When you fall in love with tennis, you soon realize that it’s more physical than you first expected. You may find yourself panting heavily after a long rally and wonder how on Earth the pros do it for hours non-stop.
Strength, power, and technique are indeed important physical aspects of the sport of tennis. But they are all secondary to stamina.
To take your game to the next level, you need to know how to improve your stamina and endurance for tennis. We will give you important tips and exercises to ensure that you can complete matches without succumbing to fatigue.
Why Is Stamina So Crucial in Tennis?
With no gas in the tank, you will never be able to execute perfect shots late in a match. If your stamina is poor, your normally solid game will deteriorate ― your accuracy will drop and you won’t be able to chase down many balls. Hence, as the match progresses, your vulnerabilities will show and your defeat will become inevitable.
This question applies to any strenuous activity. To perform physical exercises, your body needs to take in sufficient oxygen and burn energy reserves to move properly.
If you have better stamina, you will inhale more oxygen and circulate it around your body more efficiently. With better nutrition and endurance, your energy stores will last a lot longer.
Tennis is both a marathon and a sprint. Elite matches can last for several hours, yet can feature many periods of all-out exertion. Lengthy sets can comprise countless lung-bursting rallies which you must fight through.
To be an accomplished tennis player, you must be well-prepared for both short-term and long-term exertion.
So how can players prepare their bodies for grueling matches?
Not warming up increases the risk of muscle tears and joint sprains during a match or practice session. A successful warm-up will loosen your joints and activate your muscles, thereby protecting you from injuries.
The goal of a good warm-up is also to increase your heart rate, blood flow, and body temperature before starting high-intensity exercise.
There are many possible ways to warm up, and the simplest is to jog slowly around the court a dozen times or so. While doing this, you can perform dynamic stretches such as arm rotations, lunges, and leg swings.
It is also a good idea to practice some tennis-specific motions. While holding your racquet, practice forehands, backhands, and smashes without balls to engage key muscle groups.
The length of your warm-up depends on what you plan to do next. An easy training session may only require a brief jog and a few swings of your racquet. If a 5-set epic is on the horizon, your
body needs more thorough preparations. Warm-ups alone will not improve stamina but will allow you to make greater use of your current fitness.
Go for Long Runs
There is no substitute for basic aerobic fitness. Playing tennis will only improve your fitness so much ― breaking through to the next level will require extra work. Players who want to get fitter need to dedicate time outside of tennis to make this a reality.
The most effective way to build aerobic endurance is by jogging slowly for extended periods. This will train you to survive long and punishing tennis matches by strengthening your cardiovascular system.
Your circulation will improve such that your body can more efficiently transport oxygen. You can run either on a treadmill or outside.
If you are not fond of running, you can always cycle or swim instead. These activities will give you the same crucial stamina gains.
Do High-Intensity Cardio Exercise
Long runs are great, but they will not get you in sufficient shape for intense tennis matches alone. To withstand the physical toll of elite matches, your endurance training must include high-intensity cardio training as well.
This can entail basic sprints, skipping, burpees, or shuttle runs, which can be done on and off the court. Doing multiple sets of these movements will work your body very hard and raise your heart rate into the anaerobic and V02 max ranges.
Try a combination of these high-intensity cardio exercises, and schedule them so that they complement your usual running/cycling/swimming routine.
The purpose of these exercises is to train your body (and especially lungs) to tolerate discomfort during long and punishing rallies. When points go beyond 10 shots, players with the best anaerobic endurance are less likely to crumble and make mistakes.
Simulate Grueling Match Scenarios
This will require more than one partner. Stand on one side of the court with your partners on the other. Have them alternately feed you balls to different locations on the court and try to retrieve them.
For example, one partner could hit balls near to the net while the other hits them close to the baseline. Having to chase ball after ball will force you to run back and forth non-stop which will test both your stamina and footwork.
Alternatively, your coaches could feed you balls to either side of the court such that you have to move laterally. Try to retrieve as many of these balls as possible and put them back in play. This type of drill is very taxing because you have to do all of the work, while your coach can feed you balls for hours.
Practice Movement Drills
Work on your cardio and improve your tennis footwork by executing movement drills. Without trying to hit any balls, move around specific locations on the court as fast as you can. Practice running forward and sideways as well as back-tracking.
With help from your coach and a few cones, design a movement routine that forces you to scramble around different areas of the court as fast as possible. Time yourself to see how you improve ― with better footwork and stamina, you will get faster.
Try Resistance Exercises
Rather than doing standard gym exercises such as the bench press, squats, or pull-ups, you can try exercises that are more helpful for tennis.
With resistance bands, you can simulate the swinging motion of groundstrokes and develop the muscle groups necessary for hitting forehands and backhands. This will give you more power in your groundstrokes.
Slamming a medicine ball against a wall will also develop rotational explosiveness, while vertical slams will help you to serve and smash more powerfully.
If possible, you should use resistance bands on the court as well. Tie an elastic resistance band to your waist, then ask a partner or coach to hold the end and stand behind the baseline. Then perform some movement or hitting drills as normal.
The bands will restrict your motion and force you to work harder. Getting your body used to the extra resistance will make normal rallies feel much easier.
Play Against a Wall
This is not a joke. When practicing against live opponents, they will eventually get tired. When you play against a wall, it will never get tired, so rallies will continue until you run out of gas.
Hitting against a wall is a great tennis-specific workout because you can practice most standard shots and always expect the ball to return. You can also vary the depth of shots and practice side-to-side rallies.
Set yourself targets for a number of shots (say, 50 forehands), and try and execute them without losing your form. If you feel that it’s too easy, you can always increase the length of the rallies.
Live an Athlete’s Lifestyle
There is no point in investing time and money into the best training methods and equipment if your off-court health is poor.
Sleeping enough, eating the right things, and avoiding bad habits are all key to keeping your body in supreme condition. Only when you do this can your body repair properly after taxing matches and training sessions.
Research thoroughly to find a diet that works for you and gives your body the necessary fuel to complete workouts. As a rule of thumb, avoid sugary, processed, or fried foods.
Make sure you eat enough and stay hydrated ― in hot conditions, it is important to drink electrolytes so that you can retain fluids for longer.
Tennis is a very physical sport and increasing your stamina is fundamental to improving as a player. This will not happen overnight, but by sticking to a well-structured training plan and living healthily off the court, you will soon notice your stamina improvements.
Eventually, you will be able to play for hours without significant drops in power or form. The methods discussed here should start you on your journey towards elite fitness.