Author: Jeff Greenwald

Tennis Workout and Training Programs

To get to the next level in tennis, a middle school player, a collegiate player, an adult league player, a senior recreational player, and a professional tennis player all need to work on their overall fitness. The use of powerful strokes, the repetitive nature of the game, the various court surfaces, individual game styles, and the variety of movement and stroke patterns and stances in tennis call for a proper tennis workout program.

Complete Conditioning for TennisPlayers such as Serena Williams, Andy Murray, and Madison Keys have the ability to hit the ball just as hard in the first game of a match as in the final game of the third or fifth set. These professional players have committed themselves to a tennis workout plan with strength training exercises that allow effective energy transfer for one stroke and to developing muscular (strength) endurance so that they can perform tennis strokes at a high level for an extended period of time.

We’re going to review tennis workouts and training programs featured in my book and the only USTA approved conditioning resource, Complete Conditioning for Tennis, that help improve performance and prevent injury. Keep in mind that strength training is only one aspect of an overall tennis conditioning program, the others being flexibility, power, agility, and speed. When players improve each of these components, their overall game improves by leaps and bounds.

Alright! Let’s dig into some common strength training terms, critical components of a strength training program, and examples of tennis workouts to improve muscular strength and endurance.

Designing a Tennis Workout and Strength Training Program

The first step in designing a tennis workout and strength training program for any athlete is to develop a needs analysis. This analysis should include the following and before commencing any new program, always consult with your physician:

  • Chronological and training age
  • General health status, fitness level and body type
  • Strengths and weaknesses identified by you and your coaches, trainers and physicians
  • Current and previous injuries
  • Tournament and competition goals

The concept of specificity is of vital importance. Every resistance exercise program must contain exercises that address the demands inherent in the sport or activity the athlete performs. However, there are some general guidelines for developing a tennis workout plan and strength training program.

Tennis Workout Sets

A set is a group of repetitions. Typically, 2 to 6 sets of an exercise are required to improve strength and muscular endurance. For tennis, usually 2 to 4 sets of an exercise are recommended. Performing multiple sets of an exercise provides greater benefits than performing a single set and the high volume of training and practice required for player development have led to the recommendation that tennis players use multiple sets of resistance training exercises. You can assume that the following exercises all require multiple sets.

Tennis Workout Repetitions

The number of repetitions performed per set not only determines the amount of work done but also regulates the amount of weight lifted and therefore the intensity of the exercise.

What is the optimal number of repetitions in a set for a tennis player? Most experts recommend sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, because they provide a strength training and muscular endurance stimulus, both of which are required for tennis. The higher number of repetitions also means the athlete will use a lighter weight.

Tennis Workout Intensity

Set the intensity of an exercise (determining how much weight to use) by using the repetition maximum (RM) system, which is sometimes referred to as a 1-repetition maximum (1RM) system. In this system athletes select an appropriate weight for a set of exercises that will allow them to perform the desired number of repetitions without breaking proper form and will cause them to feel significant fatigue within the muscle during the last 1 or 2 repetitions of the set.

Tennis Workout Rest Requirements

One factor closely tied to the specificity of a resistive exercise is rest. In tennis, the average point lasts less than 15 seconds and is followed by 20 to 25 seconds of rest. Therefore, many of the programs for a tennis player should emphasize 20- to 25-second rest periods between sets.

This work-to-rest cycle provides a stress to the muscles similar to the one used in actual tennis play and metabolically stresses the systems used to provide energy to the working muscles just like when you’re playing tennis.

Tennis Workout Periodization Training

The term periodization refers to the systematic process of structuring training and competition into phases to maximize an athlete’s chances of achieving peak performances. Periodization typically involves a training plan that includes specified periods devoted to building general fitness and muscular endurance, strength and power, high-intensity training, competition, and rest.

A player could structure a season in many ways in terms of the number of tournaments to play and the times at which he or she wants to peak during the year. Pay attention to the following guidelines:

  • In the preparation phase, training volume should be high and intensity should be low to moderate.
  • In the precompetition phase, the training shifts to lower volumes but higher intensity.
  • During the competition phase, the volume should be very low but intensity should be high. Matches count as high-intensity exercise. Also, players should not be afraid to train during a tournament. Many of the exercises presented in this book can be done on the road.
  • During the active rest phase, volume and intensity decrease.

Here are the steps to developing your own periodized training program:

  1. Start by identifying the most important tournaments on the calendar.
  2. Identify a period (or several periods) of 6 to 8 weeks that you are willing to devote to building a strength and conditioning base.
  3. Identify a period (or several periods) that you will take off from tennis for an active rest phase.
  4. Develop a chart or table, and select an emphasis for each week of the year. For example, during the strength-building phase, the emphasis may be on building tennis-specific endurance. However, 2 weeks before the main competition, the emphasis may be on maximizing power or improving on-court movement.
  5. Become even more detailed, and outline exercises, sets, and repetitions for each day. You do not have to lay out every day of the year on January 1, but some foresight should go into your planning, and you should know what you are going to do several weeks or months down the line.

Strength Training Tennis Workouts

Below are tennis resistive exercises that use multiple forms of resistance that fit into nearly any player’s training situation regardless of the availability of weight machines or sophisticated machinery and equipment. Though all these exercises are fully explained in the book, only the ones that are not widely covered or are complex are fully detailed below.

Lower-Body Tennis Exercises

Research conducted on elite tennis players shows that lower-body strength is the same on both the left and right sides. Therefore, lower-body training for tennis players should focus on both legs to ensure balanced strength unless one leg has been injured or is underdeveloped structurally.

  • Leg Press
  • Front Squat
  • Partial Squat
  • Lunge
  • Tennis-Specific Lunge
  • Calf Raise
  • Multihip Machine
  • Monster Walk
  • Elastic Band Kick
  • Hamstring Curl
  • Romanian Deadlift

Partial Squat

Improve the strength of the quadriceps and hips.

  1. Tennis SquatBegin by standing with the feet shoulder-width apart, looking straight ahead. You can hold a dumbbell in each hand or hold a medicine ball in both hands behind your head and neck to provide resistance. Or you can loop a piece of elastic tubing or an athletic band under both feet, then wrap it in each hand or bring it up over the back of the shoulders to provide resistance as you progress through the partial squat.
  2. Bend the knees and flex the hips to descend slowly, keeping an upright posture. Avoid bending forward at the waist. As your knees bend, make sure they do not buckle inward and that each knee is aligned over the second toe of each foot.
  3. Bend to 60 to 90 degrees of knee flexion in a controlled fashion, then pause at the low position for 1 to 2 seconds before returning to the start position.
  4. Perform multiple sets of 8 to 15 repetitions.

If you have difficulty with your posture in this exercise, stand with your back against a wall and an exercise ball placed in the small of your back. Perform the partial squat exercise leaning against the ball as you descend and ascend.

Tennis-Specific Lunge

Improve lower-body strength.

  1. Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. Start by performing the lunge using only your body weight. For greater resistance, grasp a dumbbell in each hand or hold a medicine ball behind your head and neck with both hands.
  2. Keeping an upright posture, perform these tennis-specific lunging movements:
  3. Lunge forward (Lunge 1), and return to your starting position.
  4. To perform a 45-degree forward lunge, position your right foot forward and on a 45-degree angle (Lunge 2), then return to your starting position.
  5. To perform a 45-degree backward lunge, position your right foot backward and on a 45-degree angle (Lunge 3), then return to your starting position.
  6. To closely mimic on-court movement patterns, perform a crossover step for more tennis specificity (Lunge 4).
  7. Performing each of the four movements on both the right and left leg is considered one repetition.
  8. Complete multiple sets of 4 to 6 repetitions (4-6 on left and right legs), alternating right- and left-leg sequences.

Monster Walk

Strengthen the hips and core.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly closer than shoulder-width apart in an athletic stance. Loop an elastic band around your ankles. (Note: The band should not be so heavy that it limits your ability to move and take steps. A light band will go a long way in providing resistance as you exercise, and you can always progress to a heavier band if you feel the band is too easy.)
  2. Take a lateral step with one foot while keeping tension on the band. Do not stare at the ground; keep your head up, and maintain an upright posture.
  3. Bring the other leg toward the one you initially stepped with, planting the foot while maintaining tension in the band. Your goal is to maintain a shoulder-width hip position throughout the steps.
  4. Repeat for 10 to 15 steps in one direction and then change directions and perform 10-15 repetitions on the opposite direction. Perform this movement slow and controlled.”

Elastic Band Kick

Band Kick 1Band Kick 2Band Kick 3

Strengthen the hips and core.

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, your weight on one leg, and a band looped around both ankles, similar to the starting position of the monster walk.
  2. Keeping an upright stance and slight bend in the knee of the supporting leg, quickly move the other leg to the side lifting approximately 12 inches (30 cm) high and back to the starting position.
  3. Keeping light tension in the band, continue kicking with the same foot for 30 seconds.
  4. Rest for 20 seconds, then repeat the exercise, making rapid forward kicking motions lifting approximately 12 inches (30 cm) high.
  5. After another rest period, make rapid kicking motions in a backward direction approximately 12 inches (30 cm) high for another 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat this series to fatigue on the same leg; then switch to the other leg. You will notice that both the standing leg and working leg work hard and that this exercise challenges your balance. It requires great skill to successfully execute the kick in all three directions while maintaining proper balance.

Trunk Tennis Workouts

We have an entire chapter focusing on core stability training, for a complete discussion of the specific demands that tennis places on the core and for specific exercises to train this part of the body which should also be part of a comprehensive core strength program.

  • Rotational Chop With Elastic Tubing
  • Trunk Rotation

Rotational Chop With Elastic Tubing

Improve strength and stability of the trunk through rotation.

  • Attach a piece of resistance tubing to a fence or pole at least 6 feet (1.8 m) high. Stand tall with a slight bend in your knees with your left side next to the resistance. Grasp the handle of the tubing with both hands together.
  • Using a controlled, rhythmic movement lasting 1 to 2 seconds, with straight arms pull the tubing diagonally across the body high to low (left shoulder to right hip) while bending and rotating at the hips and torso throughout the movement.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.
  • Perform 6 to 15 repetitions, then switch sides. Perform this for multiple sets.

And here are the additional exercises that can be incorporated into your routine:

  • Drawing In
  • Abdominal Curl on an Exercise Ball
  • Dead Bug
  • Seated Ball Rotation
  • Russian Twist
  • Lunge With Rotation
  • Prone Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Superman
  • Arm and Leg Extension (Kneeling Superman or Quadruped)
  • Cobra
  • Knees to Chest
  • Knees to Chest With Rotation
  • Diagonal Leg Tuck

Upper-Body Tennis Exercises

The muscles most developed through tennis play itself include the internal rotators of the shoulder, biceps and triceps, and forearm muscles. The following exercises are useful for training the nondominant arm and should be performed (if time allows) to provide greater muscle balance between the left and right arms. However, it is more important to train the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers, especially on the dominant arm, with the exercises described in the next sections.

  • Lat Pull-Down (Front)
  • Seated Row
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Core Chest Press
  • Biceps Curl
  • Lying Triceps Extension
  • Standing Overhead Triceps Extension

Shoulder Tennis Workout Program

Here are some core exercises that should be part of a comprehensive upper-body strength program.

  • Shrug
  • Prone Fly
  • Shoulder Punch

Prone Fly

Strengthen the posterior deltoid, rhomboids, and trapezius.

  1. Lie prone (facedown) on a narrow bench with your feet off the ground.
  2. With dumbbells in hand, extend your arms from your sides at right angles (90 degrees) with elbows also bent 90 degrees.
  3. While maintaining a right angle at the shoulders and at the elbow, raise your arms until they are nearly parallel to the ground and hold at the top of the movement for 1-2 seconds.
  4. Perform 10-15 repetitions for multiple sets.

Shoulder Punch

Strengthen the serratus anterior, an important scapular stabilizer.

  1. Lie on your back, and hold a small medicine ball or dumbbell.
  2. With your arms straight, hold the medicine ball away from your chest. Push the ball toward the ceiling. Even though your arms are straight, you should be able to push the medicine ball up several inches. This extra motion comes from activation of the serratus anterior (a scapular stabilizer), and the resulting scapular motion it produces.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Perform 10-15 repetitions for multiple sets.

Again, we devote an entire chapter in the book detailing a rotator cuff and overall shoulder program to develop solid shoulder stability with these additional exercises:

  • Sidelying External Rotation
  • Shoulder Extension
  • Prone Horizontal Abduction
  • Prone 90/90 External Rotation
  • Standing External Rotation
  • Standing External Rotation at 90 Degrees of Abduction
  • 90/90 Prone Plyometric Ball Drop
  • 90/90 Plyometric Reverse Toss

Forearm and Wrist Tennis Workout Program

  • Wrist Flexion and Extension Curls
  • Radial and Ulnar Deviation
  • Pronation and Supination

Radial and Ulnar Deviation

Strengthen the muscles that stabilize the wrist during tennis.


  1. Stand with your arms at your sides, and with one hand grasp a dumbbell on only one end (similar to a hammer). The weighted end should be in front of the thumb.
  2. With the wrist in a neutral position and the palm toward the thigh, slowly cock the wrist to raise and lower the weighted end through a comfortable range of motion (figure 8.15a). All the movement should occur at the wrist with no elbow or shoulder joint movement; the arc of movement will be small.
  3. Perform for 10-15 repetitions and switch hands and perform the same movement on the opposing hand. Perform this movement for multiple sets.


  1. Stand with your arms at your sides and with one hand grasp a dumbbell on only one end (similar to a hammer). The weighted end should be behind your little finger.
  2. With the wrist in a neutral position and palm facing your thigh, slowly cock the wrist to raise and lower the weighted end through a comfortable range of motion (figure 8.15b). All the movement should occur at the wrist with no elbow or shoulder joint movement; the arc of movement will be small.
  3. Perform for 10-15 repetitions and switch hands and perform the same movement on the opposing hand. Perform this movement for multiple sets.

Pronation and Supination

Strengthen the forearm pronators and supinators.

Forearm Pronation

  1. Sit in a chair with one elbow flexed and the forearm resting on a table or your knee. Let the wrist and hand hang over the edge.
  2. Use a dumbbell with a weight at only one end (similar to a hammer). The weight is on the thumb side to start. Begin the exercise with the palm upward so that the handle is horizontal (figure 8.16a). Slowly raise the weighted end by rotating your forearm and wrist until the handle is vertical.
  3. Pause for 1 second, then return to the starting position.
  4. Perform for 10-15 repetitions and switch hands and perform the same movement on the opposing hand. Perform this movement for multiple sets.

Forearm Supination

  1. Sit in a chair with one elbow flexed and the forearm resting on a table or your knee. Let the wrist and hand hang over the edge.
  2. Use a dumbbell with a weight at only one end (similar to a hammer). The weight should be on the thumb side to start. Begin the exercise with the palm down (figure 8.16b). Slowly raise the weighted end by rotating your forearm and wrist until the handle is vertical.
  3. Pause for 1 second, then return to the starting position.
  4. Perform for 10-15 repetitions and switch hands and perform the same movement on the opposing hand. Perform this movement for multiple sets.

Comprehensive Tennis Workout Plan

The resistive exercises and concepts discussed in this article are key to developing a successful tennis-specific strength and conditioning program. Adhering to the guidelines and recommendations in this article and integrating them with dynamic warm-up and flexibility training, endurance training, tennis movement specific power exercises and a tennis nutrition and hydration regimen will enable you to perform safe and effective exercises to enhance performance and prevent injury.

August 21, 2017

The Novak Djokovic Training Routine and Fitness Regimen

Novak Djokovic Training Routine and Workout

In Novak Djokovic’s book, Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence he conducts an in depth review of his diet (which I cover here) and provides some insights into the Djokovic training routines he uses to supercharge is mental and physical performance.

Novak Djokovic Training Routine and Workout

Djokovic is undisputably the number 1 tennis player in the world and on the path to eclipsing Roger Federer to becoming the greatest of all time. He is also the fittest in tennis (sorry Nadal) and many have stated he is the fittest athlete in the world. So how did a guy who in 2010 was literally collapsing on the court to what many attributed to poor conditioning achieve this level of fitness?

The Beginning of the Novak Djokovic Training Program and the Gluten-Free Diet

In Serve to Win, Djokovic recounts many stories about how his body just utterly failed him on the court mid match. He knew his body was “broken”, but he and his trainers missed the root cause and instead attributed it to asthma, allergies or just simply being out of shape.

The truth was that he has gluten and dairy intolerances and that his diet was causing the issues on the court, which were quickly resolved by adopting a new gluten free diet plan developed by his nutritionist Dr. Igor Cetojevic. For my full in-depth review of his diet including foods not to eat (gluten, dairy, processed foods), food to eat (clean meats, vegetables, carbohydrates, sports drinks with recipes), check out: The Novak Djokovic Diet – Gluten Free Tennis Player Nutrition.serve-to-win-cover

Though the misdiagnosis undoubtedly cost Djokovic many championships, including the loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the 2010 Australian Open which he recounts as the rock bottom of his career, it caused him to approach his fitness with a level of intensity that enabled him to become one of the fittest athletes in the world once his dietary issues were properly addressed.

He adopted a 14 hour per day training schedule, “practiced every morning and every afternoon, lifted weights, biked or ran for hours at a stretch every day”. At one point, he even moved his training camp to Abu Dhabi where temperatures regularly exceed 38° C/100° F with high humidity.

