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Off-court tennis training for on-court success

posted on Monday, 20th April 2015 | find under Tamara
As the sun begins to break through the clouds and we look outdoors to pair our workouts with a top-up of vitamin D, tennis comes to the fore of the summer fitness scene. But if your racquet is a little rusty and you feel your skills are similarly out of practice, there’s plenty you can do off the court to prepare for this season’s match day debut. Sweaty Betty consulted two of the Lawn Tennis Association’s top performance experts to learn how to improve your fitness and upgrade your game in one go.

When training to improve your tennis performance, what’s the perfect balance between time spent on and off the court?

“The truth is there’s no such thing as ‘perfect balance’,” says LTA performance scientist Emma Anderson. “Every person is different – one player might need to spend more time perfecting their serve or forehand with plenty of on-court practice. Another person may benefit from improving their strength or flexibility with activities like Pilates, yoga or running to get faster and more agile on the court.” Consider whether you most struggle to keep up with the pace of the game, or whether it's a particular on-court skill you need to improve. If it's the former, it's time to incorporate extra crosstraining.

What are the exercises you include in every workout regime for people looking to improve their tennis performance?

Balance, coordination, strength, power and speed top the list of priorities for LTA performance adviser Arran Peck, who advises testing each of these athletic skills within every session. “An example workout might include some skipping, dynamic stretching, lunges with rotations, single leg hops and bi-lateral vertical jumps with some sprints to finish.” Emma also advocates the importance of glute strength, trunk stability and hip flexibility – all of which you can effectively target in a Pilates or yoga class.

How can you incorporate other outdoor training such as running, cycling and bootcamps to boost your match play?

“Tennis is a game of high-intensity activity with varying periods of work and rest. Well-rounded fitness is required to meet its demands, including both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning,” says Arran. Interval-based training, such as shuttle runs, treadmill intervals or high-intensity circuits will be both your worst enemy and best friend. Keep your mind’s eye on match day glory.

How important is it to learn how to train and play in different conditions in order to feel more confident and competent on the court?

Emma says the psychological aspects of tennis make training under different conditions a top priority. “Exercising in humidity or heat can make the work you’re doing feel much harder, and this is a mental battle you can only overcome with practice,” she says. “Your body also becomes physiologically acclimatised to hot or humid conditions by sweating more and sweating earlier.” If the weather gods don’t deliver the right conditions, Emma advises simulating those hot and sticky feelings with a few hot yoga sessions.

Is incorporating social exercise useful for gaining the competitive edge and learning to read your tennis opponents?

“It’s important to practice playing against both stronger and weaker opponents,” says Arran, who explains that your skill-development can be hugely dependent on your tennis partner. “Stronger opponents will test your perception and speed of movement, so you’ll become both smarter and fitter on the court. Meanwhile, playing a weaker opponent gives you more time to implement new patterns of play and add strategy into the mix.”

Are there any particular surfaces you should train on in preparation for playing tennis on grass or clay?

As grass and clay courts will affect the height and pace of the ball, practising on the same surface on which you’ll be competing will substantially boost your match day success. If you can’t fit in enough court time, Emma has a few tips for getting the right ground beneath your feet. “Football pitches and astro turf is a good substitute for grass courts – take your agility training to these surfaces to boost your fitness before you reach for your racquet.” And if you’re competing on clay? “Any surface that allows you to practice sliding will be very helpful. Ditch your trainers and hit the studio floor in your socks to get match day mobile."

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