Tennis is a sport that engages the majority of the muscles in the body. And although it looks like you mainly use your upper body to hit the ball, your core and lower body play crucial roles, as well.
This sport demands a lot from the body in terms of performance. Great overall fitness is the goal that every tennis player hopes to achieve and maintain as it gives them an edge out on the court. Therefore, tennis professionals go above and beyond by training their bodies off the court.
So with that in mind, let’s look at the body muscles you use when playing tennis.
The muscles used when playing tennis are:
- In the lower body: calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
- In the core: abs, obliques, erector spinae, and latissimus dorsi.
- In the upper-body: the muscles of your chest, upper back, shoulders, and arms.
Nowadays, tennis players, especially professional ones, generate the power and speed of their strokes by successively transferring energy throughout their body, and ultimately into the ball. This is known as the kinetic chain.
It all starts from the ground when your feet push off the court to move towards the ball. Then, this energy created by this first event is successively transferred into other parts of your body. The energy goes from your lower-body muscles to your core, and then to your upper body muscles. And finally, the energy travels from your hand to the racquet and then to the ball.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at each muscle region to learn how they can affect your performance on the court.
The Lower-Body Muscles
Calves, Hamstrings and Quads
The calves, hamstrings and quads muscles are the most critical leg muscles used when moving around the court. In addition to increasing the speed of a player’s movement on the court, these sets of muscles provide meaningful power to a player’s strokes.
Tennis players pay a lot of attention to their lower-body muscles, as having speed on the court is a very valuable attribute. Training these muscles individually is advisable when developing leg strength to improve reaction speed as well as mobility on the court. Tennis will always be a sport that demands a lot of movement, so these are some of the most important muscles to focus on when training.
Building leg strength doesn’t just improve speed. Remember that you generate a lot of your swinging power from your legs, and so stronger leg muscles can lead to more powerful strokes.
Some of the exercises you can do to improve overall leg strength include lunges, squats, and step-ups.
Last but no less important muscles in the lower-body are the glutes. They consist of three individual muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.
Glutes help in hip rotation and extension. Players who elect to use the glutes instead of the quads when generating power for lateral movement benefit from a reduced risk of injury as well as a power boost from the stronger gluteal muscles. Also, strong glutes can contribute to adequate knee extension as well.
Engaging the glutes in lateral movement provide tennis players with more stability which can improve their speed and reaction time. This means that they can generate just the right amount of push to propel a direction change in a split second.
Training the glutes can be done in many ways. Squats and related activities are ideal as they target the gluteal muscles specifically. Performing exercises that encourage proper hip rotation also strengthens this set of muscles.
The Core Muscles
The core muscles provide agility, balance, and the strength to hit powerful tennis strokes. It is arguably the most important group of muscles in tennis as it aids in keeping you balanced as you sprint from one end of the court to the other.
Because the core is at the center of the body, it connects muscles in the lower and upper body. Therefore, having stronger core muscles can influence how you coordinate your legs and arms movements.
The muscles in this region act as connectors between the lower and upper body, and as the point where the strength for having powerful strokes come from.
Although athletes, in general, tend to focus on toughening their abs, lower back muscles are just as important in tennis when it comes to stability. A strong core helps tennis players concentrate on hitting the ball by making their movements fluid and fast.
Core strength can be built by doing crunches and sit-ups, as well as back extension exercises.
The Upper Body Muscles
The arms, shoulders, upper back, and chest regions are other essential part of your body used when playing tennis.
In the chest, the primary muscles involved are the pectorals. Then in the shoulders, we have the rotator cuff and deltoids muscles. The rotator cuffs muscles are composed of four different muscles, the teres minor, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and supraspinatus. Moreover, in the upper back region, the trapezius and rhomboid muscles are the prime muscles used when hitting the ball. Finally, the last muscles used in the kinetic chain are located in the arms. They are the bicep, triceps, flexor, and extensor muscles.
The upper body is usually engaged during the swings, just before making contact with the ball. Hitting the ball activates most of the muscles around the upper arms, chest, and shoulders including the rotator cuff, which is a group of tendons between the arm bone and the shoulder blade.
For most tennis players, the rotator cuff, trapezius, and rhomboid muscles tend to be weaker, and that’s because they need to be trained individually. They make hitting serves and forehands possible as well as decelerate the motion during the follow through.
Training the upper body off the court should mostly be focused on strengthening the weaker muscles. Exercises like the shoulder punch and the seated row are appropriate as they target this specific group of muscles. Also, bicep curls are crucial if you want to make your serves more powerful.
Keep in mind…
Tennis players, especially high-performance ones, should always take care of their bodies by working out the necessary muscles regularly. Even when you’re not playing the game professionally, keeping your body ready and fit will make your game more enjoyable by improving your endurance and speed while making it harder for you to get injured while playing.
Remember that lower muscles are primarily useful when it comes to movement. Getting across the court rapidly requires powerful bursts of movement, which can only be facilitated by strong lower muscles. Every tennis player who wishes to have quick feet and the ability to get to the ball fast must pay enough attention to these muscles.
Tennis is a great way to keep your overall fitness levels up. It is an enjoyable sport that tests your ability to react, generate power rapidly, and adjust to different game situations.
How often should you train off the tennis court to stay fit?
How often should you train off the court will be dictated by your tennis skill level, your age, and your overall level of fitness.
High-performance tennis players need to train off the court regularly, and it’s not just so that they can get better at the game. Besides that, training frequently makes muscles accustomed to strenuous movement, so it reduces the risk of sustaining injuries on the court.
The number of weekly off-court exercises reduces or increases depending on the level at which they play the game. Nevertheless, training off the court is crucial for maintaining balance, strength, and speed on the court, and it is advisable to at least warm up thoroughly before and after every match.
Which off-court exercises can help improve your tennis game?
There are a lot of exercises that can be done to train the muscles that are used in tennis. These are some of the exercises you should do on a regular basis to see significant improvements:
- Lunges: lunges strengthen leg muscles and are easy enough to do at home. This exercise helps improve speed, agility, and balance.
- Squats: both single and double leg squats are powerful training exercises for the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Stability can be improved by strengthening these groups of muscles.
- Internal and External Rotation: rotations target one of the weakest yet most essential muscles in tennis, the rotator cuff. A stronger rotator cuff helps develop more powerful strokes.
- Oblique crunch: any type of crunch that’s adequately done will target the abdominal muscles, known as the central core muscles. As said earlier, this set of muscles are useful because they connect the upper and lower muscles, and contribute significantly to the stability, balance, and power when hitting the ball.
Are off-court tennis exercises the same for men and women?
Yes, both men and women can do any of these exercises to improve their tennis game. Remember, the difficulty of each exercise and number of reps should be adjusted according to body size, age, and level of fitness.
The key is to have a balanced off court training schedule that complements the workout and physical activity you get on the court.