Just like his dietary requirements described in Serve to Win, Novak Djokovic’s training routine isn’t something that is going to make sense for you unless you are playing against him, but he offers some insights into what he does that can make a big difference in your life and your performance on the court. Djokovic’s training routine and diet transformed his game so quickly that in 2011 he achieved his lifelong dreams of winning Wimbledon and becoming the world number 1.

We’ll cover Djokovic’s recommendations on stretching, foam rolling and yoga, how he accelerates his fitness with the use of the “egg pod” and my recommendations for a Minimum Effective Dose workout routine that can be completed in 20 minutes or less.

You were BORN TO MOVE, and even a little bit of exercise will make you happy – I guarantee it. Let’s get you moving!!

The Novak Djokovic Training Routine – Stretching and Achieving Real Flexibility

Every time Djokovic steps out on the court, he does a complete warm-up and stretching routine, even for something like a charity exhibition match. First, he starts with some light running or stationary biking until his body is warm and then moves into a dynamic stretching routine.

“Dynamic” stretching is different from “static” stretching where you stand still and hold a stretch for 30 seconds because it is movement based to replicate real world actions. After starting with 5 minutes of light jogging or stationary biking, Djokovic recommends you do 10-20 reps of the following exercises without resting in between:novak-djokovic-training-warm-up

  • Jumping jacks
  • Walking high knees
  • Walking high kicks
  • Squat thrusts
  • Lunge with side bend
  • Reverse lunge with backward reach
  • Low side-to-side lunge
  • Inverted hamstring
  • Inchworm

What the heck are those??? Djokovic describes each stretch in detail in Serve to Win, but it is always tough to explain body movements. There is an Optimum Tennis post on a dynamic warm up routine that includes video demos for many of these stretches and the foam rolling exercises below or you can just enter the terms into YouTube for these and the yoga poses.

The Novak Djokovic Training Program – Foam Rolling

One of the perks of being number 1 in the world is that you have a team of people following you wherever you go to make sure your body is in optimal shape. One of these people for Djokovic is a masseuse that he utilizes on a daily basis to assist with muscle recovery.

This is one of those things that just isn’t feasible for the rest of us, but utilizing a foam roller over different parts of your body will help loosen the tough connective tissue around your muscles and decrease stiffness to improve overall mobility.

Here is what he recommends doing for 30 seconds each (while pausing for an additional 5-10 seconds on any tender areas:novak-djokovic-training-stretch

  • Hamstring roll
  • Glutes roll
  • IT band roll
  • Calf roll
  • Quadriceps and hip flexors roll
  • Lower-back roll
  • Upper-back roll
  • Shoulder blades roll

The Novak Djokovic Fitness Routine – Yoga for Your Body and Mind

Djokovic recommends doing a couple of the most basic yoga poses to help stay loose and relax either right after a workout, training session and/or before you go to bed at night. The following poses will stretch most of your body and help you unwind. Hold each for thirty seconds and work up to a minute. And remember to breathe

  • Rabbit (child’s pose)
  • Cat
  • Downward dog
  • Cobra

Full explanations for all the poses above from the man himself are included in Serve to Win. You’ll notice that he doesn’t provide any strength training or conditioning exercises in the above routine. If you are short on time and want to incorporate some strength training into your routine, read on, but first, something a little more out there…

The Novak Djokovic Training Regimen – The Fitness “Egg” Pod

How do movie stars stay looking so young? Most have strict diets and exercise routines of some type, but they also spend a TON of money. You can usually pretty closely replicate the nutritional and fitness aspects, but certain things might just be out of your reach. Djokovic’s use of the CVAC fitness pod is one of those things.djokovic training eggpod

One aspect of his training that he doesn’t write about in his book, but that received quite a bit of publicity is his frequent use of the fitness pod to improve his performance and endurance “naturally” and faster by improving his recovery process.

By “naturally” I mean without chemicals, steroids or anything illegal, but let’s be honest, sitting in a $100,000 egg shaped pod isn’t exactly a brisk walk through the woods.

Apparently, Djokovic spent much of his down time during 2011 in this rare egg-shaped pressure chamber about the size of a bobsled (good thing that Novak does not suffer from claustrophobia!).

The pod simulates vigorous exercise and adds oxygen-rich blood cells to the body while expelling lactic acid and other waste products naturally produced during past workouts.

Lot’s of jargon in there… basically, it simulates an intense workout without fatiguing the body, which enables you to work out harder and recover faster.

The key to the pod’s success is that it simulates high altitude training as it compresses muscles with a vacuum pump and computer-controlled valves, making it far superior to the hyperbaric chambers that many athletes have favored in recent years. The conditions in the pod can be adjusted by athletes to simulate just about any training that they desire.

It can help the body to absorb oxygen twice as well as even blood doping and its legal. Whether such pods will continue to be allowed within the rules remains to be seen, but the ATP hasn’t ruled it out yet.

Want to try one out? There are some high end fitness clubs and rehabilitation centers that offer sessions, otherwise, you’ll need some serious cash.

Now back to reality…

Enter a Minimum Effective Dose Workout

For the vast majority of recreational tennis players, the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) style fitness and workout routine I follow and detail below will meet your training needs and requires minimal equipment. Since it can be completed in about 15 minutes, this is ideal for those that are time strapped.

Foam Roller

Time: 2 minutes

Goal: Remove restrictions, improve mobility, improve tissue quality


Self myofascial release with 30 seconds on each of quad, hip flexor and IT band.

When time is limited, I recommend you do only your tightest spots, and those most likely to impact on your performance. Invariably, people who SIT need to foam roll their quads and hip flexors. So this goes in at number one for me, and most likely for you too.

Secondly, since a tight IT band is more common than caffeine dependence in our society, and since some pretty important muscles connect to it and I LIKE my knee tracking properly, IT bands are next.

What is an IT band? The Ilio (hip) Tibial (shin bone) band runs directly down the outside of your thigh for the length of your femur. You will know it when you foam roll it the first time, trust me.

I got my foam roller from Amazon. It is an outstanding investment. Get the 6 x 12 if you travel a lot, I take mine everywhere. Get the 6 x 36 if for just at home. Make sure it is round not half or you won’t be doing much rolling.

Activation, Mobility, Dynamic Warm Up

Time: 3 minutes

Goal: Use some of that improved tissue work to immediately perform a series of activation and mobility exercises to improve movement patterns


This one can include the following:

  • Glute Bridges x 10 with adduction (5 second squeeze at the top) I clamped the foam roller between my knees for the adduction part to save time
  • Reverse lunges with rotation (arms overhead) x 6 each side – one of the BEST hip flexor mobilizers on the planet
  • Hand walks x 6 (also called Inch Worms) out as far as sore shoulder was happy
  • Walking quad stretch x 6 each leg with glute squeeze for 2 seconds

Again my focus here is on what needs waking up/mobilizing the most, not just in general, but thinking about what exercises I have planned later in the workout.

Glute bridges in all their varieties turn on glutes (and help turn off and stretch the hip flexors) nicely. This is generally a good idea for anyone who sits down, well, pretty much ever. (My other favorite is the Bird Dog exercise).

The lunge stretches, and just every every lunge variety, is a great way of mobilizing your hip flexors while prepping your body for exercise, since it reinforces firing patterns. Incorporate some today.

The hand walks wake up nearly every muscle in your body while providing a great hamstring, calf and lower back release, and the walking quad stretch is to ensure the quads and hip flexors are still loose (and glutes are firing, they go together) just prior to starting faster movement.

Neural Activation & Full Body Warm Up

Time: 3 minutes

Goal: As it reads, neural activation and full body warm up


For this I skip rope, 30 seconds flat out, 30 seconds very slow, for 3 “rounds”, totaling 3 minutes.

During the 30 seconds fast I try to move my feet and the rope as fast as I can. I include shuffles, side to side switches (think a boxer changing lead legs quickly) butt kicks and for the last 5 seconds, high knees to make this as dynamic as possible.

During the 30 seconds slow, I try to keep the rope moving at a steady pace, but not cranking it, the goal is to keep moving and have an active recovery.

For me, at this duration and volume this type of interval is far more neural than it is metabolic, and while I’ll feel warm at the end of it and begin to sweat a little, I don’t really start puffing.

I do however, feel very very alive and ready for action. Mission accomplished. If I keep going with the intervals, they would eventually start to slow down, movement quality would decrease, and it would cross into what I would consider metabolic conditioning.

A way around that would be to do 10 seconds “ON” and then 20 seconds “OFF” (or longer) to be able to maintain higher quality movement in the ON intervals if that was a goal for longer duration.

The goal is to get the system going.

Kettlebell Swings

Time: 3 minutes (and 19 seconds)

Goal: The “work” part of the workout – metabolic conditioning and hamstring/glutes strength endurance


100 x two handed swings with a 70lb bell (or whatever you can do 50-100 times) without stopping.

Why 3 minutes and 19 seconds? When I was timing this just before I grabbed the bell I hit play on my chosen workout song of the day, which happened to be 3 minutes and 19 seconds, and thought I would cruise to complete this in time…. Almost didn’t make it.

While this had me breathing and sweating nicely, I am embarrassed to say that it was my GRIP more than anything else that caused me to have to drop the weight at 80 reps, shake out my hands for ten seconds, and then continue. I was almost not able to finish this in time.

In terms of the grip, it could just be the general lack of loading I have been able to give my arms with the shoulder injury (no pulling, rowing, or pull ups), or maybe I am just weening out. Either way, please don’t tell my strength and conditioning coaching mates, they will laugh at me.

You can do swings in sets and reps. Or you can play for total reps or total time. Choice is yours, but as minimal effective dose “choose 1″ exercises go, the two handed kettlebell or dumbbell swing is an outstanding option for beginners and advanced trainees alike.


Time: 3 minutes

Goal: Extend the “work” part of the workout with further metabolic conditioning, while forcing active recovery


Simply do a medium paced skip without stopping.

This one is the most elective of the lot, and would be the first to go if wanting to shorten this further, but when I’m not happy with my swings performance, I’ll decide to add this in (see above).

Band “Pull Aparts”

Time: 1 minute

Goal: Try and counter the day’s sitting by working some volume into my upper back, specifically aiming at rear delts and mid trap.

WorkoutNovak Djokovic's training involves the use of elastic bands

100 reps with arms straight and done out in front of chest

Start with arms straight out in front of you, gripping your band (they vary greatly in strength/tension) about shoulder width apart with an overhand grip.

Start the movement by pulling your shoulder blades together and finish the movement by pulling your arms away from each other. Your arms will end up out to the sides then slightly behind you, the band will hit your chest. That is 1 rep. You can maintain tension on your shoulder blades by never returning the bands all the way in, or you can go all the way in all the way out, play with it.

You can mix up the focus of this and add in other muscles by adjusting hand position and arm angle, but assuming you are doing these with your arms straight out in front of you, this is what is going to be getting the bulk of the loading.

When I am recovering from a shoulder injury, these are done with the cute little pink band. Since we tend to sit a lot during the day in a shoulders rounded position, this causes what is called stretch-weakness in the scapular retractors (and frequently external rotator) muscles. Add to this that most people have vastly stronger internal rotators of the shoulder than the external rotators, and we have a need for corrective exercise. (You could also try NEVER SITTING, always walking with good posture and doing three or four pulling sets for your upper back for every set you do for your chest).

This is a phenomenally useful exercise and I highly recommend you start ASAP. They can be done throughout the day or at the end of workouts, and intensity can be modified by adjusting your hand position on the band and the band tension. Great for posture.

Coach and Author Jason Ferruggia shows how it is done here:

IMPORTANT: Before you lay out any cash for any elastic bands, go to a gym that has them and try out the various resistances. If you have never bought bands before, I recommend you also go to your nearest sporting goods store to make your first ever purchase. The range in tension is HUGE. Bands can be the little round ones with handles at each end (don’t grab the handles for this exercise) right up to big slabs of bands that are in a complete circle and can also be used for assistance or resistance in a number of other exercises such as pull ups (assistance), push ups, squats, deadlifts etc.

I have the latter in every size and use mine mostly for shoulder and upper back work, as well as for benching and press up varieties when I have a shoulder that works, grrrrr.

Here is an option from from

Tennis Players’ Novak Djokovic Training Style Workout Recap

This entire workout takes exactly 15 minutes, start to finish.

If more pressed for time you could do 20 swings with a lighter weight to warm up, then go straight into the 100 swings for a four minute workout, but I highly recommend you add these other parts to your workout sessions since they will help you perform better, give you a better workout result, reduce likelihood of injury, and basically make you a happy camper.

All of which will make me a Happier Kiwi, which is why I am writing this in the first place.

I follow a pretty similar workout sequence for nearly every bit of training I do. They aren’t always in there, but they are there most of the time, and they are pretty much always in this order.

  1. Remove restrictions (foam roller and lately a baseball or lacrosse ball)
  2. Activate (usually stabilizers) with “pre-hab” type exercises and then Mobilize with a series of dynamic warm up exercises
  3. Neural activation of some variety
  4. Strength and power
  5. Strength endurance
  6. Metabolic conditioning/energy system work (usually in the form of circuits, giant sets, strongman type training, or intervals)
  7. Further foam roller work and stretching

In the routine above, the swings take care of 4 (to a minimal extent if a trained athlete), 5 and 6, with a focus on the all important prime movers of the posterior chain (lower back, glutes and hamstrings)

If you are looking for a more comprehensive strength training routine, check out this post by the strength and conditioning coach for the tennis teams at Florida State University.

Whether your lifestyle leads you to follow the Minimum Effective Dose approach or not (I prefer slightly longer, more neural and more intense workouts, personally) I hope you incorporate elements of this sequence into some of your own training.

December 31, 2015

Topspin Forehand – Tennis Top Spin Technique with Video

The topspin forehand is one of the must have shots on the tennis court. Whether you do it with more or less intensity, one thing is certain, you’ve got to have the ability to generate top spin.

The topspin forehand is the primary shot in the modern game of tennis. It is being utilized at the professional level to dominate points off the baseline and is responsible for the drastic increase of tennis being a power game. Virtually every pro tennis player on tour uses a topspin forehand to control shots off the

One example of this professional player is Roger Federer. Federer’s remarkable topspin forehand gave him his first ever French Open title as he won his matches point by point with his dominating topspin forehand. In combination with his forehand approach shot, he earned many of his professional titles. Other professional players who use the topspin forehand as their main “go to” shot are Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

Topspin Forehand Technique Overview

In modern tennis, the tennis topspin forehand is normally executed during a baseline rally and approach shots. You can also apply this technique in passing shots. For most professional players, the topspin forehand is their main shot of choice in today’s high paced game. A topspin forehand is the best of both worlds, because a player can hit the tennis ball with extreme power and top spin while still being able to keep the ball in play.

Proper technique for the top spin forehand starts with the semi-Western grip, as opposed to the Eastern or Western grips. An easy way to find the proper semi-Western grip is by placing your playing hand right on the strings, then sliding your hand down to grip it towards the end.

The body stance has to match with the grip. In this case, there is no way you should have a closed stance because you need more trunk rotation to allow your racket to go across you and to have trunk rotation. Instead, have a neutral stance or an open stance to be able to rotate.

Next, you need to make sure that your impact point is out in front. At one stage, the tip of the racket will go above your head and then it can drop below your left shoulder or some plays it will finish a little bit above the left shoulder. The racket should always have a rainbow shape in front of you.

Below is a step by step analysis on how to execute this tennis stroke in terms of its footwork, grip, stance, backswing, forward swing, contact and follow-through.

Topspin Forehand Footwork

Just like all the other tennis ground strokes, the tennis topspin forehand footwork starts with your feet facing the net. After the initial split step, they should be straightly aligned and spread from each other at your comfort. Other players spread their two feet at a wider distance than some other players. This will depend on how comfortable you are.

While you are holding your racket, keep moving and don’t let your heels touch the ground. You can practice good footwork by bouncing on your toes to keep them active and ready for movement once you return the ball.

An important point to note is always keep your eyes on the ball during and after the split step. Seconds before your opponent makes contact with the ball, increase the height of your split step and try to synchronize your split step motion with the incoming ball.

As your opponent hits the ball to your forehand side, your right foot (right handed players) should be very quick to initiate the shoulder turn. If your right foot is quick enough, you will be on time to hit the ball. In case the ball is too wide to your forehand side, then you have to be ready to run for the ball using the drop step or gravity step.

Here are some tips for you to use the correct footwork in executing the tennis topspin forehand and to recover yourself after the contact.

  • When you are going to hit a ball that is placed widely, the best footwork to use is a drop step or gravity step with the right foot.
  • When you are recovering after you return the ball, the crossover step is the best to use. This will allow you to observe the next move of your opponent since you are facing towards him or her.
  • When you hit the ball in the sidelines, use the full shuffle step to recover to the center baseline.
  • If you are forced to hit a ball in the far double’s corner and return a forehand cross-court ball, use cross steps or carioca steps then the last two steps can be shuffle steps as you arrive to the recovery spot (which will vary depending on your shot selection.) To be in the middle between the sideline and the center line is enough.
  • In the same situation but instead of a cross-court, you hit the ball down the line, the recovery steps you have to do is the same (cross steps or carioca steps) but you need to use additional shuffle steps to recover to the proper position to cover your opponent’s next shot as a result of your down the line shot selection.

