The main reason for a warm-up is to prepare your body for the rigors and dynamic demands of tennis. With this aim, the specific objectives of a tennis warm-up should be to one, increase your core temperature and the suppleness of your muscles and muscle tissues, two, increase your heart rate and flow of blood (and fuel) through your body, three, activate your central nervous system to improve coordination and four, increase your ability to efficiently, quickly, and forcefully contract your muscles (in other words to get you going and going fast). A normal warm-up of jogging in a straight line and static stretching is not the best pre-match ritual. According to tennis fitness expert, Paul Gold, “The main problem with the ‘typical warm-up’ is that it does not adequately prepare you for the demands of the game. Jogging in a straight line is not representative of the sport of tennis and normally has minimal effect on body temperature. Static stretching is performed slowly either standing still or sitting and while it can be useful at the end of a session for increasing range of motion, before you start play; however, research has shown that it reduces power output, causes a drop in body temperature (negating any gains previously made from jogging) and bears no resemblance to the very active contraction – relaxation process that occurs between muscles when you play.”
At the risk of being accused of emulating a John Cleese (Minister of Funny Walk) parody, the best way to prepare for a match is to include in your warm-up a 15-minute series of dynamic movements and dynamic stretches. Included below are ten well known and proven tennis-specific warm-up exercises (listed alphabetically).
- Butt Kicks (Improves multi-directional starting, stopping and pivoting.) – Quickly bring the heels of your feet to your buttocks either in a slow or stationary running position.
- Carioca Steps (Improves lateral running coordination, hip turn and foot speed.) – Cross your left and right feet in front of and behind each other sequentially in a lateral running position.
- High Kick Walks (Improves hamstring flexibility and strength for explosive power.) – Slowly walk forward alternately kicking your right and left legs to your outstretched arms.
- High Knees (Improves leg speed and strengthens the hip flexor.) – Slowly run forward or in a stationary position bringing your knees as close as possible to your chest with each stride.
- Leg Swings – (Improves leg flexion, extension and range of movement.) – Support your body against the net post or fence and swing your right leg forward and back. Repeat with your left leg. As an alternative or additional exercise, swing your right leg (with toes pointing upward) to the left and right (in front of your left leg). Repeat with your left leg.
- Shadowing (Increases your heart rate and blood flow. Improves mental focus and reinforces proper stroke mechanics and patterns of movement specific to tennis.) – Starting from your ready position, move left and right to shadow hit your forehand and backhand groundstrokes (forehand and backhand volleys). Alternately move forward and back shadow hitting approach shots, volleys and overheads.
- Side Shuffles (Improves lateral movement and speed.) – Gallop sideways bringing your feet in and out to a wide and low base of support.
- Walking Lunges (Improves lower body strength and flexibility.) – Start by standing tall with shoulders back, abdominals drawn, chest high, feet together and hands down by your side. Take a controlled step forward with your right leg and bend both knees to lower your hips to the ground. Do not touch the ground with the back knee. The front knee should be directly over the ankle and the back knee should be pointing down toward the ground. Push off the left foot and bring it forward to the start position before stepping forward and repeating (as above) for the left leg.
- Walking Quad Stretch (Improves quadricep strength and flexibility.) – While walking forward alternately grab the ankle of your back leg to slightly stretch the front of your thigh (quadriceps). Stretch your free arm out at shoulder level and lean slightly forward to maintain balance.
- Zig-Zags (Develops multidirectional movement and coordination.) – Zig-zag in between a series of (real or imaginary) cones using a side shuffling footwork pattern.