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Fit for Tennis--Fit for Life
by LaRue E. Cook, BS, MHA, JD, CPT

What exactly does it mean to be fit? In other words, how do you know when you have it? The answer is that overall fitness is comprised of several components (muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular capacity, body composition, and flexibility). Each of these components has importance in your fitness for tennis, and your fitness for life. No matter your skill level, taking the time to address each of these components will help you enjoy the game, and remain injury free. Here's a brief look at each of these components, and some general tips on how to enhance them.

Muscular Strength

Tennis is an impact game. Each time you strike the tennis ball, or run for the ball, your body absorbs serious impact. This requires both upper and lower body strength to withstand this force. So, including strength training in your off-court preparations is smart. There are a number of ways to do this. For example, traditional weight-lifting (dumbbells, barbells, or weight machines) is an excellent way to develop strength. You can also use exercise bands or tubes, body weight exercises (push-ups and body squats), and medicine balls.

Muscular Endurance

Tennis requires the strength to hit or run to the ball, and to do this over-and-over again during the course of a single point, game, set, or match. This requires muscular endurance. Muscular endurance will help your body quickly recover from prolonged points and be ready to perform again, with minimal rest. The goal is to hit the final shots of the match as effectively as the first ones. Muscular endurance can be enhanced through training that requires you to use the same set of muscles to perform multiple exercises, or multiple repetitions of the same exercise. This type of training can be challenging yet fun, as you push through existing fatigue barriers, and establish new thresholds for your body. The same equipment used for developing muscular strength can be used for this component as well. Generally, endurance workouts will be with a lighter weight than strength training, using a higher number of repetitions or sets.

Cardiovascular Component

I describe tennis as a marathon comprised of several mini-sprints. During the course of a match, you cover a lot of ground. This is the marathon. But, within each point, game, set, and match, you'll also perform countless mini-sprints to the ball. So, to be fit for tennis, you'll need to include both some distance training, and sprint work. Sprint work can be challenging and fun, by varying your distances, and your rest times between sprints. You can perform this type of training with a partner. Jogging and sprinting will stress your cardiovascular system in slightly different ways. By training with each, you'll be prepared for the marathon and sprints of your tennis match.

Body Composition

Body composition is the ratio of body fat to lean tissue in your body referred to as a percentage of body fat. It can be measured in several different ways. The skinfold test is quick, inexpensive, and fairly accurate. Obtaining your measurement will help you determine goals in this area.

The lean tissue (muscle) drives your body, and gives you the ability to perform tasks requiring strength and power, such as tennis. Combining strength training with a consistent cardiovascular exercise regimen will help you reduce body fat, and increase your lean tissue. This can help you develop more strength, power, and speed for your tennis game.

Flexibility

The quick starts and stops in tennis, reaching for overheads and serves, and lunging and stretching for wide shots, all test your body's flexibility. Having a consistent stretching routine as part of your tennis preparation will help you avoid injuries associated with these movements, and improve your overall health. Most teaching professionals will tell you that being loose is key to producing good fluid tennis strokes. This means having good flexibility. A good stretching routine in which you stretch your major muscles in a slow, controlled manner, will go a long way to increasing your flexibility.

So, if you take the time and effort to address each of these components of fitness, you'll find yourself not only fit for tennis, but also fit for life.

As with all forms of exercise, you should consult with your physician or healthcare professional before undertaking any of the fitness training discussed in this article. Any application of the techniques, ideas, and suggestions in this article is at the reader's sole discretion and risk.


LaRue E. Cook is a certified personal trainer and tournament tennis player with over 11 years training experience. He competes in sanctioned tournaments throughout the country, and has used this unique blend of training and tennis experience to develop his Tennis Fitness program. He has trained a variety of tennis players, including elite junior players, many who are nationally and regionally ranked, adult players, people new to tennis, and a variety of general fitness clients, including the elderly, and those looking to lose weight or firm-up. His website is www.tennisfitness.net.

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