Topspin Forehand Grip

While there are acceptable variations to hit the forehand, the semi-Western forehand grip is the best tennis grip that enables players to produce a topspin forehand. The amount of top spin with this grip is greater than other more conservative tennis grips like the eastern forehand grip. This is because in the semi-western tennis grip, the ball is ideally hit at shoulder level. Therefore more brushing effect is made since the racket is dropped at first before the contact between the ball and the racket face.

Then as the player swings in upward motion, the racket will go from a low position and hit up to the ball at shoulder level. This will mean that the ball is hit from further beneath the ball, creating more top spin. This shows that the grip itself won’t really affect the amount of top spin created but the point of contact. The higher the point of contact the more top spin is produced.

This forehand grip is used in many professional players such as Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, and Venus Williams. This versatile tennis grip is ideal if you choose to drive a flatter ball and at the same time want to be able to produce top spin.

Topspin Forehand Preparation

When you are in the ready position (you are waiting for the ball and ready to hit it) you should have your racket always ready by supporting your racket with your left hand (right handed player) by resting your left hand on the throat of the racket (part of the racket between the main handle and the base of the racket head).

Once your opponent makes contact with the ball (ball touches the racket face,) immediately bring your racket to your side and at the same time coil the upper part of your body. Remember that at this stage both hands are holding the racket. This position should be maintained until you turn your body sideways. This position will allow you to have a good rotation of your upper body hence providing your stroke power even if you are only executing a short backswing. In this case, you also have a very good control of your racket.

If you are right handed player, It can be helpful to visualize that your elbow is pointing to your back (back fence) and your racket is angled at 45 degrees with the sky with your racket face facing the ground. At the same time your weight should be concentrated on your right foot.

Topspin Forehand Swing and Contact Point

In a tennis topspin forehand, you do not need to take a large backswing but rather you can execute a compact backswing. One such variation allows you to form a C-loop in the air as you do the backswing. After forming a C-loop, you then drop the racket in such a manner that the racket is positioned under the ball.

At this stage, your hips and your body is already uncoiling as you start swinging your racket. To maintain your balance, move your left arm across your body. The weight of your body then is transferred to your left foot. Keep your eyes locked to the ball.

Contact between the racket face and the ball normally happens in the front side of your body and at shoulder height. This is the ideal situation or the ideal point of contact when you are using a semi-western tennis grip. The point of contact may vary depending what grip you are using. The point of contact can be at waistline level with an eastern tennis grip as well


To create the topspin forehand, the head of the racket should be positioned first under the ball before the contact. Positioning the racket head under the ball creates the brushing effect between the ball and the racket face hence producing the powerful topspin tennis forehand.

Flicking the Wrist

When it comes to pressure moments or when the ball gets slightly behind him, you will see Rafael Nadal doing a flick of wrist. But when he gives himself more time, he normally strikes it in front.

When flicking the wrist, the racket should finish nearly above your opposite shoulder. It massively increases the ability to spin the ball, but is very demanding physically because your wrist will have to do the majority of the work.

Most of us aren’t built like Nadal with a strong physique and resistant wrist. Players like Nadal, Murray and even Novak Djokovic will utilize this technique sometimes due to the speed of the ball, if they were caught slightly late on the shot or just because they want to increase the amount of top spin.

Topspin Forehand Follow-Through and Recovery

The Tennis topspin forehand should finish with your elbow in front. The elbow should be pointing towards the ball you just hit. The racket should be on your left shoulder if you were successful in producing enough top spin in you forehand.

The follow through can be in your left elbow or it can be in your left hip.

Immediately after the follow through, you have to be ready for the next ball by doing a split step. This will give your body the proper balance. If possible, move back quickly to the center baseline.

Below is a clip of Marko Djokovic (you probably know his brother better) taken from when he stopped by my tennis academy. He and his brother, Novak Djokovic, share several similarities, in the way they attack the ball, the way they react and move towards the ball, and their footwork.

Pay attention to the way he split steps, moves in to attack the ball inside the court and the way he recovers as he moves across the baseline.

Topspin Forehand Drill

Below is a video of a drill that we usually do at the academy to help improve the top spin. You start by holding the throat of the racket on the heart and standing on the service line. Then what you try to do is to make sure that you generate that top spin keeping the rally going with your partner or with your pupil.

The goal is to create a lot of rotation, a lot of top spin with an open stance or neutral stance. The rules are quite simple, you are not allowed to turn the tip of the racket towards your partner and you can only hit forehands.To transform the drill into a little game, you have to get the ball over the net three times and then you go for a point. It is always good to have a bit of fun while working to improve the top spin on your forehand.

December 27, 2015

The Novak Djokovic Diet – Gluten Free Tennis Player Nutrition

Novak Djokovic Diet Tennis Player Diet and Nutrition

As a nutritionist,  I recommend following a Paleo Template and placing food QUALITY ahead of all else. As far as elite tennis players go, the Novak Djokovic diet, which is free of gluten, dairy, sugar, preservatives and everything unnatural comes very close with a few minor exceptions that are primarily due to his heavy, 14 hour per day, training schedule.

I read Djokovic’s book, Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence and this guy is a machine, mentally and physically. How he trains, keeps chasing his dreams and how he surrounds himself with family and true friends is the embodiment of  my personal mantra, “100% Focus On Happiness”, which starts with phenomenal health.

We’re going to start with why Djokovic went gluten free and his journey to clean paleo-style eating, his tips for implementing a new diet and nutrition plan for tennis players (not a quick diet scheme) and some of my additional thoughts on nutrition for tennis players based on the recommendations in his book. Finally, we’ll wrap it up with some recipes from Djokovic and my secret family vault.

How Going Gluten Free Made Djokovic No. 1

As recounted in his book, Serve to Win, in 2011, Novak Djokovic had what many sports writers referred to as the most dominant season ever (on the men’s side, with all due respect to Serena William’s exceptional years) winning ten titles, three Grand Slams (the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open) and 43 consecutive matches.

serve-to-win-coverHis lifelong goal since the age of 6 after watching Pete Sampras win at Wimbledon was to become number 1 in the world and win Wimbledon himself and he accomplished both in 2011 within days of each other. Just a year earlier, these dreams seemed to be slipping away due to a then unknown cause that was attributed to asthma, allergies, being out of shape and/or lacking a strong mental game.

Djokovic hit his self-described “professional low”  in January 2010 while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. In that match, his body totally broke down in the fourth set (as had happened so many times in the past mid-match) causing Djokovic to become short of breath and vomit.

His mates on the ATP Tour often mocked him for his lack of physical and/or mental conditioning because his body would regularly give out on him mid-tournament.

At this time, Djokovic’s diet routine consisted of “plenty of Italian food like pizza, pasta, and especially bread, as well as heavy meat dishes a couple times a day.” During matches, he would eat ‘high energy’ candy bars and drink sugary ‘sports drinks’ for energy.

He tried everything to improve his conditioning to overcome his collapses on the court including increasing his physical training, and relocating to the desert in Abu Dhabi to train in the heat to become better acclimated.

By chance, a nutritionist from his home nation of Serbia, Dr. Igor Cetojevic was watching the fateful match against Tsonga and knew instinctively that it wasn’t asthma, stomach bug or anything else the commentators were attributing the collapse to.

He knew Novak Djokovic’s diet was responsible for his performance issues on the court.

Gluten, a protein found primarily in grains (especially wheat) and hidden in many other commercial food products, was causing digestive issues that led to toxins building up in his system.

His Secret to Success – Getting Started with the Gluten Free Diet Plan

“This seemed liked madness,” is what Djokovic was thinking when Dr. Cetojevic told him to hold a slice of bread against his stomach. As he recounts in Serve to Win, when Djokovic put the piece of bread on his stomach and resisted the pressure that Dr. Cetojevic was applying to his arm, his arm became significantly weaker.

Through additional and more sophisticated testing, such as the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test, Djokovic was able to determine that he had an intolerance for dairy and tomatoes in addition to gluten. For a guy whose parents own a pizza parlor, this was shocking to say the least.

Chris and Novak Pizza

Me with my (and Djokovic’s) ex-favorite food…

Upon eliminating gluten from his diet, Djokovic almost instantly had more energy, less aches and pains, and slept significantly better. After a couple gluten free weeks, he had a bagel and the next morning, all the previous symptoms returned and he was left feeling like he had a hangover.

In his book, Novak Djokovic advocates for taking things slowly when adjusting your diet and states plainly that his diet is not for everyone. What he does encourage is for you to try the recommendations he makes for 2 weeks, one at a time, and then do as he did and revert to your old eating habits for a day to see how you feel.

First we’re going to do an overview of Djokovic’s diet plan shared in Serve to Win and then I’m going to make some recommendations for a very similar diet plan that is most likely better suited to help you attain your goals of fat loss and overall health.

Why don’t I think you should follow his plan exactly??? He’s the best in the world!

Novak Djokovic is one of the world’s top conditioned athletes who literally has a team of coaches, trainers and nutritionists following him around the globe. As an elite athlete who trains 14 hours per day and is competing 11 months out of the year against similarly conditioned athletes, it is fair to say that his nutritional requirements may differ from the typical reader of this article who is a weekend warrior spending 50 hours a week in an office. I’ll help you with that!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, or a medical practitioner in any shape, form, or variety. NOTHING in this article represents medical advice, nor is intended to treat, cure, or mitigate any disease. N0 matter how much fun any of my ideas relating to diet, exercise, or lifestyle might sound, you MUST seek medical advice before making changes to your diet or embarking on any exercise program.

The Novak Djokovic Diet – Foods Not to Eat

At a high level, Novak Djokovic’s diet and nutrition plan means no gluten, dairy, refined sugars, preservatives or processed foods. These are all anti-nutrients and your first step in creating your new tennis player’s diet and nutrition plan is to eliminate these bad boys (especially gluten) from your diet.

Novak Djokovic Serve US OpenWhat is an “anti-nutrient”? They are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. These protective mechanisms, basically specially formed proteins, are toxic to the human body and can cause havoc to the lining of the human gut, which is not evolved or equipped to deal with them.

Havoc such as increasing gut permeability (how much and what passes from our intestines into our blood stream), causing micro trauma to the walls of our intestine, increasing inflammation, and in some cases, directly punching holes through the walls of your colon, allowing undigested food and even fecal matter directly into your bloodstream! (YES! That is a VERY bad thing!)

Gut health is extremely, extremely important. Not only is more than 70% of your immune system (excluding your skin) directly related to your Gastro Intestinal tract, but issues with gut health and your corresponding ability to correctly absorb nutrients affects EVERYTHING in your body.

Going Gluten Free

I believe gluten is the king of all anti-nutrients. Djokovic has a great list in Serve to Win of foods that contain gluten. The biggies are bread, wheat pasta and noodles, baked goods, crackers, cereals and many alcoholic beverages.

Simple enough, right? WRONG.

The thing with gluten is that industrial food companies have hid the stuff in all kinds of processed foods, which is why you should avoid these entirely. Even certain “healthy foods” like veggie burgers and roasted nuts can contain gluten. STAY AWAY FROM PROCESSED FOODS!No Bread Gluten Free Diet

Gluten also causes inflammation. Now inflammation in of itself isn’t a bad thing. In fact, our body’s natural inflammatory response is something we need to be living healthy. When it becomes a constant part of your physiology, is when serious problems arise. It’s a lot similar to stress. A dose of ‘fight or flight’ when you made a wrong turn down a dark alley is a good thing, feeling like that all the time isn’t.

You don’t want the inflammatory response in your body to become Chronic Systemic Inflammation, which has been associated with factors leading to life changing health conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, obesity, and depression. It’s something that you need to be aware of to take proper action to safeguard your health.

Unlike dairy, gluten should be completely eliminated from your diet… forever if possible. Even if you aren’t intolerant, it still wreaks havoc on your system by damaging your gut and as a major contributor to chronic inflammation as the king of anti-nutrients.

Going Dairy Free

I recommend cutting out dairy for 30 days to allow your body to reset and determine if you are lactose intolerant. After the 30 days (and after you hit any fat loss goals), you can try adding a little bit of dairy BUT from organic, grass-fed and un-pasteurized sources only.Novak Djokovic Slice Backhand

How do you know if you are lactose intolerant? People who are lactose intolerant don’t create enough lactase – the enzyme that helps digest the main sugar in dairy products. So the lactose seeps through the small intestine and causes gas, bloating, and even worse effects. If after eliminating dairy and gluten from your diet for 30 days, you add dairy back in and feel these effects, you are most likely lactose intolerant.

If you do re-incorporate dairy into your diet, try to stick to full fat products that have been through a fermentation process and contain live cultures. This excludes milk, but includes yogurts and certain cheeses. Again, make sure it is grass fed and free of any sugars or other additives.

Keep in mind reincorporating dairy will make it much more difficult to lose fat (or maintain fat loss) than if you eliminate all dairy (with the exception of grass fed butter), and I recommend you stay off it if you can.

Going Sugar Free and Eliminating Processed Foods

You can view your gut as having both good bacteria and bad bacteria. The key is in feeding the good bacteria the stuff they crave and NOT FEEDING the bad bacteria. In fact we want to starve the bad ones.

If you feed the bad bacteria, even a little bit, the stuff that causes them to rapidly multiply, they will kill the good bacteria. The good ones absolutely love whole foods and the micronutrients they provide. They especially get a boost from foods rich in probiotics (I’ll share with you some powerful ones in a moment) and prebiotics.salmon

And the bad bacteria? They have quite the sweet tooth!

The bad bacteria viciously thrive, and spread like wildfire, when you eat too much SUGAR, highly refined carbs and processed foods. And when the bad bacteria overwhelm the good bacteria, it’s bad news for the your gut wall.

If your gut wall gets damaged enough, foreign toxins, germs, and other crap (literally) from the foods you eat can get across the gut wall and into your body! The result? 
Your Immune System comes in to save the day and launches a full on attack on the toxic foreign invaders spilling in from your gut to your body.

However, there are innocent casualties. Your body’s healthy cells can get caught in the cross fire, causing your body to literally attack itself. When this becomes commonplace in your body is when you’re immune systems become compromised. Over time, you’ll put yourself at a higher risk for autoimmune disorders such as:

  • Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s (your thyroid hormone production becomes dangerously low, zapping your energy on the tennis court and zest for life)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Chronic and systemic inflammation in the digestive tract – extremely uncomfortable)
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • And Multiple Sclerosis (more on this below)

What does the research say? Scientists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Department of Neurology) have made some breakthrough associations between your gut health and autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, stating: “The gut bacteria play a role in educating the immune system and hence may be a player in the development of multiple sclerosis.”Manuka_honey_in_a_bowl
Now this is just one of many revealing scientific cases linking your gut health and your immunity (you will be seeing even more findings like this in the future).

Need something sweet? Use locally sourced organic honey or maple syrup instead! Djokovic starts each day with a couple spoonfuls of manuka honey due to its antibacterial properties.

The Novak Djokovic Diet – Foods to Eat to Transform Your Body

We’re going to go through Novak Djokovic’s “food groups” from Serve to Win one by one.. This is where we will diverge a little from his tennis nutrition plan due to the vast discrepancy in his nutritional needs as the number 1 tennis player in the world versus yours (no offense).

Meat, Fish and Eggs

Djokovic lists these first and so do I. It is critically important to only consume these protein sources from clean, healthy animals.

What does that mean?

grillIt means that you should only be eating grass-fed beef, non-farmed fish, free range poultry, game meats and free range eggs to ensure your animal protein  has the correct balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

According to the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, omega 3’s both directly and indirectly decrease the production of inflammatory agents that feed the pro-inflammatory pathways of your body, resulting in decreased Chronic Systemic Inflammation and omega 6’s tend to promote more pro-inflammatory pathways throughout your body.

Omega 6’s aren’t all bad and can be good for you in the right amounts. In fact a lot of healthy foods contain Omega 6’s such as poultry, eggs, avocado, nuts and seeds, however in infinitely smaller amounts than processed foods or refined vegetable oils.

A typical diet that includes gluten and protein from unhealthy animals is massively imbalanced, containing about 15-20 times as many omega 6 fatty acids as omega 3’s, when this ratio should be 1 to 1.

eggsWhat about eating grain fed meat? Avoid it whenever budget and availability allow; those cows are unhealthy and have a messed up omega 3 to omega 6 ratio (omega 6 heavy, frequently higher than 1:20), but if you have limited options, eating grain fed ruminants is STILL BETTER than not eating this way. However, for grain fed meat go for the leanest cut you can (the fat on grain fed meat is BAD). So cut the FAT OFF grain fed meat, go for the leanest cuts. There are similar issues with farmed fished, industrial chickens, etc.

Whenever possible, stick to the naturally raised meats, fish and eggs and eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (don’t count any extra pounds of fat you are carrying). If you don’t like counting (And I don’t like counting, so this is how I recommend you do it), eat your protein until you are about 75-80% full.


After you get your protein in, move on to the veggies. Just close out the meal and keep chomping until you are no longer hungry. You will get a TON of micronutrient goodness with very few calories, so seriously, eat away until you are nicely satisfied! Here are my favorites:

  • broccoliSpinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Baby Bok Choy
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Cauliflower
  • String Beans
  • Mixed Greens

You can do these as a stir-fry, steamed veggies, raw veggies, a big fresh salad, a stew, soup or whatever makes you happy. Just watch sauces (see below). Please make sure you cycle through the veggie choices, and don’t be afraid to add plenty more, variety rocks, and there can be too much of a good thing.


