This ensures overall strength and balanced muscle development to enhance performance power and reduce the risk of injuries. The machine exercises in Table 1 provide a solid base of conditioning from which to progress into more advanced training when you are ready.
Table 1. Recommended basic exercises for conditioning the major muscle groups.
Neck Flexors, Neck Extensors
The exercises are presented from the larger muscles of the legs to the smaller muscles of the neck, which is the recommended order of performance. One set of each exercise is sufficient, as long as you train with good form to the point of muscle fatigue. Because intensity is the key to strength development, use enough resistance to fatigue the target muscle groups within about 50-70 seconds. In general, this corresponds to the heaviest weight load that you can lift for eight to 12 controlled repetitions.
Each repetition should be completed in approximately six seconds, with two seconds for the lifting movement and four seconds for the lowering movement. The slower lowering phase emphasizes the stronger negative muscle contraction, and should make each exercise set more productive. It is also important to perform each repetition through a full range of movement. This enhances both joint integrity and flexibility.
As your muscles become stronger, it is essential to progressively increase the work effort. This is best accomplished by gradually increasing the exercise resistance. Once you complete 12 repetitions, the weight load is no longer heavy enough to produce maximum strength benefits. By increasing the resistance about five percent (typically 1 to 5 pounds), you can continue to stimulate strength development.