As an old saying goes, “with new levels, there’s new Devils”, and the avid tennis player will sooner or later experience this saying. A tennis player can practice hours upon hours of skill work and reach a certain level, but this “new devil” lurks around preventing the player’s attainment of the highest level.
What is this “new devil”? A lack of strength, or fitness, or BOTH. At the highest levels of tennis, strength and fitness become more and paramount. Even the great Roger Federer has revealed that he does a minimum of 100 hours of strength and conditioning during the off-season.
There is no doubt that strength training comes in many forms and fashions. There are balls, bands, boxes, bars, bells, plates, and numerous machines. Making sense of them all is much too broad for this article, but in my experience, I have used, tested and experimented with many forms of training. The list below contains those that I have found to be simple and easy to implement, especially for the beginner.
It is hard to reveal the 8 best strength exercises for a tennis player without an understanding that the best exercises are usually those that need a lot of technique work. Though I favor doing back squats, front squats and many variations of the Olympic lifts, I understand that those lifts can only benefit those that can properly learn them. Otherwise, they cause more harm than good without proper supervision and coaching. Therefore, I am leaving some of the most advanced exercises out. Also, many tennis players are not very experienced in the weight room so one list would not suffice and many good ones would be left out.
That said, the list below is only a START; it is for the beginner and requires little or no weight room experience. This post only deals with the beginner list first, my next post will reveal an intermediate list, and then another that will cover an advanced list.
Single Leg Press
In most fitness clubs, there are always a host of machines, the leg press is one of them and provides the beginner with a great leg workout without having to learn a bunch of technique. Leg strength is paramount in tennis. A player must increase the strength in their legs to move more efficiently for longer periods of time. Also, single limb work is very important for tennis because tennis player almost always have imbalances from their racket side to their non-racket side. The Single Leg Press addresses this issue head on. The exercise allows you to develop leg strength without favoring your racket side.
Simply, put one leg up on the platform, where you are most comfortable, then release the weight and begin. As you descend the weight down, be sure to not let your knee bend internally, instead keep your knee directly in line with ball of your foot. Do not allow your knee to go past your toes while descending. Finally, bring the weight down until your knee is at a 90-degree bend, and push the weight to an almost locked out position.
Continue into the next rep without any hesitation or stoppage of the rep. Start with a lightweight, pump out about 8-10 reps, adding weight each set until you do 4 complete sets. The last set should be tough and coming close to failure.
Another machine that improves the strength in the hips of a tennis player. Abductor muscles in the hip/glutes are responsible for increasing the balance, stability, and strength of side-to-side movement that is so important in the sport.
Technically, the athlete sits in the abduction machine and secures the legs against the resistance arms. From here, the athlete pushes the legs outward against the pads until the legs are wide and far apart as possible. Then ease the legs back together, repeat movement. Do not jerk the weight, or relax during the movement at all. Be in control and feel the hip abductor muscles working.
Do 3 sets of 15 reps, making the last set tough and near failure.
The adduction machine and movement is the direct opposite of the abductor one. During a point, the tennis player finds himself or herself going side to side and adductors stabilize the leg before strikes. Adductors are the groin muscles and are frequently under trained and fatigue, therefore the risk for injury is very high.
Technically, the athlete sits in the adduction machine and secures the legs against the resistance arms. From here, the athlete pushes the legs inward against the pads until the legs are together and then, under control, allow the legs to go as far apart as possible, repeat movement. Do not jerk the weight, or relax during the movement at all. Be in control and feel the hip adductor muscles (the groin) working.
Do 2 sets of 15 reps, making the last set tough and near failure.
The low back muscles and glutes are key stabilizers of the trunk or “core”. The hyperextension exercise works the back erector, glutes, and hamstring muscles. All are key for tennis players to rushing to a drop shot or to hit a shot at the net. These are the sprint and accelerator muscle for the tennis player.
