OK, this article is going to sound like some kind of a strange advertisement to promote the great sport of tennis – which of course it isn’t. But it will sing tennis’s virtues – many of which you may not previously have thought about.
So without further ado, what’s so great about tennis?
Well it’s great for your health, it has the potential to work wonders for your social life in many different ways, and it’s a fascinating sport to follow, particularly once you get into it all. It can be a great sport to watch on the TV at first and maybe even in person should you take an interest – as live tennis is undoubtedly invigorating.
Watching the greats play
So, for example, the Australian Open is fast-approaching. This is the first of the four tennis grand Slams of the year and is played in Melbourne in late January. And if ever an event was going to get you interested in tennis in the first place – this is certainly it. For a start, the weather is bright and sunny, obviously, so it makes you feel like being sporty even though it may be dark and raining here in the northern hemisphere.
In the ladies’ side of the draw, Serena Williams is a hot favourite to win at around 2-1. Serena has been victorious in the Australian Open five times during her long and illustrious career, first winning the tournament in 2003. But she won her last one in 2003 and at 33-years-old; she may find someone else a bit younger that is simply a little too good. The 25-year-old Belarussian Victoria Azarenka is second favourite at around 7-1 on the betting exchanges and with major bookmakers at the time of writing. Azarenka has won the Aussie Open twice since Serena Williams last won one – in 2012 and again the following year. Last year’s winner – Chinese player Li Na – has now retired.
But the men’s side of the draw looks really fascinating – and more competitive even than the ladies’ side of the draw. The four favourites are the traditional four big names of world tennis at the moment, namely Novak Djokovic, who is the favourite to win the first tennis Grand Slam with Betfair and other exchanges – and the major bookmakers. He is followed in the betting by Rafael Nadal, the ever-green Roger Federer who continues to roll back the years at the ripe old age – for a tennis player anyway – of 33 and finally, Britain’s Andy Murray. These four are then followed by last year’s surprise winner Stanislas Wawrinka.
Anyway, we digress slightly – but the point is well made; watching the forthcoming Aussie Open on TV will make you feel like getting up and playing tennis. We all know the feeling from watching The French Open and Wimbledon in the early summer and the US Open in September – but these days there’s no reason not to go out and play at any time of year as there are so many indoor courts.
Health and fitness
So what does tennis do for your body exactly?
Firstly, tennis is great all-round exercise. Many other sports and pastimes make the same claim, though, so let’s have a closer look in a little more detail about exactly why tennis is so good for you…
When it’s played really well, tennis is a very fast-paced activity requiring a unique combination of various different aspects of fitness. This makes it an excellent all-round workout.
If you play tennis regularly, it will definitely help you to increase your aerobic fitness capacity, your anaerobic fitness, your speed, strength and power – and overall flexibility, balance and coordination. Perhaps best of all, it will radically improve your muscle tone if you aren’t already fit – whilst maybe offering something a little bit different if you are already fit from other forms of exercise.
During an average match, a tennis player can expect to run anywhere between three and five miles whilst simultaneously burning somewhere in the region of 500 to 600 calories each hour. Of course, all this exercise is done in bursts of speed and explosive power which make tennis exercise a lot different and brings unique benefits. In particular, tennis involves performing similar strong movements over and over, and this is great for tightening up your thighs, bottom, stomach and arms.
Of course, most of these health benefits come as you get to a reasonable level at the sport and play faster. But you’ll also start to feel the benefits straight away. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to get a professional tennis coach to help you out if you’re starting for the first time or just beginning to take the sport more seriously. This will help you get the basics in place from the start and help prevent you falling into bad habits as your game develops. And this is very desirable for shape, health and fitness too.
As you improve at the game, you’ll probably want to develop your fitness in complementary areas to improve your game. In this way, getting good at tennis and enjoying being good becomes the proverbial ‘win-win’ situation. So keen do you become to improve that you positively seek out ways of improving your game off court. This usually means hitting the gym and maybe the road.
So to complement your tennis fitness, you should be looking to do somewhere around two half hour sessions of cardio-vascular activity each week at a moderate intensity level. This will really help build your aerobic fitness and improve your game on-court.
In choosing which particular cardio-vascular exercise to go for – pick out ones that involve both the upper and lower body, including running and / or rowing. These types of exercise will both increase your calorie burn and maximise your overall fitness benefits.
