Ideal Warm-Up or Start to a Practice Session

Included below is a layout with options and progressions for an ideal warm-up or start to your practice to prepare for competition (applicable for two hitting partners or a group or team of players).

  1. Dynamic stretching. Tennis is a difficult and physically demanding sport requiring complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, endurance/stamina, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and explosive and reactive power. To prepare for the complexity and variability of the game of tennis, the warm-up should begin with dynamic stretching (continuous movement patterns operating in multiple anatomical planes to activate and engage the body in preparation for more strenuous effort). Start with more stationary patterns such as arm circles, bow draw torso twists, bend overs, side lunges, squats and split squats. Progress to more movement-based patterns such walking lunges with arm drivers, walking lunges with twists, walking knees to armpits, walking high knee pulls and monster walks. Then add complexity to include more footwork and plyometric patterns and sprints such crossover steps, side shuffles, carioca steps and high knee, A, B and C skips. All patterns should be performed at a moderate to submaximal level of intensity. The focus should be fluid and elastic controlled movement.
  2. Groundstroke focus. Start with a short court groundstroke rally with players positioned at or just past the service line. Players should aim for a target midway between the service line and net. Hit with soft hands and a full swing. Start slowly and then accelerate with a fluid complete swing. Hit at a compatible and manageable pace. Maintain active feet. Establish down-the-line and cross-court hitting lanes/patterns. Set consecutive rally requirements or goals of x number of shots or x seconds (minutes). For added difficulty, when hitting cross-court, use only your outside stroke or inside-out stroke. When hitting straight ahead on a full court or down the line on half the court, hit using only your outside stroke or establish a cross-court/down-the-line (alternating forehand-backhand) pattern. As a graduated length process, follow the same groundstroke progression from a 3/4 court position aiming for the service line and then from the baseline with the goal of hitting past the service line. New to tennis? Start with an underhand toss and catch exchange. Progress next to a drop hit and catch exchange (alternating roles every x number of shots) before working up to a full rally of two, three, four and more shots.
  3. Volley focus. For the volley, start with a volley-to-volley exchange. Progress to a tap volley to short-court groundstroke rally. Keep the volley short of the service line. Next maintain a volley to baseline groundstroke rally with the goal to hit the volley past the service line. Establish down-the-line and crosscourt hitting lanes/patterns. Set goals to keep it going consecutively for x number of shots or x number of seconds (minutes). For more advanced play, execute alternating forehand and backhand volley, all forehand volley, and all backhand volley sequences. Rotate positions and roles accordingly.
  4. Volley and groundstroke transitions. Combine groundstrokes and volleys with an up and back accordion-style rally. Start with a volley-to-volley rally. Progress back with each shot transitioning from volleys to groundstrokes adjusting the depth and trajectory of each shot to maintain the rally until you both get to the baseline. Establish a baseline rally and then work your way back to the net. Reestablish a volley-to-volley rally and repeat. Set goals to maintain the complete up and back pattern x number of time or keep it going for x number of shots or x number of seconds (minutes).
  5. Overheads (and lobs). Feed lobs from the baseline to be countered with an overhead. Use a countdown (count up) to track success with the overheads. Start at a count of x (i.e., 20). Every time the overhead is hit successfully to a designated target the count goes down by one. Count up by one with every overhead mistake. Work down to zero. To add more pop, require the overhead to bounce up over the back fence (curtain, wall) or to a specific height on the back fence (curtain, wall) or over another established barrier. For advanced play, vary randomly or by design the location, depth, and angular direction of the lob. Similarly, randomly or by design change the required target for each overhead. Announce the required target with each feed (e.g., left, right, short, deep). As with all progressions, periodically rotate roles for overheads and lobs.
  6. Serves (and serve returns). Serve to a partner (who can either catch and serve the ball back or reply with a controlled return to the server). Hit serves (and returns) at a moderate pace. Start at a position close to the net and progress with success back to the baseline. Establish four serving stations – halfway between the net and service line, service line, halfway between the service line and baseline and baseline. Set a countdown (count up) target number. Work down to zero at each station. The goal is to establish timing, tempo, and accuracy with a smooth, fluid, and effortless swing pattern. After taking turns to successfully complete these initial graduated length progressions, play out extended serve/return/groundstroke crosscourt rallies. Set a goal of completing x number of rallies of x shots or more. For variation, work on cooperative serve/return/closing patterns and other more complicated serve/return patterns with similar goals for the number of shots per rally and successfully completed rallies.