Again, Djokovic is right on with fruit saying, “I eat fruit, but in a controlled way so I don’t overload myself with sugar. Still, if you’re going to have sugar, the natural fructose in fruit is the better kind. Plus, fruit delivers nutrients. I especially love berries of all kinds, but in small servings.”

The best time to have any fruit is straight after a workout, when your body is primed to both utilize the sugars in the fruit to replenish glucose in your muscles (as opposed to padding your waistline) and keep your insulin levels low, however if you throw a piece of fruit on the table for dessert, I am ok with that and it definitely adds some variety.

Grains and Carbs (Gluten-Free)

Novak Djokovic Forehand Strike US OpenNow, this is 1 of 2 sections where Djokovic’s diet plan may not be the best fit for the vast majority of tennis players (unless your last name is Federer, Murray, Wawrinka or you are otherwise training full time for a year round professional sport).

Djokovic eats primarily carbohydrates (his favorites are quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice and oats) for breakfast and lunch to fuel his massive energy needs from 14 hour training days and then loads up on protein at dinner to recover.

For you, take down some carbs post workout or match in the form of tubers. This equals yams, sweet potatoes, taro and yucca. You can also eat rice based dishes, like Pad Thai, provided they follow the other nutritional guidelines. For a ‘cheat meal’ savory tacos on a non-GMO corn tortilla are one of my favorites. If you are chasing fat loss or trying to maintain fat loss without a heavy training schedule, you should skip this section entirely.

Nuts and Seeds

almondsJust remember to go easy on these and treat them as condiments because of their Omega 6 fatty acid content and caloric density. Too much of these may promote the onset of chronic inflammation (something we should all avoid). If you are a nut hog, leave them out.

If not, keep it raw and varied with brazil nuts, macadamias, cashews, almonds and walnuts. And remember, a peanut is NOT a nut!

Healthy Oils and Fats

NovakDjokovic-doublebackhand (2)After you get your real food protein down, the second most important thing is to ensure you are getting some healthy, quality fats at every meal. Again, feel free to leave the FAT ON when eating grass-fed ruminants or wild game. This is clean fat and GOOD FOR YOU, and very good for your fat loss.

For cooking use coconut oil (low to high heat), grass-fed organic ghee, or in the animal’s own fat (or rendered lard from grass-fed animals, if you can find it). Olive oil can also be used for cooking at a low temp only. Those stuck with grain-fed meat, can cook in grass-fed butter if they want to.

Other than coconut oil (with impunity), olive oil, macadamia oil, avocado oil and flaxseed oil, ALL OTHER VEGETABLE OILS are making you fat, inflamed, and unhealthy and they ARE BANNED FOR LIFE.


This is 2 of 2 where I slightly digress from Djokovic, but not for the same reasons as grains. While legumes are by far a “lesser evil” when compared to gluten, the anti-nutrient content (lignans, lectin, saponins) rules them out for me.

However, Djokovic likes them and if are going to diverge from this plan, this isn’t the worst way to do it. If you feel like you have to have them for your new tennis player’s diet, stick to ones that are sprouted and cooked to minimize the anti-nutrient impacts on your system.

Condiments, Herbs and Spices

steakTraditional condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, ranch dressing and blue cheese are full of preservatives, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other toxic ingredients. Stay away from these and stick to things like mustard, horseradish, vinegar, hot sauces and salsa.

Herbs and spices are great and can be used to keep things un-boring and add a lot of variety to your more limited diet.

Check the labels on everything to make sure it isn’t loaded with preservatives and other additives though.

Fermented Foods (Bonus)

These aren’t in Serve to Win, but fermented foods (if natural and preservative-free) present some of the best ways to feed your body probiotics, naturally and dairy free. (The Chinese have been fermenting cabbage for over six thousand years and prescribing it for various illnesses). Some good choices include:

  • Raw Kim Chi (must be raw as cooking kills the probiotics)
  • Raw Saurakraut
  • Kefir (especially coconut kefir)
  • Kambucha

What’s great about fermented foods is that they are VERY potent (some containing as much as 10 trillion colony forming units of bacteria in a large portion). However that potency can mean that some of you will experience GI distress if suddenly adding too much fermented food to your diet, so begin slowly.

On the Court

When you are on the tennis court in between sets, you need to stay hydrated and if it is a long match, you might need a snack as well. Bananas are a staple on the ATP tour and can give you clean, sustained energy without a crash. Dried fruit or a handful of raw nuts are also good choices.lemon

To stay hydrated, water is always a strong (and obvious) choice. But what about sports drinks? The popular brands contain a lot of the things that we are trying to avoid like refined sugars, preservatives and other additives, so I would recommend staying away from these entirely.

To replenish electrolytes and salt that is depleted when you sweat, try making your own sports drink with water, citrus juice (lemon is best), honey, sea salt and even a little tea. There are a lot of great quick and easy recipes if you search for “paleo sports drinks” on the web.

Healthy Gluten Free Recipes


Elisa Ashenden

In Serve to Win, Djokovic shares an entire week of meal plans and the recipes for many of them. Generally, he has a “Power Bowl” with gluten-free grains, nuts, fruits, coconut oil and non-dairy milk (rice, almond, coconut, etc.) for breakfast, gluten-free pasta and veggies for lunch, a protein shake, and then meat or fish with veggies for dinner.

If you want the full details on those, you’ll have to check out the book, but below is one of his favorite smoothie recipes that he shared on Twitter and a couple of my favorite Novak Djokovic Diet (and paleo) compliant recipes courtesy of my little sister, Elisa Ashenden, who also happens to be a food writer for the Huffington Post.

Novak Djokovic’s Special Pre-Match Smoothie Recipe

And now, a special message from the man himself…


“This is how I start off my day, preparing a smoothie that will help me fight off the stress and give my body enough nutrients. There’s a lot of stuff there, lot of minerals, lot of vitamins, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, good sources of omega 3. I encourage you to take care of what you eat and stay healthy.”
But he doesn’t say what is in there! Fear not…

Now on to my favorites straight from Elisa…


Marinated Pork Tenderloin (Cumin and Turmeric)

Serves 2

I always at least double this recipe, if not quadruple it, as it tastes amazing cold and is delicious served at breakfast with eggs, or cut up and enjoyed with a salad for lunch. Economical, quick and easy to prepare. 


  • 600gm/20 ounce (or thereabouts) pork tenderloin
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 heaped tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp whole cumin
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ lemon, rind only
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp coarse rock salt

Novak Djokovic Diet Recipe - Pork TenderloinHeat the oven to 200 deg C/ 390 deg F

Trim any excess fat from the tenderloin to your taste. Combine all the ingredients in a marinating dish big enough to lay the tenderloin out flat. You can use a roasting dish if nothing else fits. Roll the pork around in the marinade to coat well. Leave for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Heat a frying pan to high and brown the tenderloin on all sides until it is golden all over. This will take about 3-4 minutes. You won’t need to add oil to the pan as there is enough coating the pork from the marinade.

Place the pork in a roasting tray and scrape any remaining marinade or pan juices over it. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the fattest part of the loin shows a soft pink colour if you test it with a knife, but there is no blood gushing out. (Pork can, and should in my opinion, be served slightly pink in the centre)

Rest the meat for 5-10 minutes by covering in foil before slicing. Drizzle the pork with any juices from the roasting pan and serve with salad, greens or sweet potato mash.

© Elisa Ashenden 2013


Japanese Fusion Steak (Ginger and Chili)

Serves 2

Having grown up in Japan, this dish is a version of something my mother used to make us almost weekly. Even decades later, none of us can get enough of it. Case in point, this dish is so yummy, I once made it for a friend who had specifically told me she didn’t like steak. I challenged her to keep to that opinion after trying one bite. (I did have something else for her to eat in case my experiment failed). She tried it…and not only finished it, but asked for the recipe and has subsequently served this to her guests!

Japanese Fusion Steak calls for Coconut Aminos or Tamari (traditional fermented gluten-free soy sauce). I prefer it with Tamari but the coconut aminos are more compliant so it is up to you (if you use aminos, add a pinch of salt to the marinade). You can use this marinade with chicken and it works beautifully too, and is magic on the BBQ. If you want leftovers or more economy, make extra steaks (and increase marinade accordingly) then slice the steak the next day and serve cold over salad.


  • 2 large rib-eye steaks (or any cut you enjoy most)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heaped tbs grated ginger
  • ½ tsp finely chopped fresh red chili (more if you love spice)
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 5 tbs coconut aminos or tamari
  • 1tsp coconut oil

Novak Djokovic Diet Recipe - Ginger and Chili SteakCombine all the ingredients except the steak and coconut oil in a dish that is large enough to lay the steaks out flat. Add the steaks and turn them over a few times to coat them well. Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Set a frying pan to high (as high as it goes). Add the coconut oil and when it is searing hot add the steaks (open the windows, you might get some smoke in the next few minutes but you will thank me later). Do not pour in the liquid of the marinade, but set it aside.

Grind some fresh black pepper over the top while they are cooking. Presuming your steaks are approximately 2cm or ¾ inch thick, cook them 2-3 minutes on each side for medium rare, more for medium and 1.5-2 minutes or less each side for rare (timings vary according to steak thickness so use this as a general rule only).

In the final minute, add all the remaining marinade to the pan. Serve with Sweet Potato Mash, Greens of any kind or a huge salad.

© Elisa Ashenden 2013

Nutrition Rules for Health, Fat Loss and Happiness

There are a lot of great eating programs out there. I have my own “Complete 30 Day Fat Loss Plan” and there are many others that I am a big fan of that will get you to that ideal weight. Whether you chose the Novak Djokovic diet from Serve to Win or something else, I would like to leave you with these nutritional principles that were universal across all the good literature I have read:

  • EAT for nutrient density
  • EAT to improve gut absorption of nutrients
  • EAT a macro nutrient profile that lends itself to improved body composition and less disease
  • EAT sufficient quantity of quality food to deliver your body its macro and micro nutrient requirements
  • DO NOT EAT anti-nutrients
  • DO NOT EAT foods that harm you

If you do these, you will live longer, feel healthier, have far lower incidence of disease and gain a competitive advantage against your pizza eating opponent on the tennis court!

November 22, 2015

Dynamic Tennis Warm Up Exercises: 10 Video Full Body Plan

Dynamic tennis warm up exercises and stretches

The Importance of a Dynamic Tennis Warm Up

A dynamic tennis warm up routine is a critical component for all tennis players to perform before all practices, matches, and tournaments. Its purpose is to properly prepare the upper body and lower body for the constant stopping, starting and the rigors of moving around the tennis court. Tennis is extremely hard on the joints and skipping the dynamic warm-up may result in otherwise preventable injuries.

What is a “dynamic” warm up? This simply means you are moving as you stretch. It differs from “static” stretching where you would hold a stretch position for 10 to 30 seconds while remaining motionless. When compared to static stretching, dynamic stretching has been proven to:

Your dynamic warmup should focus on the rotator cuff, back, hips, calves, hamstrings, IT band, and knees and should be completed right there on the tennis court. The workout should take approximately 15-20 minutes depending upon one’s age, the weather conditions, and any physical limitations that one is suffering from. If you don’t like keeping time, it should take as long as it takes to either remove an article of clothing such as a warm-up jacket or pants or get a light sweat, which indicates that the body is fully prepared for the upcoming practice or match.

Foam Roller Riviera

The routine will be shorter when exercising in hot and humid conditions because the tennis player will get sweaty at a faster rate. On the flipside when performing the warm-up drills in cooler temperatures one will need to spend more time warming up the body to be properly prepared for the upcoming tennis training session.

Remember, a thorough workout will help prevent injury; improves your performance, improves coordination, and will help tennis players get ready for the physically demanding practice and/or match.

In this article I am going to share a complete routine of dynamic warm-up exercises that tennis players can perform right there on the tennis court. Always remember when performing these individual exercises to use correct technique and listen to the body so you can achieve maximum value and prevent injuries.

Tennis Warm Up Drills

Hamstring – Tennis Warm Up Exercise

The first tennis warm up exercise is called Frankenstein walks, which is designed to stretch the hamstrings, hips, and calf muscles. For this exercise I recommend performing 2-3 sets for 10 repetitions on each leg right there on the tennis court.

Learn How to Warm-Up Your Hamstring Muscles


Trust me when I say this that this exercise just works! It’s so simple to do and many of my tennis players perform this exercise during their pre-match practice routine. Your lower body will thank you big time when you start doing this exercise on a regular basis!

Hip Opener – Tennis Warm Up Exercise

Hip openers are an effective dynamic stretch that tennis players can do to properly warmup their hips and groin muscles. For this exercise I recommend performing 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg right there on the tennis court.

Stretch Tight Hips Before You Play


By properly performing this exercise tennis players will be fully prepared to move around the tennis court, prevent injuries and will be fully prepared for their upcoming tennis training session or match.

Calf – Dynamic Warm Up Exercise

This is one of my favorite dynamic warm-up exercises that tennis players can do to properly stretch the knee, ankles, and calf / leg muscles. To perform this exercise you will only need a stretch band. I recommend performing 2-3 sets for 10 repetitions on each leg. The first set will get the cob webs off and the remaining two sets are where you will receive all the benefits!

Learn My Favorite Dynamic Calf Stretch Right NOW!


By properly performing this exercise tennis players will move more fluidly around the tennis court, improve their overall coordination and prevent injuries.

Front Lunge – Tennis Warm Up Exercise

Front lunges are an ideal warm-up exercise that tennis players can do to properly warmup their hips and groin muscles. Always make sure when performing this stretch to stand up straight and make sure the knee does not extend beyond the toe. For this exercise I recommend performing 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg.

Preparing Your Body With Front Lunges


By properly performing this lunge exercise tennis players hips will be fully warmed up so they can twist and rotate their bodies on all shots. Many top professional players use this tennis warm up drill on a regular basis before all matches.

Lateral Hips – Using a Band

This is one of my favorite exercises to warm up the hips, knees and entire lower body. On a recent Fit to Hit show on the Tennis Channel top professional player John Isner said, “This band is the most important thing in my tennis bag”. The exercise isolates the hips, which are used on all shots and these muscles help tennis players move all around the tennis court.

For this exercise perform 1-2 sets for 10-15 repetitions on each leg.

Learn How to Prepare the Hips for Tennis


By performing this exercise tennis players will be properly prepared for the lateral movements needed to move around the tennis court while most importantly preventing injuries throughout the body.

Hips – Warm Up Exercise

Another lower body warmup drill is called Knee Tucks. This exercise stretches the hips, groin, and calf muscles. For this exercise I recommend performing 2-3 sets for 10 repetitions on each leg right there on the tennis court.

A Simple Dynamic Warm-Up Exercise


By properly performing this exercise tennis players will get to more balls, recover faster between shots, and most importantly prevent injuries.

Rotator Cuff – Dynamic Warm Up Exercise

It is also important to properly warm-up the shoulder muscles particularly the rotator cuff because they are used vigorously on all shots. Many tennis players suffer from rotator cuff injuries due to a weak shoulder muscle, overuse, and not properly preparing the shoulders for the upcoming tennis practice and/or match.

This is a simple dynamic rotator cuff exercise using a shoulder band that tennis players can incorporate into their dynamic warm-up routine. For this exercise I recommend using a light resistance band and focusing on performing this exercise with correct technique and in proper postural alignment. I recommend that tennis players perform 1-2 sets on each arm for 10-15 repetitions in a controlled tempo.

Learn How To Properly Warm-up Your Rotator Cuff


By properly performing this exercise the shoulder muscles will be properly prepared for the upcoming tennis training session or match.

Mid-Back – Using a Foam Roller

Stretching the mid back muscles with a foam roller is extremely important to help tennis players rotate their bodies on their shots. This stretch will allow tennis players to increase their power on their shots by enabling them to uncoil their bodies into the shot. Top professional players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic use their entire bodies on all shots and this exercise will enable tennis players to use their bodies athletically.

For this exercise perform 1-2 sets for 20-30 seconds on tight and tender spots on the mid back. Perform 1-2 sets in total.

Stretch the Mid Back Muscles


By performing this back stretch tennis players will recover faster from their tennis training sessions and matches while also preventing overuse injuries to the shoulder.

Upper Back – Using a Foam Roller

Stretching the upper back is very important to help tennis players bend and twist side to side. By properly stretching the upper back muscles competitive tennis players can generate more power on their shots. Many recreational tennis players can greatly benefit from stretching these back muscles on a regular basis to prevent injuries and help them get ready for an upcoming match.

For this exercise I recommend that tennis players place the foam roller on tight spots of the back and hold this position for 20-30 seconds before switching sides. Perform 1-2 sets in total.

Learn How To Stretch Your Back Muscles


By performing this stretch before all tennis training session’s tennis players can generate more power on their shots, which ultimately improves your performance on the tennis court.

IT Band – Using a Foam Roller

Stretching the lateral part of the leg is extremely important for all tennis players to incorporate into their dynamic warm-up routine. This exercise will help tennis players improve their flexibility in the legs, knees, back, which will ultimately take pressure off of the joints.

For this exercise perform 1-2 sets for 20-30 seconds on tight and tender spots on the lateral part of the leg before switching sides. Perform 1-2 sets in total.