Technique for the athlete is to secure the legs under the ankle pads, and the quads against the upper leg pads. Cross the arms behind the head or across the chest. The body is facing outward and toward the ground throughout the movement. Straighten the whole body, including the legs. From this point, lower the upper body toward the ground until the torso is at approximately a 45-degree angle. This will allow constant and consistent tension in all required muscle groups. From here, extend body until it is straight, squeezing the glutes and hamstring at the top of the rep. Each rep should be controlled, especially on the way down, then quicker going up.
Start with a lightweight, pump out about 10-12 reps, adding weight each set until you do 4 complete sets. The last set should be tough and coming close to failure.
1-DB Upright Row
Most of the upper body motions that tennis players perform are anterior focused, meaning, that skills like serving and forehand works primarily the “front” side of the body. Also, these skills are on one side of the body, so with 1-DB Upright Rows, we hope to balance strength levels out from one side of the shoulders and back to the other.
Technically, the athlete will grab one DB; let it hang at the center of the body at waist height. From there, they will raise the DB, driving the elbow up and outward until the DB is just under the armpit. Repeat the movement, under control, feeling the work on the upper back and side of the shoulder.
Do 3 sets of 15 reps, starting light and adding weight each set, making the last set as difficult as possible without losing technique.
DB High Incline Press
Due to volume of work that the anterior side of the upper body gets, we must prepare it, condition it, and strengthen it to better withstand the loads of practice and competition. Therefore, DB Incline Press is a great exercise to strength the upper chest and front side of the shoulders.
Simply increase the angle of a bench, grab two DB’s, lift the DB’s to the top of the shoulders and press them overhead, lower back to the top of the shoulders, then repeat the press. Do not lock out elbow at the top; keep tension on the shoulders throughout movement.
Do 3 sets of 12, start fairly light, and then progress up in weight each set making last set difficult and near failure.
This exercise is done on a machine, whether it is a cable or leverage machine, there is support for your upper body. This exercise is a great postural exercise working opposing muscle groups need for tennis. Most upper back, shoulders, and low back pain is due to lack of postural support. Seated Rows help to strengthen the upper back to give the player a much better foundation at which to execute forehands, backhands and serves with better stability.
Technically, the athlete sits in on the seat of the machine, firmly places their chest against the pad (adjust the pad to a comfortable height), and then grabs the handles. Now pull the handles toward you, as the weight gets closer, drive your chest up, flexing the upper back muscles. Slowly return the weight back to starting position, and then repeat the rep.
Do 4 sets of 8-10 reps. Add weight each set and try to do two difficult sets.
Of course, our list would need an abdominal exercise to round it out. Starting with a simple crunch is the best way to go, especially when it’s resisted. Many times we treat abdominal muscles differently than other muscle groups. We train other muscles with resistance, go heavier, and are progressive in our training plans, yet with abs, we want to stick with high rep, no weight, and our plans lack any type of progression where strength is concerned.
With our plan here, we want to load the movement, yet keep good technique. So, simply lie down with your back flat to the floor. Grab a 5 or 10 lb plate and extend your arms straight until the weight is straight above your face. Next lift your feet so your knees are at a 90-degree angle to your body. Keep your chin off your chest at all times. Finally, flex your abs, right at the belly button while driving the weight toward the ceiling. Make sure you are using your abdominal muscles only. The movement is a total of approximately 4 inches.
Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions.
Gym Routine Wrap Up
Tennis is an explosive sport, yet one that is very repetitive and lasts for hours at a time. Better strength levels are important to create a higher potential for explosiveness as well as building a better foundation for movement efficiency and overall conditioning.
If a player isn’t strong enough, his or her movement becomes less efficient and therefore taxes the body much more. Making the player much more tired!
As for our list… There are variations of all of these lifts, all of which are very effective. You can use various bands, selectorized machines, and barbells and execute similar movements. However, the key is to start somewhere and develop some consistency and this list is a great start.
The exercises are easy technically, very fundamental, and basic enough to increase strength enough to progress to the next level of strength training. After a month or so of using this list, then we can move on to an intermediate plan. Stay tuned. Happy Training.