  7. I like to conclude the warm-up with a challenge. For serving, I often run a 40-Serve Challenge. Here is how it works… Use the same eight serving (close to the net to the baseline) stations or locations (four on the deuce side of the court and four from the ad side of the court) established earlier in the warm-up. You serve counting down (or counting up) from five to zero through each of the eight serving stations. Every time you make a serve the count goes down by one. Every time you miss a serve the count goes up by one. You continue serving until you get to zero at each station. After you get to zero at one station, you then move to the next station to begin another count down to zero until you complete all eight stations. You count the total number of serves you hit (in or out) to successfully count down to zero through all eight stations. The goal is to make 40 serves in a row and get a perfect score of 40. Miss one serve and the best you can score is 42. Miss two serves and your score is 44. If competing against other players, the challenge is to see who can get a score of 40 or the lowest score. Challenges can feature basic high percentage rallies where the focus is consistency and patience. I have established 500 Ball Clubs and 1,000 Ball Clubs with many programs and teams. To become a member, you need to sustain a rally of 500 or 1,000 shots in a row (without an error). For another rally challenge with four or more players, start by positioning two or more players on each side of the net. Players alternate with their partner or teammates after hitting each shot. The goal is to see how long the rally can be sustained in a row without an error. For more difficulty, maintain a cross court rally and require players to run around a cone on the opposite far corner of the court before returning in line. With four or more players, you can also set up rally game challenges where pairs or groups of players vie to the be first pair or team to hit x number of consecutive shots or be the first pair or team to complete a shot sequence x number of times. Challenges can be quite complex as players advance in skill. A “killer” one I use for more advanced players is a continuous loop sequence which requires one player to direct groundstrokes and lobs as designated to a second player who must hit two volleys, run down a lob on the bounce, close back in after retrieving the lob to repeat the second loop of the pattern with two more volleys. The goal is to keep the rally sequence going as long as possible (two, three or more complete loops).
  8. The goal for all progressions is to establish consistency, rhythm, and timing. The pace of all rallies should be controlled and moderate at a compatible pace and tempo. The focus for the volleys is a centered, balanced hitting position with core stability, quiet upper body and hands, “soft” hands, active feet, and precise racquet head control. The focus for all other strokes is a centered, balanced hitting position with core stability, active feet, proximal initiation (loading) and elasticity, fluid and effortless stroke pattern, length through the hitting zone, whole body synchronization and integration with and a broad range of motion and an exaggerated complete finish to each shot. It is not about hitting or moving at a maximal level of intensity. It is about discipline and active engagement of the mind and body in preparation for more intense, competitive play to follow.
  9. There is flexibility on how to structure this warm-up. You can streamline the timeline to a commitment of 10 minutes or lengthen the process to 60 or more minutes. There are options to change the sequence order (i.e., work on volleys before groundstrokes), streamline or eliminate certain segments or spend more time with one specific aspect or theme (particularly if the play or practice to follow is similarly focusing on the same aspect or theme). Another option is to set a goal to complete each segment or all segments in a specific amount of time. If there is a team or group of players on multiple courts, you can set up competitions on who can be the first to accomplish a specific pattern in x number of shots, hit a consecutive rally of x number of shots, or complete requirements and targets for one entire segment (i.e., groundstrokes) or all segments combined. For teams, it is beneficial for players to establish the warm-up as a set routine that can be accomplished without any guidance or minimal guidance from a coach or professional.
  10. How do you make hitting for consistency and repetition fun? The key is engagement (how attentive and actively invested players are in the process) and how you structure practice and your time on the court to be more engaging and fun. The variety, progressions and general flow to this warm-up routine make the process more engaging and fun. The general format of collaborating with another player to reach goals and targets for consistency and execution of different patterns plus having the opportunity to compete against different pairs or teams of players to be the first to reach specific goals and targets make the process engaging and fun. Introducing challenges of increasing complexity and difficulty is another way to better engage players in the process and to make it fun. Being creative with the flexibility to change things as necessary and to add different dimensions to your hitting time can also make the process for engaging and fun. The goal of any warm-up is to prepare players for technical and/or competitive-based training and ultimately competition by improving focus and concentration, body awareness and movement, racquet skill proficiency, consistency, and the ability to execute basic patterns. To the extent the process can be fun, the better the results and more likely players will want to invest more time hitting and playing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s