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Proper Strength Training To Improve Your Game

Man pulling kettlebells weights in the functional fitness gym. Kettle bell deadlift

By Jim Harp

After more than 30 years as a tennis coach, I can say with certainty that there is one thing that pushes the tennis needle forward no matter your level. Get fit! The key to game improvement will be found in the gym. I can give you a million tips on how to improve your technical skills, or I can bore you to tears with the tactical formations and fundamentals of doubles. I can even fill your brain with a myriad of patterns for singles matches. All of those will indeed move the needle. But strength, endurance, and power are the real game changers. Fitness is the dial you should reach for! For most of us, the real key is a sound strength and conditioning program that is specific to your tennis game. So, what needs to be targeted?

Target your core
From the serve to reaching for a volley or ground stroke, your core is the balance point between the upper and lower body. Try during each workout to add around three core exercises to your routine: dead bugs, glute bridges, and superman’s can really help you maintain a stronger midsection and lower back. Let us not leave out the ultimate core challenge — the plank — or some good old V ups!

Leg day
“Yay leg day,” said nobody ever! Don’t just focus on routine exercises like lunges and back squats (those too). You need to emphasize single leg strength and stability — exercises that target jumping/landing and stopping and starting/strength. Romanian Dead Lifts, single leg squats, jumping routines, jump rope, box jumps, and lateral side lunges, will have a direct impact on your game! You may be a little sore the next day so plan accordingly.

Working your upper body
When working out the upper body, we tend to focus on “bi’s, tri’s and fly’s” (biceps, triceps and shoulders/back), and those are all great! However, we need to focus more on shoulder stability as well as general strength. The rotator cuff is made up of small muscles that when we push larger weights may leave out the smaller muscles. In addition to those “beach body muscles,” we need to add some external and internal rotation exercises for the shoulders and just more band work for those areas. The muscles around the upper back around your scapula (shoulder blade) should get some work as well.

Training for power
Training power as an adult can be as simple as some plyometric training or some high pulls with dumbbells, or a straight bar among others. For tennis, the plyo part is not difficult to manage, but it will tire you quickly. Some of the exercises needed for power output require a bit more training and usually the help of an experienced trainer. A single leg jump (with minimum height) repeated five times, for three sets on each leg, can improve your general power if done correctly and repeated a couple times per week.

Functional mobility
Functional mobility and balance combined with strength and stretching (yoga checks these boxes perfectly), is a must for the adult player. As I have reached that pinnacle age of mid 50’s, I not only relate to the need for better range of motion, balance, strength and stability, I live it. I regret not discovering the benefits of yoga earlier in my life. Yoga is a one-stop shop when it comes to our overall strength and range of motion needs. No matter your age, it has shown great benefits to athletes. Every age group can benefit from yoga’s gifts, but as we age it becomes increasingly important.

Finally, there are many ways to approach tennis fitness. Before you do, you should check with your doctor first and make sure you are ready for any increases/changes in your fitness routine. Also, try not to hit the gym all “Rocky” like or you may end up on the player to be named later list! Tennis beats the body up, it requires flexibility, strength, stamina, and power. Most players either are not fit enough, or do not target the right areas in their routines. Turn the needle up with a targeted fitness plan and you will see your opponents in second place!


USTA-GPTA Teaching Professional Spotlight: Jim Harper

Hometown (City/State): Cumming, Georgia

How did you get involved in teaching tennis? I needed money and it was the only skill I had!

Diehard fan of what sports team? Atlanta Falcons

Best part of your game? My mind.

Dream doubles match would be me and… My daughter, against Federer and Serena.

When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… Gardening

My favorite tennis memory is: Traveling to England and spending a week at Wimbledon.

My favorite professional player is: Jamie Murray

#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: There is something about when a player comes back for a visit and they call me Coach. It has some intrinsic meaning for me. Something I did right, something I helped that player do.

What important tennis message do you want to promote? I think tennis is a great deal like riding a bike for the first time. At first you struggle and it is daunting to learn, but then as it gets better, it takes you places. And in the end, although you had guides, you did it yourself.

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