Stretch the Lateral Part of the Leg


By performing this stretch before all tennis training sessions tennis players can get to more balls, will improve their lateral quickness, and prevent injuries throughout the lower body.

Tennis Warm Up Tips

There are several other dynamic warm-up exercises that can be incorporated into a dynamic stretching warm up routine, but this routine focuses on the most effective individual exercises that will help tennis players get to more balls, win more matches, have more fun, and most importantly prevent injuries. All of the exercises outlined in this warm-up routine can be performed with minimal equipment right there on the tennis court.

Here are a couple point to always keep in mind about your warm up.

Perform IMMEDIATELY Before Playing

A dynamic stretching warm up needs to occur immediately before playing even if you have a short drive to the tennis court. Every time one sits down and/or stops moving the body tightens up and the warmup routine needs to be performed again.

Use Proper Technique

Remember when performing these exercises to use correct technique and ALWAYS listen to your body. If you are experiencing any soreness, stiffness, and/or pain take a few days off to allow for a full recovery.

Mini Tennis Is NOT a Substitute

Many tennis players skip their warm-up and jump right on the tennis court and begin mini-tennis even though their bodies are not fully warmed up yet. I recommend my players perform mini tennis once their dynamic warm-up routine has concluded. Warming up properly before mini tennis requires focus, dedication and accountability to execute because many tennis players believe that mini tennis is sufficient to properly prepare both the upper body and lower body for the upcoming session. By performing both the tennis warm up exercises and mini tennis all tennis players will be fully prepared to play tennis and move around the tennis court efficiently and explosively.

Warm Up Every Time You Play

It is absolutely essential to perform this routine prior to all tennis practice sessions and matches. By performing this tennis warm up program on a regular basis both the lower body and upper body will be fully prepared for the stopping and starting and the lateral change of direction needed to move around the tennis court.

I hope you found this article useful and I encourage you to share it with other tennis players to help them learn how to properly prepare their bodies for the rigors of playing tennis. Should you have any questions please leave a comment below.

November 15, 2015

Tennis for Beginners – The Basics of Learning How to Play

Tennis For Beginners – 5 Steps To Consistent Groundstrokes

When a tennis beginner starts learning to play tennis, they first need to learn basic forehand and backhand technique as these will allow them to play, enjoy the game and come back for more.learn-how-to-play-tennis

The basics of tennis of course also include the serve, volley and the overhead strokes, but these techniques can be learned later as the beginner learns to rally first cooperatively with their partner.

All groundstrokes, meaning the forehand and the one-handed or two-handed backhand variation, follow very similar step-by-step progressions with only slight adjustments between them.

The following instructions for tennis beginners will build a proper foundation of basic strokes and allow them to learn to play tennis in the fastest way possible.

5 Steps To Learning Tennis Technique For Beginners

beginner1Since ball judgment is not developed yet with beginners, tennis first has to be played at a shorter distance and at a lower speed. We call it mini tennis, and it’s played from just behind the service line.

Playing at such a short distance and low speed allows beginners to still have time to judge the ball fairly well and not feel rushed as it reaches them. It’s also imperative that, since we modified the tennis game in a certain way, we modify stroke technique, too.

One of the most common mistakes when learning to play tennis is learning the basic groundstroke technique from the start, which means that the player is being taught to make a full turn and execute a full swing at the ball.

This simply creates way too much power and swing speed and makes it difficult to control the ball well at such a short distance. Therefore we have to use specific tennis instructions for beginners in order to teach them to play tennis right from the first minute they’re on the court.

By following these 5 step-by-step lessons for tennis beginners, they will be able to progress quickly and at the same time enjoy their time on the court.

1. Playing from the Contact Point and Extending Forward

how-to-play-forehandInstead of teaching the preparation of strokes first with a full turn and the backswing, we actually place the racquet just slightly behind the expected contact point.

You might feel that you have no power there, but you’ll quickly realize that even moving the racquet just a few inches towards the ball as you’re about to hit it gives it enough energy to fly over the net and reach your partner after one bounce.

Hitting the ball at the right time and at the right contact point is the key to consistency and correct tennis technique. Focusing first on this element of the game rather than on the mechanics of the stroke will help every tennis beginner improve very quickly and be able to play without many mistakes.

In this first step, you don’t have to focus much on the follow-through technique; instead, you simply extend your arm forward, guiding the ball towards the other side.

This initial technical adjustment applies to the forehand, one-handed backhand and the two-handed backhand.

In all cases, they start playing from the contact point first and simply extend straight forward and upwards, giving the ball some direction and height.

2. Playing from the Contact Point and Adding a Follow-through

forehand-follow-throughAs you become more comfortable and consistent playing from the contact point and extending forward, we can add the basic follow-through technique.

On the forehand and two-handed backhand groundstrokes, the follow-through is the same: we finish with the racquet over the shoulder. It should touch the shoulder with the edge and point its butt cap towards the net.

In case of a one-handed backhand, the body has to stay sideways with the arm fully extended and the racquet in a vertical position with its butt cap pointing to the ground.

You should now keep playing mini tennis, still preparing your strokes by placing the racquet just behind the contact point and now adding the follow-through technique on each stroke so that you start ingraining this movement into your subconscious.

These two steps are very important for the first few lessons that a tennis beginner takes as   they focus on the most important and actually one of the most challenging parts of tennis,   which is meeting the ball at an ideal distance from the body. This is the most efficient and comfortable way to play tennis.

Only when the player becomes more consistent playing mini tennis with this modified stroke technique do we move to the next progression in developing basic groundstroke technique.

3. Adding the Split Step

beginner-splitA split step is the basic type of footwork that needs to be present on every shot you’re receiving.

It’s a quick hop where you jump slightly off the ground and split your feet wide in the air and land in this same position, namely with your feet well apart. That helps you push off in any direction very quickly.

The key for the split step is proper timing and that means that you must land into the split step exactly when you realize where the ball is going. If you time it correctly, you’ll also feel that you can move explosively towards the ball.

4. Increasing the Distance of Play and Adding Stroke Preparation

Before increasing the distance to the full court, a tennis beginner should play for a while at about ¾ distance from the net, meaning that they move just inside the baseline and aim their shots at their opponent’s service line area.

This still keeps the speed of the ball low and gives them enough time to judge the ball well and move to it without being rushed. At this stage, we add another technical element for each stroke, and that’s the preparation.

The Forehand

The player should use their non-dominant hand and keep it on the throat of the racquet as they make their so-called unit turn. “Unit turn” means that the whole body including the arms moves as one unit.

We simply turn to the side while keeping our head facing forward, and we extend both arms to the side. From there, we release the non-dominant hand, let the racquet drop behind the body and   then pull it forward through the already familiar positions which are the contact point and the follow-through.

The Two-handed Backhand

backhand-preparationWe prepare in a very similar manner as we do on the forehand since the stroke is essentially a forehand with the non-dominant hand. We turn the body to the side while keeping the head facing forward. While we’re turning, we also need to adjust the grip of the dominant hand, and we change it from the eastern forehand grip to the continental.

We also slide the non-dominant hand from the throat down to the handle while we’re changing the grip. This somewhat complex move has to be practiced for a while so that it becomes quick and eventually completely subconscious. From there, we again let the racquet drop and fall behind us. Then we pull it through the familiar contact point and follow-through stages that we already mastered.

The One-handed Backhand

We also execute the unit turn, but we of course keep the non-dominant hand on the throat of the racquet. We again let the racquet drop, and we release the non-dominant hand just before the racquet starts to accelerate towards the contact point and continue to the follow-through.

5. Playing from the Baseline

As you practice hitting from mid-court, you’ll soon become more used to the speed of the ball and the preparation which you added in the previous step.

The best way to add power to your strokes is to simply let your body find the most natural way of generating more power.

You will very naturally add a little bit more body turn and perhaps a little bit more backswing, and the ball will easily reach your partner after one bounce.

5 Tennis Tips for Beginners to Accelerate the Learning Curve

While the basic stroke technique is the foundation of learning to play tennis for a complete beginner, there are actually other skills that the play has to master in order to play tennis well.

The following 5 tips and drills for tennis beginners will help you quickly overcome the biggest obstacles in learning tennis from scratch and allow you to advance quickly to higher levels.

1. Learning to Judge the Ball

Ball judgment ability improves automatically through lots of playing, but we can accelerate the process with one simple drill.

Simply play the ball after two bounces instead of one. You’ll have to move further back, of course, but you and your partner should still aim to make the first bounce in the service box. This drill will help you see how far the ball actually goes after the first bounce, and that will help you memorize its trajectory.

Play a two-bounce drill for a few minutes and then go back to playing after only one bounce to see if your ball judgment ability has improved.

2. How to Play with “Feel” and Control

A big challenge for almost every tennis beginner is that they hit too hard. The moving ball may overwhelm them and, despite the proper stroke progressions mentioned above, they still swing too much at the ball.

A good way to prevent that and to learn to play tennis with feel is to have the beginner stand just next to the net and place the racquet on their partner’s side.

The partner then tosses the ball right into their racquet, and the beginner has to play into   their hands from that position. The net of course prevents them from backswing, yet they will realize quickly that, even without any backswing, they can generate enough force to make the ball reach their partner.

After a minute or so playing from this position, move back to the service line and see if you can implement this minimal backswing and still play the ball over the net.

3. How to Play More Relaxed

beginner-arcAnother reason why a tennis beginner cannot control the ball well is because they are too tight. Perhaps they still think a lot about the instructions and how to move their arms, or perhaps they are affected by the bouncing ball and simply become tense in the process of hitting it back to their partner.

A very simple but effective way of becoming more relaxed is through becoming aware of your tension. The goal is to rate your tension from 1 to 5, 5 being the most tense, 1 being the most relaxed.

So, as you play mini tennis, ¾ tennis or already on the baseline, remember to check with yourself how tense you are from 1 to 5. If you realize that you’re at 3 or more, simply ask yourself to play at level 2 for a while.

You’ll see that your body can become more relaxed, but you do have to ask it to do that.

4. How to Play the Ball in an Arc

Tennis beginners often times think that a good shot is the one that goes over very close to the top of the net. That’s of course not true as that sort of play is very risky.

The best way to be constantly reminded that you should play in an arc is to use an obstacle at the net. You can place your tennis bag vertically on the bench or put a tennis racquet into the ball basket or even buy a more professional tool like a special rope that you can stretch over the net.

All these obstacles will constantly remind you to play in an arc and help you ingrain this idea into your subconscious.

5. How to Reach the Ball in Time

Beginners often times reach the ball late and therefore feel rushed and hit a poor shot. A good way to learn to get to the ball early is to exaggerate the situation at first.

You can do that by running to the side first, stopping and waiting for your partner to feed you the ball there. This helps you become aware of that space of time between your movement and your stroke. And once you’re aware of that short period of time, you can now look for it.

Eventually your partner feeds the ball to the side first and then you start moving towards it, but now you’re aware that you not only want to reach the ball but you also want to reach the ball with some extra time between your movement and your stroke.


The 5 step-by-step specific instructions for tennis beginners and the extra 5 tips for overcoming the biggest challenges beginners face will accelerate your learning process and help you play and enjoy tennis in a very short amount of time.

Following these lessons for beginners will also put you on the right track for learning more advanced tennis skills like adding topspin or slice to your strokes and learning different footwork patterns that will quickly move you from a beginner to an intermediate tennis player and beyond.

What are you biggest challenges in getting started as a tennis beginner? Tell me in the comments below!

October 9, 2015

Confidence in Tennis – Expert Analysis of Rafael Nadal’s Breakdown

I have been reading about Nadal’s recent loss of confidence. He says his game and physicality are OK, but he is getting concerned about being more nervous in matches and on big points than he used to be. (I don’t blame him. He used to hit shots with his unorthodox forehand that were nothing short of miraculous and required confidence of the highest order.) And because of it, he has been taking some bad losses.

Since I have I’ve seen this syndrome with other great players, I began analyzing the situation as follows. There appear to be two different kinds of confidence:

Basic Confidence

It’s a trait of those few, gifted individuals that are either born with it or get it somehow in their early life. (Most of us don’t have to be concerned with this type of confidence, but it is interesting to watch those that have it.) These geniuses just, at some deep, primal level, feel they are going to win. And this even persists in the face of some losses, and it enables them to win the vast majority of their matches, particularly the tight ones, because they come through on the majority of big points, especially in the important tournaments. And it lasts for years.

You can see it as young players burst on the scene early: Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Boris Becker, John McEnroe, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Pete Sampras, etc. They have “it” and win “Slam” events at their first opportunity.

Acquired Confidence

This is the kind most of us have, and it is earned through successful performances. It comes and goes, depending on our wins and losses. It’s streaky – we all start to build confidence when we get a few wins, and, unfortunately, we all start to lose it when we take a few losses. This is unlike the basic type of confidence, which seems resistant to losses (at least for awhile) and underlies and drives performance over a longer period of time. Players can still become champions with acquired confidence, but it is not so immediate, usually takes extraordinary work, and requires players to deliberately strive to control their emotions.

Examples are players like Ivan Lendl, Stephan Edberg, Martina Navratilova, and Andy Murray.

Basic Confidence Breakdowns

Interestingly, the players with basic confidence often find that it breaks down later in their careers. At some point it dissipates, and then they suffer from shaky nerves just like the rest of us. It is somewhat counter-intuitive. Most of us would think that these great champions, having already won so many tournaments and major events, would not feel so much pressure later in their careers. After all, they have already proved themselves, and the additional tournament wins would just be gravy anyway.

But it isn’t so. At some stage in their careers, the great champions, the ones with “it,” begin to perform like the players with acquired confidence. Instead of being confident all the time, their confidence comes and goes and is dependent on performance. They have good streaks and bad streaks, and suffer from shaky nerves that must be controlled, just like the players that lacked basic confidence to begin with. Pancho Segura once told me, “Kid, when you get older the first thing to go is your eyes. Then, your nerves!”

I suspect this happens to the champions because of some small, maybe even imperceptible, decrease in physical ability that occurs with age or injury. It also might start with an extended layoff. In any case, instead of the magic they could always count on, they surprise themselves by missing a few shots that they used to routinely make. It must cause a bit of an emotional shock, and then episodes of uncertainty and fear begin to raise their ugly heads.

You have seen it in Federer’s career. He held match points against Djokovic at the US Open two years in a row (2010 and 2011), got wobbly, and lost both matches. He has even admitted in interviews in recent years that he misses on a lot on break points. (Don’t we all, but Roger, with 17 Slams to his credit?) And now it’s starting to happen with Nadal. (You can even see it happen to the greats in other sports, such as with Tiger Woods.) The nerves go, and it must be quite disturbing to the champions with “it,” who, unlike the rest of us, have never before had to deal with this level of fear and shaky hands.

But even though these gifted players may lose some of their basic confidence and the effortless abilities they used to have to raise their games on big points, they can still win majors. But they must get on a hot streak or a roll. Sampras did it late in his career, and Nadal and Federer may do it tomorrow. (Unfortunately for them, Djokovic has gotten so darn good at the moment that he will need to be disposed of in some way – a weird upset; an injury; etc.)


The Cyclical Nature of Confidence in Tennis

Confidence is cyclical and tends to build on itself because it comes largely from winning. It is an unconscious expectation of success, and since most of our expectations come from past experience, winning in the past makes us expect to win in the future. Of course it is circular in that confidence helps you win and winning makes you confident, but this explains why confidence tends to be cyclical. When you win you become more confident, you play better, and your results cycle upward.

But eventually the streak ends. Maybe a poor night’s sleep, a bad diet, a loss of motivation, or just random human variability causes you to take some losses. In any case something changes, you lose; your confidence slips; and your results cycle downward.

This cycle will repeat itself many times during your tennis lifetime, and it is useful to remember this when you are taking losses and your confidence is deteriorating. It gives you realistic hope because the long view tells you that there is nothing terribly wrong with your game and that the upward turn will eventually come.

The Impact of Confidence for Pros on the ATP Tour

Vince Spadea’s professional career provided a dramatic example. After reaching a career high ATP world ranking of #19 in 1999, he began taking losses – lots of them – as his confidence sank to unprecedented depths, highlighted by a record-breaking 21 straight first-round tournament defeats! And his ranking fell to #233. But Spadea is a tough guy, and he took the long view. He continued to work on his game; he played some minor-league Challenger tournaments to get confidence-building wins; and though it took a long time, he ultimately clawed his way back to a career-high ATP ranking of #18 in 2005.

Temporary confidence “hot streaks” also play out on the pro tour. Here players get some wins, make sudden moves upward, and start to look like “the next great thing” only to falter and slide back into the pack. Marcos Bagdhatis burst on the scene like this in 2006. He was unseeded in the Australian Championship but reached the final and even blew out Roger Federer for a set before reality set in.

Petra Kvitova looked on the verge of becoming a dominant player when, at Wimbledon in 2011, she dismissed Maria Sharapova in the final in straight sets. Unfortunately for Petra, that magical week has not yet recurred. But the positive take-away from these examples is that just as hot streaks eventually dissipate, so do slumps.

How Recreational and Competitive Players Overcome Low Confidence

As for the rest of us, when we suffer those inevitable periods of low confidence, we will not be content to passively sit back and wait for it to return. Fortunately there are steps you can take to speed things up.

You will need to replace the missing confidence with emotional discipline.

