The question I always ask master’s level athletes is, “are you playing your sport to stay in shape OR do you want to get in shape to play your sport?” It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still enjoy your favorite sport or recreational activity IF you follow a proper exercise program for effective strength and conditioning. Just look at Martina Navratilova, for example, who in 2003 won the mixed doubles at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open at the age for 46.
Tennis is a fast-paced sport that requires a combination of speed, agility, quickness, strength, power and aerobic endurance; each is a specific skill that can be enhanced through the proper exercise program. The good news is that the motor learning required for speed and power exercises are trainable throughout the adult lifespan, in order to achieve your highest level of performance it is recommended that you work with a personal trainer who has specific education on developing safe and effective sports conditioning programs.
If you want to train on your own, plan to work on your speed, agility and quickness (SAQ – the generic term for this type of conditioning) at least two days per week. You will need to invest in some basic equipment, it won’t cost much and you will find that it will be extremely beneficial. The basic pieces for a SAQ workout are an agility ladder (the 15-foot section) and cones (6” would be the recommended size); these can be used to develop a number of drills which can help improve your tennis game.
You will want to start with a good warm-up that includes some light jogging for 5-10 minutes or bodyweight exercise circuit to help prepare the muscles for the workout. The following circuit will be effective to prepare for tennis. Rest for about 30 seconds between each exercise and perform the circuit 2-3 times for a complete warm-up:
Table 1: Warm-up Exercise Circuit
A SAQ workout should start with low-intensity agility drills performed for a distance of approximately 10 meters (or the full width of a tennis court). Perform each of the following exercises 2-3 times; go the distance at a pace of 50-70% maximum speed and walk back to the start for an active rest/recovery:
Table 2: Warm-up Agility Drill
Once a full warm-up is complete, it is time to move on to the fun stuff: agility ladder and cone drills. Choose a place that provides a flat, even surface (for tennis players a tennis court is optimal, for basketball players, a basketball court; soccer players, a soccer field; etc.). Speed and agility are challenging to the nervous system, therefore it is important to allow for adequate rest between sets to ensure proper adaptation to the training. For ladder drills: one time through the ladder should be considered as one repetition, run through the ladder at a fast pace then walk back to the start for the next repetition; perform the assigned number of reps in a set before resting. For cone drills: run through the drill as fast as possible, allow for the recommended rest before starting the next repetition.
Table 3: SAQ Workout
This is a basic SAQ workout but should help you improve your fitness and ability to enjoy (and be competitive at) tennis. As you become more comfortable and familiar with the exercises in the workout, you can increase the intensity by performing more repetitions or more sets; but it is recommended that you allow for adequate rest between exercises to minimize the risk of an overuse injury.
SAQ training is a lot of stress on your muscles, be sure to perform an adequate cool-down with the following stretches as you complete your workout:
Table 4: Cool-down
To see the best results it would be helpful to work with an ACE-certified personal trainer who has taken the ACE Sports Conditioning workshop. However if you are extremely motivated and feel comfortable doing this workout on your own at least two-times-a-week combined with your tennis lessons you should be back in competition shape in no time. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can improve your athletic skills at any age if you follow the appropriate progression of intensity and allow for proper rest between training sessions.