Should You Cross Train for Tennis?
Updated: Jan 14
Once you find your favorite sport (tennis of course!) it’s often easy to just commit yourself to getting better at that single activity.
So, you may be thinking, how does doing something non-tennis related actually help my game? Well, as it turns out, leaving the court to train can actually help your game improve faster whenever you take the court next.
Let's consider the the benefits of cross training: it improves your fitness, it helps prevent injury, it improves posture and coordination, it boosts mental focus, and it helps you recover faster.
According to Elizabeth Quinn of VeryWellFit,
"After months of the same movements, your body becomes extremely efficient at performing those movements, and while that is great for competition, it limits the amount of overall fitness you possess and reduces the actual conditioning you get while training; rather than continuing to improve, you simply maintain a certain level of fitness."
So, yes, cross-training in tennis is not only encouraged, but it's backed by some of the game's most elite players.
Novak Djokovic does yoga. Andy Murray plays soccer. Nick Kyrgios and John Isner play basketball regularly. The legendary Serena Williams and up-and-comer Coco Gauff box.
Which Exercises Should I Do?
Strength Exercises for Tennis Players
1. Bench Press
The bench press is a powerful compound movement that engages the chest, triceps and shoulders: all key ingredients of a killer tennis serve. Few exercises build upper body strength as effectively as a properly-performed bench press.
If you have never benched before, start with a lighter weight and slowly increase it as you build your strength.
2. Goblet Squat
Squats are a fundamental lower body exercise, and goblet squats are a great variation for beginners and expert athletes alike.
In addition to working the glutes and quadriceps, goblet squats involve muscles in the core and arms, making it a well-rounded exercise for tennis players.
3. Box Jump
Sometimes, you've got to leap or lunge on the tennis court. Box jumps are a fun, low-impact exercise that helps tennis players prepare for the explosive movements they will perform on the court. It also improves your ability to absorb the shock of landing after jumping, which is essential for avoiding foot and leg injuries on court.
4. Lateral Lunge
Lateral movement is a huge part of any player's game, but it’s often overlooked in most strength programs.
Lunges work the entire lower body, including the glutes, hip abductors, knees, and hips. All key muscles for any tennis player looking to improve their ability to move laterally on court.
After mastering the side lunge with no weights, you can add dumbbells or a barbell to increase the intensity and benefits of the exercise.
5. I's, Y's, T's, & W's
Shoulder problems are prevalent in the tennis world, especially as players age.
The best way to prevent shoulder injuries in tennis is to strengthen the four key muscles that make up your shoulder. I’s, Y’s, and T’s are excellent exercises for shoulder stability, strengthening, and rehabilitation.
6. Medicine Ball Slam
Medicine ball slams are an effective, full-body movement with emphasis on the abdominal muscles. The force you use to slam the ball translates into better core strength and more powerful swings on the court.
Medicine ball slams also require minimal skill in weight training to perform and pose little to no risk of injury, even when you’re fatigued.
Cardio Exercises for Tennis Players
1. Jumping Rope
Jumping rope can increase the elasticity and resiliency of lower-leg muscles, leading to a reduced risk of lower-leg injuries, a key for any tennis player. Additionally, the rhythm of jumping rope can help improve the coordination between your eyes, feet and hands, a major benefit to any player's game.
The elliptical machine is another cardio option for tennis players, particularly those with joint problems who want to avoid the constant pounding of running. An elliptical workout is less likely to aggravate existing injuries. A great option to maintain your cardiovascular endurance without the wear and tear.
The resistance element of cycling means that it doesn’t just burn fat: it also builds muscle – particularly around the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. All key muscles as you sprint from shot to shot on court. Like with the elliptical machine, biking puts less stress on your body, while still allowing you to build muscle.
Swimming uses all the muscles in the body so no matter your the stroke you swim with, you will get a full body workout. Plus, exercising in water makes your body work harder so 30 minutes in a pool is worth 45 minutes of the same activity on land. Additionally, swimming takes stress off your joints so that you can feel both refreshed and strong when you hit the court again.
While some believe that rowing is an arm workout, rest assured, rowing is a total body workout. According to the American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA), the rowing stroke consits of 65 to 75 percent leg work and 25 to 35 percent upper body work. Rowing works key muscles including your quads, hamstrings, and calves.
6. Stair master
One of our personal favorites, stair climbing strengthens the heart and lungs, which is vital for aerobic fitness as well as your ability to last all match. Stair climbing also helps strengthen almost every part of your lower body, which will help you as you race to the net or lunge to return a powerful shot from your opponent. Like many of the above workouts, stair climbing is considered a low-impact exercise compared with the pounding, high-impact consequences of running on a hard surface.
Cross Training Tips
1. Come up with a plan and carve out special cross-training days in your weekly workout routine.
2. When choosing a cross-training activity, pick an exercise that in some way mimics tennis. That can mean picking an activity that uses the same muscles that are used in tennis or it can be an aerobic exercise that works the cardiovascular system in a similar way.
3. Have fun. Cross-training can be a great way to mix up your workouts and help you appreciate tennis. You just might start looking forward to those non-tennis days.