This is because when you are unconfident you will tend to become angry or discouraged more quickly and choke more often than usual. Knowing this and recognizing that the confidence process is cyclical, your objective should be to avoid self-destructing while you rehabilitate yourself in the following ways:

  1. Be more determined, before you walk on court, to remain emotionally stable and controlled regardless of what happens during your match. Don’t wait until the match starts to make this decision because your amped-up emotions will make your judgment unreliable.
  2. Play high-percentage tennis. This means you should be prepared to work the points longer and grind your opponents down rather than trying to blow them out quickly. Get more of your first serves in play, and hit more crosscourts rather than going for aces or quick down-the-line winners.
  3. Have a strategy of attrition in the back of your mind. Be determined to outlast your opponent mentally by conserving your own emotional energy while draining the mental strength of your opponent with long, tough points and a minimum of errors. Yes, this is hard work, and you are more dependent on your opponent’s errors and weaknesses than you might like. But it’s better than forcing your game to function above its comfort level, “hitting and hoping,” missing, and losing.
  4. Play easier opponents to get some wins and allow your game to stabilize when it is not under high pressure.
  5. Reduce your focus on winning by concentrating on getting into position early, staying relaxed, watching the ball, and enjoying the competitive experience.
  6. Spend some additional time on the practice court working on fundamentals.

Doing this will at least keep your game functional, and it will give you a chance to get those few wins that are crucial to turning things around and starting your level of confidence on the upswing.

Case Study – How Strokes Can Get Better While the Game Gets Worse

Confidence plays an enormous role in competitive performance. In the short run it has a more powerful effect on execution than strategy or even work on the practice court. For example, I was consulting with a 15-year old tournament player (I’ll call her Sandra) who was terribly upset with her tournament results. She was attending a high-powered tennis academy, practicing four hours a day, spending time in the gym and on the track, and yet her results and ranking had gotten worse over the past three months. Sandra was discouraged because, she said, “All the practice and physical training has done nothing but make me worse!” How is this possible?

Of course the problem is confidence. Sandra’s game was not getting worse. In fact, it was probably getting better, but her improvement was masked by a drop in confidence and her results reflected it. As with us all, the basic skill level of Sandra’s game is a function of habit strength. Her simple ability to hit forehands and backhands is largely determined by how many of each she has hit properly in practice. (Habit strength is a function of number of repetitions.) Since she had hit more of these at the end of the three months than at the beginning, her habits were necessarily stronger. Unfortunately, her confidence was weaker, and it affected her performance far more than short-term improvement in strokes.

Was I able to cure her lack of confidence? No, only winning does that. But by gaining perspective she was able to reduce her immediate stress and pain. She became more hopeful, emotionally controlled, and productive. About a month later, as it always does, the situation turned around. She got a couple of wins, started to feel better, built on this, and finished the year with a substantially improved ranking and outlook.

Confidence can make a 10% to 15% difference in performance. (I’m just guessing.) On the other hand, let’s see how much stroke improvement we can expect with three months of practice. Assume Sandra hits 500 forehands per day, six days a week, for 13 weeks. That is a total of 39,000. But Sandra has been playing since she was 8 years old. Assume she had hit only 300 forehands a day, six days a week for the previous seven years. That is a total of 655,200 forehands. The three months additional practice would have added only 6% to the total number of repetitions, an improvement easily swamped by a 15% performance decrement due to confidence. (This assumes that the increase in habit strength is linear with respect to repetitions. My guess is that it isn’t, and that the additional repetitions increase habit strength less than did the earlier ones.)

There were a number of positive conclusions for Sandra here. The first is that her game was improving with practice, even though she couldn’t see it at the moment. This gave her incentive to continue practicing because she understood that more repetitions necessarily made the strokes themselves better.

Replace confidence with discipline.


September 1, 2015

Tennis Training Gym Routine – 8 Best Beginner Exercises

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.

Seated Rows

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.

Weighted Crunches

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.


August 9, 2015

Momma Poppa Tennis – 28 Tips for Teaching Your Kids – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 2 part post. You can view Part 1 by clicking here.

“Tickle Two Pepper Toss, Catches Feeding Rally!”


Popsicle Sticks For Teaching Grips

15-1bPopsicle sticks make great little gadgets for teaching tennis grips. I always carry some in my bag. You can get them for next to nothing. I got mine at Michael’s Art Supply Store. A box of a million cost me a nickel, and here’s how you do “the popsicle tickle.” Give each munchkin a popsicle stick. They come in multi-colors. Let them pick the color.

Tell them to hold it as if they were going to write with it like a pencil, and then press it up against the right vertical panel of the racket handle so that it’s standing straight up and down. This is known as the “eastern forehand shake-hands trigger-finger grip.” It’s the first one they should learn. 15-3bA handle has eight edges. Ask them what you call an eight-sided figure (octagon). Then ask them which of the street signs is an octagon (stop sign). Ask them if they know of any cephalopods with that word in it (octopus). Ask them what you call an 80 year old (octagenarian).

Now, put the popsicle stick over the upper right bevel, so it’s on a slant. This is the Continental Grip. Then put it flat on the top. This is your Eastern Backhand One-Hand Drive Grip. Then put it on the under right bevel for a Semi-Western Forehand. 15-2bIf you are not sure about the grips yourself, go to youtube and watch a few video clips on tennis grips.

I used to use the “prehensile pencil stencil utensil” to teach grips, but you couldn’t hit balls with a pencil between your hand and the handle_it hurt. The popsicle tickle just tickles.


The Two-Hand Backhand Grip

16-1bAfter you’ve shown them the shake-hands trigger-finger forehand grip, you need to show them the two-hand backhand grip. I can teach somebody the two-handed backhand in two minutes, and the one-hand backhand in two months. Save the one-hand for later. Teach your kids the two-handed backhand before you even think about teaching them the one-hand. One man’s opinion.

If it’s a small child with a big racket, and they want to hit it with two hands on both sides, either hand on top, who cares? We can fix that later. 16-2bPoint is: get them started. Assuming you’ve shown them the ready-position (where the spare hand loosely cradles the throat of the racket in the pads of the fingertips or plane of the palm), all they have to do now to get a two-hand backhand grip is slide the left hand down to where it touches the right. It’s like a baseball grip. No gaps, no overlaps. Sometimes little guys like to leave a gap between the hands. Not good. Sometimes they’ll try to overlap the hands, as in golf. Good for golf, not for tennis.

Tell them to hold the racket up like a bat, then just before they hit the ball, dip it down like a golf club. 16-3bOne is angled up, the other’s down. When a racket goes from a bat to a club, it’s a blub. Tell them there will be a quiz later. The reason you want the tip dipped is to make sure you are brushing up on the ball from a foot below it. Hitting a topspin backhand is more like going up a sliding board than across a table.


Bunting Drills

17-1bBaseball coaches have a little pre-game warmup drill they do with infielders, known as “pepper.” The players stand around in a semi-circle and toss the ball to the coach who bunts it back randomly to the players. It keeps them on their toes, because nobody knows where it’s going.

That little control game is perfect for your next step. You are going to toss the ball underhand to your child or students, and they are going to bunt it back to you so you can catch it. A semi-circle works best. Since the last thing you just taught them was the two-hand backhand, might as well begin with that. 17-2bThen do the one-hand forehand. (The two-hand backhand is nothing but two forehand grips.)

Now, tell them to take the right hand off (assuming you have a right-handed player) and leave the left hand where it is. You’re going to toss them some balls underhand and they’re going to bunt them back to you with a left-handed forehand.

17-3bAfter they’ve hit a few left-handed forehands, tell them to put the right hand back on, but it’s just along for the ride. The left hand is doing all the work. A left-handed forehand is a push. A one-hand right-hand backhand is a pull. Pushing and pulling are two different things. Two-hand backhanders are doing more pushing than pulling. Start them with the two-hand, and later add the one-hand slice. If they want the Federer-Express, they’ll ask for it.


How To Toss A Tennis Ball

18-1bThis tip works for anybody: teaching pros, coaches, mommas and poppas…

When you teach a family or a group of students, spend a little time teaching them how to toss the ball underhand. It’s the cheapest ball-machine going. A great skill for parents to learn. Do not feed a ball with an overhand toss or a throw.

Stand your tossers with their backs at the net. 18-2bEach tosser is aiming for a T. One “T” is where the center serve line meets the serve line. The other two T’s are where the singles alley lines meet the serve line. So, each tosser has a T to aim for. They have a line for direction and one for distance. They toss the ball underhand to their partner so that it bounces on the T. The partner catches it on one bounce and tosses it back.

The art of tossing is the same as bowling, and the same as walking. It’s called normal opposition. When the left foot comes forward, the right hand comes forward.

18-3bNow you have to work on the speed of the toss, the height of the toss, and where it lands. If this takes 10 minutes to get across, trust me it’s worth it. If you think they can handle it, back them up a little and have them play throw and catch with overhand throws.

At first, with little guys, have them catch it on one bounce. Then maybe catch it in the air. Now, let’s get into how you catch a ball…


How To Catch A Tennis Ball

19-1bTake your cap off and let them catch the ball in your baseball cap. Keep old caps around for this drill. Bounce the ball easy, if it’s a little guy. Put your cap back on and have them do some alligator catches. Touch the heels of both hands together and turn them vertical to make “alligator jaws.” Little kids who haven’t played baseball do well with alligator jaws. Ask them what’s the difference between an alligator a crocodile. None of them will know. Tell them to look it up tonite; it’ll be on the test tomorrow.

Give them each an empty tennis can. Put it in their left hand (the tossing hand for right-handed server). 19-2bHit the ball high as you can in the air (rainmakers). Tell them to catch the ball in the can before it stops bouncing (raindrops). They always have a blast with this one. As they get better, have them catch it on two bounces, then one bounce.

For the advanced kids, give them each a can with three balls in it. Tell them to get in line. When it’s their turn, they hand you their three balls and keep the empty can. You hit all three balls, one right after another, up in the air as high as you can. Their job is to catch all three balls in the can before they stop bouncing.19-4b

Show them how to catch a ball on a tennis racket (if you know how). Show them how to field a ground ball like a shortstop and throw a runner out at first base. Teach them how to juggle…

Now, what about feeding…


Three Ways To Feed A Tennis Ball

20-1bFollowing underhand tossing, or dropping the ball, the next way most parents learn to feed a ball off a racket is standing across the net from their munchkin (which assures they will pass their genes on to more munchkins), and drop-hitting the ball.

A drop-hit feed is where you drop the ball, let it hit the ground, rise to its peak, and then hit it gently to your student. As you get better, you feed them out of your hand without letting them hit the ground first.

20-3bIf you are a new teaching pro, make sure you don’t feed topspin balls to your hitter. They take off and run and are hard to hit. It’s easy to spot a new tennis teacher: they feed with topspin. When you feed balls, either on a bounce or out of your hand, put a little backspin on it. This makes the ball bite the ground and sit up so it’s easier for the student to hit.  Choke up on your handle for better control when feeding.

Feeding gets to be an art. Has nothing to do with learning. Just fun to do and keeps a lot of people busy. Some teaching pros who love to feed remind me of traffic cops who dig their job. They’re like bullfighters with a cape.20-4b

So, start beginners off with shadow swings, imitating you but not hitting balls. Then, stand next to them and drop the ball. Correct their backswing, stroke and follow-thru. Then, toss the ball underhand on one bounce. Then, feed it from the other side of the net with a little backspin. Shadow, drop, toss, hit, up the ladder you will git.


The Bounce-Hit Rally

21-1bShort-court bounce-hit is the first way you get a rally going. The short-court (or the mini-court) refers to the four service boxes right up there by the net. Power is not the issue here. Control is. What you’re looking for are bunts. Short, controlled pushes that get the ball over the net and land in one of the boxes without going past the service line, or wide of the singles alley line. The entire length of the swing is about a ruler. Hardly a swing at all. That’s where you start it.

Here’s how you do it: Every time a ball hits the ground everybody in your group (or your one student) says “bounce.” 21-2bEvery time a racket hits a ball, everybody says “hit.” Pretty soon, you’ve got a bunch of bounce-hits going, and the tick-tock cadence becomes a metronome. The rhythm of the rally sweeps you along. “Bounce-hit.  Bounce-hit.” You can’t concentrate on two things at the same time. By occupying your mind with the bounces and the hits, you have no time to be worried about the swing.

The bounce-hit rally is one of the best things you can ever teach a beginner. It’s also a great tool to fall back on when you’re nervous or hurried. 21-3bWhen you and your student are successful at the short-court distance, back it up to “No Man’s Land” (that rectangular area between the baseline and serve line). If you can keep a ten ball rally going from that distance (60 feet), back it up to the baseline. You say “bounce-one.” Your student says “bounce-two.” You say “bounce-three.” Until you get to ten. If the ball bounces twice before it gets to you, it’s “bounce, bounce.”

“Rainbow Rally Sin of Wipers Teases Jungle Bobbles!”


Best Distance For An Endless Rally

22-1bA rainbow is shaped like the top half of a circle. A rainbow rally looks like two McDonald’s arches. This is the shape of the rally we want. Line-drives and net-skimmers are the bets of beginners. Tennis is a game of errors. Most errors go into the net. Lesson number one: hit it twice as high as the net.

Lesson number two: The funnest part of tennis is the endless rally. Find a distance that enables a rally to go on forever. The five distances I use for rallying purposes are: 20′, 40′, 60′, 80′, 100′.

22-2bA 20′ rally is where you are 10 feet from the net and so is your student. Short grip, soft hands, no swing, happy feet. You are both in the middle of the service boxes. Either bunt a real ball or use the sponge balls. A 40′ rally is from serve-line to serve-line. The sponge balls are good for this distance. But, the easiest distance, I have found, for an endless rally, with any age or any ball, is the 60′ rally.

This is where you are standing in the middle of that big rectangle known as “No-Man’s-Land” and so is your student. The term “No Man’s Land” is from World War I. That’s where the bombs and mines all blew up. 22-3bIn a real tennis rally that’s where all the balls land. But for a great warmup distance, that’s where you stand. You aim for their “T” and they aim for yours. If it’s just you and one munchkin, use the center T’s. If there are 6 of you, use the alley T’s too. The magic distance is the endless rally distance. Experiment until you find it.


Other Rally Distances

23-1bA tennis court is 78′ feet long. If you are standing 1 foot behind your baseline, and so is your munchkin, you’ve got yourself an 80′ rally. Most munchkins can’t do an 80′ rally, at least not on one bounce. Pretty soon they can. But, until they can get it on one bounce, try the two-bounce rally. Hit the ball gently to them, so that it bounces twice. Tell them to stay behind the baseline and hit the ball on the second bounce.

I sometimes do this drill with my adults who have clodhoppers (big feet). What you want in tennis are baby-feet, little steps, many ministeps. 23-2bYour eyes see the ball coming. Your brain tells your feet to get you to a good spot where your hand can hit it. The two-bounce drill is great for foot-eye hand-eye coordination. You’ll hear the squeak of sneakers as your munchkin does that little cha-cha skip-step to adjust their distance to the ball. Show them how to cha-cha.

Then back them up to the back fence and feed balls that bounce 3x before they get to them. Back fences are usually 120′ apart. 100′ rallies are great for footwork. I sometimes have people serve from this distance to get a better view of the swerve of the curve.23-3b

If your munchkin has turned into a monster (teenager), you can have some fun integrating, math, physics and geometry (with the Pythagorean Theorem, Magnus Effect, and the shape of the shots). Experiment with distances. They’re all good for something.


The #1 Mistake In Tennis

24-1bTennis is a game of errors not winners. For every point decided by somebody hitting a winner, far more are decided by somebody making an error. How many ways can you make a mistake in tennis? Seven. The seven deadly sins of tennis are: short, wide, deep, double-fault, double-bounce, and the two touches.

Short: the ball goes into the net. Wide: it went wide of the alley lines. Deep: it cleared the baseline. Double-fault: you didn’t get your serve in in two tries. Double-bounce: it bounced twice before you got to it. The two touches:24-2b the first thing you can’t touch is the ball with anything but the racket, and the second is the net with anything, including your body, shoes, shorts, and shirt.

Which one gets the most? Tell them to spell tennis backwards and they’ll see. Tennis spelled backwards is Sin-Net. The number one sin in tennis is hitting the net. When do mistakes occur? Before soembody has hit it 3 times normally. The average rally is 5 hits. The shortest is 2. Agassi and Sampras had a 50 baller once.

24-3bFor awhile the record in a professional match for the longest rally went to Vicky Nelson and Jean Hepner for their 643 ball rally in 1984 (one point lasted a half-hour). The match itself lasted over 6 hours. That was before John Isner and Nicolas Mahut set the record with their 2010 Wimbledon marathon that lasted 11 hours, over 3 days. No tie-breakers to decide majors. The last set went 70-68. What do fans want? Shorter matches with longer rallies. Duh.


The 6 Benefits Of Tennis

25-1bThere are 8,000 sports around the world. Less than 50 make it to the Olympics. And probably fewer than 10 are available to you. Each sport has something to offer. Some have more than one thing. Tennis has six. With tennis you get the opportunity to Win, Improve, Play, Exercise, Rally, and Socialize (WIPERS). Many can offer you 4 out of 6 (football, baseball, basketball, soccer, etc). Golf can offer you 5 out of 6, but only tennis can offer you all 6. Win, Improve, Play, Exercise, Rally, and Socialize.