As an exercise, tennis also helps you to develop the ability to work at very high intensity levels for short bursts. This is known as your anaerobic capacity. A mean average tennis rally lasts anywhere between five and seven seconds only. During his short burst of activity, you’ll be doing short, sharp and strong movements, involving a high level of power and intensity – with anywhere up to 25 seconds of rest between each of these bursts. This is what helps make tennis such a unique form of exercise and why it brings such special benefits to your body when played well.
So to build this specific type of fitness away from the court itself, try shuttle running over short distances (somewhere in the five to ten metre type of range). When you do this – try to work at your absolute full capacity for quick, ten second bursts, with around 20 seconds of rest between each set. This will really boost your fitness as recent research has confirmed.
Developing power and improving muscle tone
As already mentioned, tennis players need power and strength in surprisingly high measure so as your game improves, you’ll want to improve this aspect of your fitness too. To help develop both your upper body and lower body strength and explosive power, in addition to toning up these areas of the body – include some plyometric sessions in your training a couple of times each week if you have the time.
So for example, try arranging five low hurdles in a gym or outside etc., around half a yard apart from each other. Now jump over the hurdles with your feet held tightly together, and using your arms to help give you extra momentum – always jumping up again at the moment you land. Next, turn ninety degrees to your left or your right then repeat the whole course, jumping sideways and leading with your shoulder – then repeat the whole thing on the other side of your body. You’ll soon find this has an amazing effect on your tennis power and body tone in your lower body.
For the upper body, try the following exercise: Stand holding a medicine ball with both hands and with one of your feet in front of the other and with your knees slightly bent, standing around three yards in front of a wall. Now carefully hoist the medicine ball behind your head, and throw it as hard as you can at the wall using both hands in a forward thrusting but controlled movement. Allow it to bounce then catch the ball and repeat the exercise. As you get better at this try to keep the time between picking the ball up and taking it back to throwing position and throwing it forwards again to a minimum.
Tennis also works wonders for this aspect of your fitness. Doing forehand and backhand shots repeatedly will really help increase your core stability – and will help tone your entire midsection.
To replicate the same effect in the gym, try attaching an elastic exercise band to something around the height of your hips. Then, stand side-on to the band and take hold of it with both your hands and with your elbows just slightly bent. Now take a step or two to one side if needed to make sure the band is nicely taut. Next, rotate your whole torso to one side, whilst not bending your arms, then return slowly to the start position and repeat the exercise. Obviously, do the same thing but in reverse next to work the other side of your torso.
Dealing with injuries
If you play tennis carefully in a controlled manner and don’t go mad – and you thoroughly warm-up before any kind of exercise, stretching carefully, and warm-down afterwards, you’ll hopefully be able to avoid most injuries. This is vital and more important than the exercise itself.
During your exercise training, you should do so in such a way that you’re able to hold a conversation at a fairly reasonable level at any given time. If you can’t (with the notable exception of the explosive burst exercises outlined above) you’re probably overdoing it and making yourself more likely to get an injury of some kind.
Tennis elbow – or “lateral epicondylitis” to give it its proper name – is when your tendon joining the muscles of your forearm to your upper arm become inflamed or, worse, torn. This injury is akin to repetitive strain or “RSI” type of injury and is usually because you’ve been overdoing it. Rest is usually the cure, but you should seek medical advice if you get this type of pain, without delay.
The social life
Joining your local tennis club may be one of the best things you ever did for your social life. And without wishing to make tennis clubs sound like singles clubs – they are a great place to meet a whole new network of friends who will probably be like-minded in many ways. Tennis clubs are particularly good once you’re over about 30 to meet new people of all types and to build your social network with people who enjoy playing a great game and who take fitness seriously – without the gym crowd for whom fitness is really an end in itself.
The great thing about tennis is that you gradually build towards having the best body you can without it feeling like a grind in any way. Once you really get into it and get reasonably good at tennis – you just get to love it and no-one will be able to keep you off the courts. The fact that you’re getting steadily fitter and more adept at playing the game becomes something of a bonus because you just love playing. In other words, the fitness is purely incidental to your enjoyment of the game itself – and that’s the ideal we’re all aiming for here.