You can’t rally in golf. You don’t play mixed doubles in football. 25-3bYou don’t play on a treadmill or track, you work. If the purpose of education is to learn to love to think, the purpose of sports is to learn to love to exercise. You live longer, you live better, you have more fun. Tennis let’s you do that, and for more years than any other sport. If you don’t have an individual sport by the time you get out of high school or college, you might not have a sport.

If lacrosse was your sport, you’re going to find it tough to round up 20 guys with pads and a field with two goals and white lines. Soccer is pretty easy but it’s not co-ed and it doesn’t have a rally. Softball isn’t easy to organize.25-2b Try booking a field some day. Running and swimming are great, but they’re not games and they are solitary. You need a game that’s fun that doesn’t require a lot of people or equipment. All you need for a tennis workout is a ball and wall. All you need for a tennis match is another person with two sneakers and a stick.


Tell Em A Story Explaining Success

26-1bPeople like stories. And nobody likes stories like 11 year old girls. If you’ve got some 11 year old girls, you are a pig in the mud. Once they hit puberty, however, you are the mud. Get out of there as quick as you can if you are a Martian and get a Venutian in there.

I don’t remember when I discovered storytelling, maybe 1981, but let me tell you something_it’s magic. But, you can’t read them; you have to tell them. The first story I ever tried on kids was a takeoff on the old trope of the two frogs who fell into a bucket of cream. I put it to rhyme.26-2b

“Two frogs fell into a bucket of cream, the first frog said, “We’re dead it seems!” He gave up the ghost and drowned. Second frog said, “I’ll use my head, I may be down, but I aint dead!” He thrashed about in the cream. The sides were slippery, the rim was high, he bounced from the bottom, but could not fly, and nobody dropped him a rope. All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, just when hope had turned to despair, a miracle started to happen. That bucket of cream began to harden, from all his thrashin & dashin & dartin, clearing the top he was heard to mutter, well I’ll be darn, it turned to…” (and they all yell BUTTER!)26-3b

Then I told them about “Cruisin Susan Who Didn’t Like Losin” and “The Little Black Sheep Who Liked To Throw Pigs And Finally Turned Into a Horse,” “Foolish Julie Who Liked To Ride Thousand Pound Beasts Heading East at 40 Miles An Hour”, “Tarzan The Ape Man,” “Skeeter Scooter,” etc.


The 6 Ways To Pick Up A Tennis Ball

27-1bMost people pick up a tennis ball like a giraffe or a woodpecker. I personally prefer the woodpecker. Here are the 6 jungle pickups:

Elephant: “If you were an elephant, how would you pick up a tennis ball?” An elephant would waddle over to the ball and with a loud slurping noise suck the ball up with his trunk.

Alligator: “If you were an alligator, how would you pick up a tennis ball?” Alligators lay their lower jaw on the ball and quickly back up to rake it in.27-2b

Giraffe: “How about a giraffe?” Giraffes nudge the ball up against the outstep of one foot, and then quickly lift the foot and ball at the same time.

Monkey: “What about a Monkey?” The monkeys are always goofing around, so they like to put the ball between both feet and jump up in the air and catch it. (However old they are, make your kids give you that many monkey jumps).27-3b

Woodpecker: The woodpecker likes to ratta-tat-tat the ball off the ground. Show them how to choke up on the handle of the racket, and knock the ball on the head one time with the strings to make it pop up off the ground. Once everybody can do the one-pop, show them the quick three-pops.

Eagle: When an eagle sees a fish (scoot a ball along the ground), it swoops down close to the lake along side it, and scoops it up with it’s claw.


Racket-Ball Skill Drills

28-1bThe oldest racket-ball skill-drill in the book is Dribbles & Bobbles. Some people call them Downers & Uppers, same thing.

When you dribble a tennis ball with a tennis racket (same as dribbling a basketball), you push it down to the ground with the forehand face and make it pop back up to about waist height. Beginners always flip the tip and the ball bounces too high and gets away. Get around behind your beginner, put your hand over theirs and do it for them. Keep the racket face parallel to the ground. When the ball comes up, racket goes down.28-2b

For Bobbles (or Uppers), hold the racket parallel to the ground and bounce the ball off the forehand face up in the air about two feet high. Then off the backhand face. Then Flip-Flops. One on the backhand face, one on the forehand face. This is a good introduction to the “Continental grip” without ever mentioning the name.

For advanced munchkins and monsters (teenagers), have them do Cutters. Cutters are Flip-Flops where you cut the ball for spin. 28-3bYou need some room for this one.

My advice when doing any drill that involves popping a ball up in the air is to maintain double helicopter distance. Have them stick their arms out to the side and spin around like a helicopter. Tell them: “Don’t get any closer to the nearest set of ivory than two helicopters. Otherwise, you’re going to wind up with Summer Teeth where some are here and some are there.

August 2, 2015

Momma Poppa Tennis – 28 Tips for Teaching Your Kids – Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 2 part post. You can view Part 2 by clicking here.

I wince when I see parents out there with one kid and three doggie balls.

They hold the balls above their head and flick ‘em at the ground like lightning bolts. The poor kid misses the first, nails the parent with the second, and hits the third one out of the park. The parent’s pain is palpable. They leave after twenty minutes. We lose a lot of potential players that way.04-4b

Tennis should be taught in every high school in the country by a certified pro and not some English teacher who has to do it. There aren’t many games you can do for a lifetime with so many benefits. Under-10 tennis should be taught in every elementary school, also by a certified pro. Bingo, there goes our obesity problem, and here comes the next boom.

The Quick Start program for kids under 10 that the USTA launched in May of 2008 has been a big success at getting kids into the game. So, if your kids are under 10, go to and learn about the short courts, little rackets and big sponge balls and where to go for it. It’s going to get us a whole bunch of new players.

At some point, however, the piper has to be paid. You eventually have to hit real balls with big rackets on big courts. So, this is for teaching kids over 10. These are just some things that worked for me in 40 years of teaching the game. Maybe one or two will work for you.

“Bucket of Balls Hops Mark, Spots Large Hatchet!”


What To Hold Tennis Balls In01-2b

If you’re going to teach your kids tennis, you’re going to need some balls and something to hold them in. Shadow-swings are nice, but eventually you have to hit the ball. A whole bunch of times.

Pros use hoppers. You’re not a pro, you’re a momma poppa. Do not try the three-doggie-ball constant-retrieval method, it doesn’t work. The balls go everywhere and won’t come back. I wince when I see parents out there with one kid and three doggie balls.

01-3bThey hold the balls above their head and flick ‘em at the ground like lightning bolts. The poor kid misses the first, nails the parent with the second, and hits the third one out of the park. The parent’s pain is palpable. They leave after twenty minutes. We lose a lot of potential players that way.

A 5-quart plastic paint bucket goes for three bucks at any hardware or paint store, and a buck at the Dollar Store. You need one for each student, plus a roll of duck tape. Reinforce the buckets (not the students) with the duck tape, otherwise they’re going to quack.

Each bucket holds about 18 balls. If you’ve got 4 kids, you need 401-1b buckets. That’s 72 balls. I’ll tell you where to get those in a second. But, by all means, get yourself some duck buckets. They make picking up easy, feeding fair, and upside down work great as targets. Get yourself some duck buckets.


Where To Get Free Tennis Balls

02-1bSeventy-two balls makes a “case.” A new case of balls can set you back sixty bucks. You don’t need to spend sixty bucks on new tennis balls. You can get balls for free. Just not new balls. Call the head pro or tennis director at a club or indoor barn in your area and tell them you are working with your kids and do they have any balls they can spare? Better yet, go visit them.

Ask to speak to the big dog (the owner, the head pro, the tennis director, not the assistant). Big dogs have the big picture: get people into this game. Everybody gets healthy, everybody has fun, everybody wins.02-2b

Teaching pros have to replace their balls once a month. Sometimes we just throw the old ones out and never know where they go. Probably the same place elephants go: secret burial grounds somewhere.

Do an online search for “tennis clubs” and add your zipcode. Get your map out and go visit them. Don’t be shy. Drop off a file-box with your name and number on the top. File-boxes are great.  They have lids, look neat and stack easy. They don’t clutter up the tennis office.02-3b

Ask the big dog if they can please save you some balls. You’re trying to get your kids or grandkids started. At that point the pro will probably tell you about their junior program. Tell them if your kids express any interest, you’ll be back for lessons. Come back in a week and see what you get. It’s like a crab pot or a box of chocolates.


What About Tennis Ball Hoppers?

03-1bSo, you’ve got yourself some balls, the kids have each got duck buckets. Now what? Well, if you are serious, and flush at the moment, get yourself a hopper. Doesn’t have to be a Whopper Hopper, just a hopper. Whopper Hoppers hold upwards of 100 balls, and unless your name is Arnie, too heavy to carry.

If you don’t have a hopper, you can also use a box. Boxes are free. Cut some handholds in the side, but be careful, or your friends are going to call you “Stumpy.” If you cut your fingers off, it’s going to be tough to demonstrate grips. Liquor stores keep sturdy boxes at the counter. 03-2bTall wine boxes work best. You don’t have to buy or consume the wine (although, depending on the kids, it sometimes helps).

Duck-tape the bottom of your boxes and the sides, or they won’t last very long. A nice advantage of ball hoppers over boxes is that hoppers invert to make stands for feeding and serving; boxes do not. Go online and order yourself a hopper. They start at twenty bucks.

03-3bI like hoppers that hold 72 balls and I always carry two. You only need one. If you decide to turn pro, get a shopping basket. They hold a gazillion balls. The pros at indoor clubs all have tennis carts with lids on top that lock, and they store them behind the curtains. Do a search for “tennis carts.” You’ll see them all.


How To Identify Your Tennis Balls

04-1bAlright, you’ve got yourself some balls, the kids have got duck-buckets, and you’ve got yourself a hopper, maybe. Balls are going to be going everywhere. Sometimes you’re not lucky enough to be the only one out there. I recommend branding your balls_or only using the same kind of balls. If you put a little smile on the seam with a magic marker, it’s not only easier to see the spin of the ball, it’s also easier to identify whose balls is whose.

Each time I add a new case of balls, I mark them a different color: red, green, or blue.  That way I can spot at a glance which are the best balls to use for the rally or the game: my green-weenies, my red-hots or my new-blues. 04-2bWhen balls get too old for the main basket, I stick ‘em with my pig sticker (a scratch awl on a Swiss army knife. I recommend getting one_their army has not lost a battle yet).

Then I take a black magic marker and color over the previous color. These are my dead heads. Dead-heads are good for short-court games with beginners. Short-court or mini-tennis is a rally in the four service boxes up there by the net.

04-4bElementary school teachers are always looking for balls for creative projects, and to stick on the bottoms of chairs. And dog owners always need balls. Take a bag of doggie-balls to the park_make yourself a new friend.

For other ideas, do a search for “things to do with tennis balls.” If you don’t get a million hits, I’d be surprised.


Spot Markers, Stories & Stretches

05-1bHere is something I learned one year in Arizona doing after-school tennis programs with elementary schools: get yourself some dots. Some people call them “rainbow spots” or “poly-dots.” Borrow them from the phys ed teacher if you have to, but get yourself some dots and keep them in your bag. They’re great for positions and targets. This tip is for mommas & poppas (or new teaching pros) who have inherited a bunch of munchkins. Instead of 1-2 of yours, you’ve got 6-8 of somebody else’s, and most of them are on drugs, usually Ritalin.

05-2bSit them down for a story, send them on a lap, then spread ’em out for stretches. Stand on the center-T and have everybody make a circle around you. The center-T is where the serve line meets the center serve line. If you’re dealing with 5-10 year old, you’ll be glad you’ve got these dots. They are little round non-slip spot-markers made out of heavy rubber. They come in several colors.

With little kids you get much better results with “find a dot” than “spread out.” They don’t understand “spread out.” If you don’t have dots, use the lines on the court. 05-3bWhere any two lines meet, you have an “L” or a “T.” Tell them: “Go find an L!” “Go find a T!”

By spreading them out, you avoid summer teeth (where some are here and some are there). Go around the horn. Have each one lead a stretch (you may have just created a coach.) If it’s a gymnastics kid, you’ll be crippled for weeks, but you’ll be a loose cripple.


Using The Quick Start Sponge Balls

06-1bAnybody who has ever tried to teach a beginner how to play tennis, knows that the main problem is the ball, not the court, not the racket_it’s the ball. A brand new tennis ball is too lively for beginners. It bounces them right out of the sport.

If you have to use new balls, or good balls, make sure you start your students in the short-court, rallying in the service boxes with bunts and pushes, not swings. Stuck-ducks and dead-heads are good for short-court. New balls that get wet aren’t bad. They’ve got lots of nap (fuzzy cover) and reduced bounce.06-3b

But, somebody finally came up with the perfect beginner ball for the under 10s. Get yourself some. They’re called Quick Start, or Quick Kid. They are large and soft. The whole thrust of the current campaign to get more munchkins into tennis is built around these two-tone spongies. It allows a beginner to experience a long rally, which is the main attraction in tennis. (Also works for adults.)

06-4bBecause these balls are big and soft and spongy, you don’t have to roll them to control them. You don’t need spin. You can smash ’em and they don’t go anywhere. Some go 36 feet, others go 60. Get a bucket full if you can afford it.

You can convert one normal size court into four short-courts by going sideways with portable nets. Some communities have gone whole-hog and built little short-court stadiums. Go to for the links.


“Throwing The Edge” On The Serve

07-4bWhat about the serve? Toss it up in the air and hit it over the net. Keep it simple. But, at some point they’re going to find out there’s no Santa Claus. To hit a topspin serve you have to glance, brush or nick the ball. Flat splats are not the answer. You be the judge of when to inform them of this.

To glance, brush, or nick a ball, the racket, as it leaves the upside-down backscratch position, goes after the ball like a hatchet that’s trying to turn itself into a hammer, but never quite makes it. It always nicks the ball on a slight slant. Ask them if they can think of another creature that starts out as one thing and winds up as another (tadpoles, caterpillars…).07-6b

Some teachers have success saying: “Throw the edge at the ball.” A fun edge-awareness drill is “Edgie Wedgie” where the students actually do hit the ball with the bottom edge of the racket. Initially balls go everywhere. Eventually they start heading off towards one o’clock for righties.

Beginners always want to use the “waitress-grip palm-up tray-position” with a forehand grip.07-2b Disabuse them of this notion. When the palm is up, the elbow is down.  You want the palm down and the elbow up.

Take them out on the field. Line them up for “hatchet throwing.” Have them throw their rackets as far as they can up the field, end over end. Bottom line: the serve is like a throw. We don’t want them to get sick, but we do want them to throw up.

“Scratching Other Roller Wheels, Fences Target Schools!”


The “J” Toss, And The “A” Frame

08-1bThere is no one formula for the teaching the serve, but start by telling them something they are doing right. If you look hard enough, you can always find 12 things anybody is doing right (beginning with breathing, not falling down, and holding on to the racket). Then, focus in on one thing about the toss and one thing about the hit that could stand a little work.

I like to start my beginners on the serve line, with the racket resting on their shoulder or hanging down their back in the “backscratch.” Tell the righties to “point to the post on the left, turn and toss to the post on the right, and make a big letter J.”08-3b

Reduce the number of bends by having them straighten out their tossing arm (this takes out the elbow) and turning their palm to the side like they are raising an ice cream cone or a glass of water (this takes out the wrist). For adults: champagne toast. Tell them to hold on to the ball until it’s above their head. Then, when they let go of it, have them turn their palm toward the net. This is called “pronating.” It prevents finger-flicking.

08-2bWhen the racket hits the ball, let the racket head come down first before the handle. Like diving into a pool instead of jumping. That puts the arm and racket in the “A” position or upside-down V. So, the toss makes the letter “J,” and the hit makes the letter “A.”

“J & A”. Just Aces.


Other Sports Resembling The Serve

09-2bWhat the wrist does on a serve in tennis is the same thing it does in football, baseball, basketball, and darts.  It pronates and flexes in that wrist-flicking motion, like you’re waving bye-bye to somebody. The palm turns forward and the fingers flap down and to the right.

Bring a basketball. Shoot some hoops. If you don’t have a hoop, just shoot the basketball back and forth for a minute from a couple feet away. If you do have a basketball net, have your kids fill up their buckets with tennis balls, spread out and shoot hoops with right hand and layups with the left. Or toss left-handed up thru the net, or into a hopper. 09-1bThrow balls into the backboard and catch ’em again. Turn a bucket, box or hopper upside-down and have them toss tennis balls underhand with their tossing hand into it.

Bring a rubber football. Toss it around for five minutes. Show how you turn the palm to the outside when you release a football. Invite the high school quarterback to give a demonstration. The Williams sisters threw footballs the length of the court, and they are the best servers in the women’s game.

09-4bIf you are at home, and have a dart board, show your munchkin carefully how to release a dart. All of these motions are similar to the serve in tennis. The most important part of the serve, in my opinion, after 40 years of teaching it, and playing a gazillion other sports involving projectiles, is the wrist.


Using A Paint Roller To Teach Spin

10-1bAt some point you must teach your kids the fundamental thing about controlling a tennis ball: to control the ball, you must roll the ball (tennis balls, baseballs, basketballs, footballs, ping pong, pool). To teach roll, get a roller.

Go to a hardware store. Buy yourself a cheap little paint roller for two or three bucks. Take the soft roller off the spindle and slide a tennis ball onto it. To slide a tennis ball onto it, you first have to carefully cut out two holes at the poles of the ball with a razor knife or a box cutter. Be careful or your friends are going to call you Stumpy.10-2b

This is a wonderful little gadget. I always carry one in my tennis bag. Made it up in ’75. The fundamental difference I see in watching self-taught players on public parks and high school courts versus kids who’ve had private lessons is this: the kids who have had private lessons know about topspin_and the ones who haven’t, don’t. Tennis is 80-90% topspin, 10-20% backspin. It’s not about flat. You must roll the ball to control the ball.

10-3bIf you want to get into the physics of it, try a search for “the Magnus Effect.” The 50 year old Gustav Magnus figured out in 1852 what makes tennis balls arc and dive and golf balls rise. He was not the first, but he got the credit for it. A 30 year old figured it out 200 years before him. Isaac Newton was watching his students play tennis at Cambridge in 1672 and accurately described the phenomenon: topspin arcs and dives. Fourteen years later he figured out gravity. Spin came first for him, and should for you, too.


Make The Serve Roll Like A Wheel

11-1bTell your munchkin, or bunch of munchkins, whatever you’ve got, that the tennis ball is nothing but a wheel, and that you are going to give them the “feel of the wheel.” They will remember this for years. It’s tactile, visual, and proceeds from the known to the unknown. When you think of a ball as a wheel, it makes understanding spin pretty simple.

Turn a bike upside-down. If you know you’re going to teach this drill, make sure there is a bicycle in the vicinity and that you have actually turned it over, stood it on its seat without first getting a hernia, and tried to roll the back tire, first with your hand, then with your racket.11-2b

Have each student get the feel of the wheel by brushing up the back tire to make it roll forward, first with their hand, then with the racket. Then, have them brush it the other way for backspin. One hits down on the equator, one hits up.

If you are working with students who are trying to understand the topspin rally, 11-3btell them that the ball is a wheel that is rolling forward as it comes to them, and their job is to make it roll the other way when it leaves.

To demonstrate this, feed a ball to them with topspin and then one with backspin. Every ball, once it hits the ground (bouncepoint), takes forward roll. Their job is to make it go the other way. The game from the baseline is mostly topspin. Inside the serve line it’s mostly backspin.


Serving Over The Back Fence

12-1bAfter they’ve gotten the feel of the wheel, take them outside the court and make them hit up and over the back fence with topspin lobs.  What you want to do at this point is take what they just learned from the bike and apply it to the fence: make the ball roll like a wheel. The statistics in tennis shout at you not to hit a flat ball, but to make it spin. The preferred spin is topspin (forward roll). Brushing up on the ball, makes it come down faster.

The fundamental fact is: their racket has to be a foot below the ball and traveling up before they hit it. I’ve done this drill a thousand times with forehands, backhands, and serves.12-2b

Hitting over a fence demonstrates two behaviors of a rapidly rotating potato: first, it arcs and dives, second, it hits and runs. I abbreviate “arc and dive, hit and run” as “ad har.” At the end of a day, if I did the fence drill on the forehand side, I’d write: (FH) ad har. Backhand would be (BH). Serve was (SV). Come up with your own short-hand_it’ll save you a lot of time. But do keep notes if you are teaching anybody.

12-3bIf you toss it, toss it underhand on a big, slow, looping arc, like slow-pitch softball. Then duck if you want to propagate the species. Feed them two balls. First ball they hit goes over the fence and lands in the court on the near side of the net, then hops the net. Second ball goes over the fence plus the net before it bounces. What’s the difference? A click or two of elevation and a shot of kickapoo joy-juice.


When You Can’t Find A Wall

13-1bFind yourself a Target (as in big store). The bigger the store, the better the back wall. Warehouses are your best bet. But any brick wall with a sidewalk or asphalt surface in front of it will do. It’s an ideal place to practice for 20-30 minutes. If you hit a ball every other second or so, you can get in 1,000 hits pretty quick. Every thousand hits reveals a piece of the puzzle to the neuro-muscular pathways, motor-physical highways, bio-mechanical rails to trails. Synapses fire. Muscle-memory takes place. Learning occurs.

If you are in a town where things get hot, search around for a covered parking lot. If it’s after work or on the weekend,13-2b you might have the whole enchilada to yourselves. I guarantee you there is a wall in there. Or, wait ’til later in the day when the building itself shades you. Where you find a wall doesn’t matter. That you find a wall, does.

If you are out back of the Target store, make sure your munchkin doesn’t get assassinated by some stumblebum living in the Dempsey Dumpster at the other end of the parking lot. Sit in the car and read your book. Or, put down the nook and hit with the kid. If you can’t hit with them, because you don’t play tennis, bring a baseball glove. They hit, you catch and throw.13-3b

And let them listen to the music they like. It grooves their moves. If the only thing they’ve got is a boombox, make them turn it to low. If they won’t turn it to low, and you forgot to bring your earplugs, don’t worry_they sell them inside.


The Best Walls For Tennis Practice

14-8bIn one of the most mind-boggling famous-fumbles ever, the American education system (elementary, secondary and college) forgot to put in walls.

Middle Schools got it right for some reason. Why? I have no idea. Some high schools put them in, but put them in on the tennis court, or the basketball court, so if somebody’s playing, you can’t practice. Middle Schools are your best bet.

14-1bIf you live in a temperate climate, you might want to do a search for handball walls. Include a zipcode or town name. Venice Beach in the LA area, for instance, has a great set of outdoor concrete walls for handball, as does Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park in the Bay Area up north.

Handball walls are fabulous for practicing tennis. You may have to beat up a few handball players, but that’s a small price to pay. Handball walls are gold. They have tall back-walls and two side-walls. If you hit crooked, who cares?

14-4bTennis clubs always have backboards. Sometimes their rebound surfaces are bright green wood or cushions attached to the fence. Other times they are portable and made of nylon netting with aluminum poles and wheels. Anything that gets you the reps is good. Without the reps, fergit it.

And let’s not forget ball machines, especially the portable, battery operated kind that fit in your hatchback.

This is Part 1 of a 2 part post. You can view Part 2 by clicking here.

July 27, 2015

Mental Toughness Training for Tennis – Inner Game Tips

If you’re like most tennis players, you’re playing poorly and losing more often than you should.

You may not realize it yet, but this is often due to your mental game of tennis. By this, I mean how your mind affects your play. As tennis writer Tim Gallwey pointed out, there is an opponent in every tennis player’s head more formidable than the one across the net.

With this in mind, here are three mental toughness tips for tennis to get you winning and keep you winning.

Game Face

GAME FACE is your psyche up on the day you compete.

It’s your alter ego, your sun energy, your force of will, your ‘for the love of the game’ attitude.

You need GAME FACE because winning at the highest levels of sport is as thin as a razor’s edge.

It’s not the best team or athlete who wins on competition day. It’s the athlete who performs the best who wins.

A common mistake your competitors make the day of the event is a) doing nothing or b) using some silly superstition.

This is leaving your psyche up to chance, and I do NOT recommend it. Unless you have a GAME FACE routine, you simply will not be able to overcome your nerves to be able to create the confidence needed to win.

Usually, to have your best GAME FACE, you need a specific ‘psyche up’ ritual. Here’s a great tip from Serena Williams:

On September 3, 2008 at the U.S. Open, Serena Williams is head-to-head with her sister, Venus, and finds herself in a hole on the first set. During the changeover, Serena reaches for a little match book she keeps during every tournament. In Serena’s words:

“This time, it reads: ‘Your destiny has begun, Serena. Remember your people I’m proud of you. Keep it up. U R capable of anything!’

…and as I set the book back in my tennis bag and press a towel to my face, I softly speak these same words into the fabric: ‘You are capable of anything, Serena.’ I stand and start to move to my side of the court. I think, Here you go, Serena. Here you go.”1

Get your GAME FACE on and keep it on during your event using a specific ritual like reading a match book, listening to a song, or repeating a particular mantra.

The best ones are where you drop all modesty and step up and claim your greatness in your mind, no matter how red your face gets.

They Never Boo a Bum

Most tennis players lose their confidence the moment a big distraction shows up, like criticism.

They worry about things like impressing coaches, making mistakes, a bad start, and intimidating opponents.

Champion athletes, though, think differently.

They make a firm, unequivocal decision to become impervious to distractions.

Take Eddie Arcaro, who was one of the most celebrated jockeys in America. Arcaro was the winner of five Kentucky Derbys and 22 million dollars in purses over a 25 year career.

In an interview with Mike Wallace, Arcaro confessed that it used to bother him when fans booed him.

WALLACE: After you lose a race, Eddie, it’s common practice for the fans to boo you; maybe some of them even curse at you. Does that bother you at all?fistpump

ARCARO: It did at one time in my life, Mike. It affected me terribly, I think the fellow that helped me more than anybody was “Old Granny Rice”, who wrote a poem about me. The name of it was entitled, ‘Eddie, They Never Boo A Bum.’ It kind of helped me out.”2

In the words of Dale Carnegie, “No one ever kicks a dead dog…when you are kicked and criticized, remember it is often done because it gives the kicker a feeling of importance. It means you are accomplishing something and are worthy of attention.”3

Arcaro was not only impervious to criticism.

He was impervious to losing.

How do I know?

Arcaro lost the first 250 CONSECUTIVE races of his horse racing career.

That’s why you need to decide that it’s only the courtroom of YOUR mind that counts. Your basic mental position is, “You’re in MY REALITY now.”

This will keep you thick-skinned enough to shrug off the doubters.

Trust Yourself – Really!

Here’s an email I got recently:

I recently came across your site in search of a way to help my mental tennis game.

I’ve progressed from college to professional and I’m starting to play professional tournaments this year. When I practice, I play the way I should. Excellent execution, proper technique, proper footwork, carefree of errors, and above all I’m hitting the heck out of the ball.

Lately when I play matches I’m turning into a different player. My level isn’t nearly close to that of my ability. I’m an over-analyzer and have a mind that runs a million thoughts at a time.

I need to find a way to not care or to calm my thoughts.

For example I have a slightly weaker side on the backhand. I dread the ball coming to that side so I cause all sorts errors that don’t happen in practice.

How do I trust my shots more? Any suggestions?

–Frustrated Yet Talented

Dear Frustrated Yet Talented,

I feel your pain.

Being over-analytical is not fun. In fact, it sucks.iStock_877_Winning_female_tennis

I can speak with authority on this subject, because it did it for years.

And, to be honest, your note made me mad.

It made me mad at all the sports psych books and experts out there who have told you that it’s actually possible to “not care.”

Not caring about your sport (or winning) is impossible because you’re an intense, fiery athlete.

You’ll always care.

This is a good thing, even when sport hurts.

It’s a good thing because you can only become truly excellent if you care.

What about “calming your mind?”

This you CAN do.

But not the way you think.

A lot of athletes have been told they can just “park” anxiety but telling themselves to put it out of their mind. So when it doesn’t work, they criticize themselves and wonder why they are so mentally ‘weak’.

Here’s the problem.

If the source of the anxiety is you and your skills, you can’t “park” it.

Your anxiety is trying to get you to pay attention to a problem.

In your case, the problem is your backhand.

Rather than dread the ball coming your way, I would like you deal with your backhand issues directly.

What’s the technical problem is with your backhand? Do you know?

Do you know how to correct it in matches?

If so, getting balls to your backhand side is wonderful because you can set a goal to improve it.

If not, you need to find those answers – fast.

Notice that I’m not taking a superficial approach. There are principles or ‘natural laws’ that govern success in every area of life.

The natural law here is self-acceptance. You must face your fears about your backhand.

Self-trust means that you’re ‘handling your business’ in tennis – not running away from it by wishing the ball never comes to you.

Get to the truth about your backhand and starting fixing it, and your anxiety will melt faster than an ice cube in Palm Springs.


1Williams, Serena. Queen of the Court: An Autobiography. Simon & Schuster, 2009.
2Arco, Eddie. The Mike Wallace Interview. 9/8/75. Audio available at:
3Carnegie, Dale. How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job. Simon * Schuster, 1970.

July 12, 2015

Tennis’s Toughest Mental Challenge: Winning When You’re Ahead

So there I am, up a set and ahead 4-1 in the second against the #1 player for UCLA in their stadium court. My coach and team are on the edge of their seats. Eight more points and glory will be mine. Headlines. The NCAAs, first time ever for a UC Santa Barbara player. Fame. It would be a great win! Just two more games, I think.

I lost that match.

Fast-forward thirteen years. I am in Austria, at the ITF men’s 35 world championships. Players from over 20 countries are there. I’m in the finals. If I win this match I become #1 in the world and #1 in the U.S. I’m up one set to love. One more set and glory will be mine. Headlines. Fame. I go to the line to serve…this time I win the set, the match, and the title.

I had closed out my lead.

The Game’s Toughest Challenge

Arguably, it’s the game’s toughest challenge. Players know it. Coaches agonize over it. As for me, meeting this challenge has been a breeze. All it took was years of frustration, study, introspection and, finally, the realization that, for all players, it’s…well…mostly in our heads.

Players who have a tough time closing out matches are often dealing with excess arousal and anxiety. They are focusing on the results, the winning, the distractions. The human mind is achievement-oriented. We like progress. We like winning. Winning is a great thing, but in this situation, when our minds jump to the finish line, to our triumphant handshake at the net, we get out of the moment.

We deviate from executing our strategy and get overly attached to the score. This attachment makes us play a little tighter while our competitor on the other side of the net, obviously more relaxed and with nothing to lose, starts going for it, maybe winning a game or two. And then, of course, we think the momentum has shifted – which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So players need to resolve, when ahead, to stay present, focus on their breathing, play one point at a time — in short, do exactly what they have been doing up to that time. Some players rush, try to win points too soon. Or they play to protect something they don’t even own yet. We have to deal with that inner critic immediately, that voice. The voice says, “Just one more game and you’ve got it.” We need to respond confidently, “No, it’s never over until it’s over. Keep working.”

Coming from Behind to Win a Match

The irony is that, very often, players who are down a few games in a set, come from behind to win. Why does this happen? Because being behind frees them up to let go. Being behind gives them permission to go for their shots and not worry about missing. They are saying to themselves: “Okay, I have nothing to lose here. I’m behind, so here it goes.” And suddenly they are back in the match.

If this come-from-behind mentality describes you, then this is the mindset you need to bring on-court with you as much as you can, in practice and match play. This frame of mind is then translated into a feeling that you can train. It is a feeling of looseness and a willingness to go for it, especially under pressure. But it begins first as a decision. In competition, I take a lot of deep breaths to stay connected to my body. I stay focused on my strategy and always try to trust that my body will hit the ball the right way and to the right places with a feeling of decisiveness.

Think you can’t control or manage the increased level of anxiety and physical tension that develop in serious match play? I understand the doubt. But this anxiety, this tension, can be harnessed and used to your advantage. You can transfer this energy into your strokes. Use it to feed your strokes in a positive way.

Instead of focusing on the tension, focus briefly on shot selection like serving out wide to set up a backhand cross-court volley. Pick a target when you are serving and pound the ball there, like Djokovic. Visualize where you will hit your return and hit it there with confidence. The key is to stay focused on what’s “relevant” (strategy and pre-shot routines), use the shots that you trust and feel good about, and stay away from the “result trap”. Instead, stay right there, “in the moment.”

Staying “In the Moment”

“In the moment” — today’s catch phrase, it seems. What does it mean? On the court, it means keeping your attention either on the ball, strategy or on your breathing. You are not worried about what your competitor is doing, or who is watching and what they think of how you’re playing. You are not thinking about your ranking, or the risks of losing, or of all the other baggage that so many players bring onto the court. Instead, you breathe and act as though you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Again, you do that in practice too, in warm-ups, so that it comes naturally, becomes a part of you. Top players have this groove. They transfer the racket to their opposite hand. They towel off. They control the court, the pace, when the next ball is put in play. They know the state of mind and body they need to play their best tennis, and they find the balance between letting it happen and making it happen. We can all learn this from them.

Keep Your Mental Focus Positive

Finally, a few words about negativity. Too often, we get caught up in it. We choose the wrong shot, and know it an instant later. We make an unforced error. We tear ourselves down, call ourselves names, bounce the racket on the court, and even look to the heavens for understanding and support. We need to break this habit, for a habit is all it is.

The deep breathing between points helps.

Taking some extra time helps.

Jumping around a bit can help arouse your motivation, your spirit of competition, your resolve.

Go to the mountaintop – literally. Look at the bigger picture all around you, with a wide-angle lens – nature all around you, the sheer wonder of a manicured court, the sun shining, the joy of competition, the privilege of competing. Tennis is a game. It’s fun, and physically satisfying. Show some gratitude for it all, and act that way.

Smile a lot, whether you win a point or lose it.

Get rid of negative body language.

Walk tall, head up, all the time.

You are delighted to be out there, delighted with tough competitive play, glad to be running and hitting and…alive.

And always, always, remember that having the lead is over-rated. Forget the score. Repeat the phrase: “long way to go yet.” Because, always, that is true. And don’t believe, ever, that you have lost momentum. Momentum shifts only if you believe that it does and accept it. Believe in yourself. That’s how to close out a lead and win the match.


July 7, 2015
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