Tennis players often look to fitness to enhance their game. CrossFit, P90x, Pilates, boot camps, ballet barre…how many different ways to exercise are there? How many are just passing fitness fads? How does one even choose? There are endless ways with hardcore loyal believers in each of them. Here are a few that are getting attention at the moment.
CrossFit’s goal is general physical preparedness (GPP). Ok, but what is it you ask? CrossFit is usually done in classes at a CrossFit gym. Each class lasts about 20 minutes and is a different combination of exercises that comprise a workout of the day (WOD). These workouts use dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, olympic lifting, pull up bars, joint mobility, tires, running, complex conditioning, agility drills, plyometrics, rowing, and just about anything else that will increase strength and agility in your day-to-day movements. The major con to this program is that you need to be in shape just to start doing this. But if you are in decent shape already, there is no other form of exercise that is more efficient. if you’re interested, many gyms will let you do the first class free to find out if it’s for you. Lastly, I recommend not trying this before a big USTA league match, you will be sore. Very sore.
Most people know what yoga is by now. It’s been around as a practice longer than anything else on this list (except running, I’m guessing). Yoga is great at improving balance. The series of poses and movements are done symmetrically so the body naturally comes into balance. Many people also find that yoga benefits the mental game as well by making practitioners feel more calm. There are many different types of yoga so finding the one that works for you can be a challenge. There’s Bikram, or “Hot Yoga” that is done in a hot room, and then there is Vinyasa, or “flow Yoga” that is also done in a hot room. In Bikram you tend to hold poses longer while in Vinyasa, you “flow” from one pose to the next. Personally, I find practicing with movement to be more beneficial to tennis.
These are the workout programs you see in the informercials late at night on TV. Insanity is a series of cardio and plyometric drills with intervals of strength, power, resistance, and core training. P90x, by personal trainer Tony Horton, claims to get your body in shape in just 90 days. What they don’t tell you is that you need to devote an hour per day to do this. My thinking is that doing any kind of exercise an hour per day will get you in shape. I’m sure that’s true but doing one of these programs will be much more effective. For some people working out at home fits in well with their lives. Personally, I prefer attending classes where I don’t need to motivate myself. I tend to want to relax when at home. But I have several friends who like these and have seen results. For an added bonus, they do also have nutrition programs to match the workouts. This is also a good backup if you’re travelling or have to miss a CrossFit/Pilates/whatever class. I import all the videos onto my iPhone and use that to watch them to get a mobile P90x session.
Pilates is another excellent choice for tennis players as it seeks to balance body strength. It’s named after its creator, Joseph Pilates and has a lot in common with yoga. Joseph borrowed many movements and theories from yoga and adapted them to become an exercise program that “strengthens the human mind and body”. The main difference from yoga is that Pilates exercises require the use of machines or devices that help you perform certain movements or motions. Otherwise, they mainly just have different names for the same things. Though for the small percentage of readers that are female, tennis players, and pregnant, prenatal Pilates classes are reported (Royal College of Midwives “Pilates and pregnancy”) to be beneficial to the mother due to increased core strength. You may want to skip your USTA league match though if you are in labor.
Boot Camp is somewhat similar to CrossFit. It’s training that frequently combines running, interval training, and many other exercises using weights and/or body weight to lose body fat, increase cardiovascular efficiency, increase strength, and help people get into a habit of regular exercise. Many programs offer nutrition and health advice as well. It is called “boot camp” because it trains group classes, usually outdoors, and may be similar to basic military training (but without the live ammunition). These boot camps will differ greatly from gym-to-gym so they could be easy or very difficult. My advice to try several different gyms and select the one that pushes you the hardest.
Fitness boot camp on Wikipedia
Barre workouts are the new hot thing in major US cities. It’s focus is “body sculpting” or “total body lift”. Fundamentally, it borrows from both yoga and Pilates but adds in ballet barre work. In these classes you will hold poses and make slight adjustment (slow and controlled movements) for highly focused balance and strength training. Like CrossFit/P90x, it also stresses variety in workouts to limit muscle memory. I’ve heard that it is a great combination of a regular workout plus the relaxation of yoga. It sounds like excellent strength and flexibility training that would greatly benefit tennis players. Having never done it myself though I can’t say for sure.
Barre3, West Coast USA
Some people run as their only form of exercise. It my opinion this is a huge waste of time and energy. Sure, you may burn more calories running for an hour than you would walking, but not by much. Instead of adding strength and agility, which tennis players NEED, you’re simply wearing down your joints. You hereby have my permission not to go for that 1 or 2 hour run that you force yourself to do. It is so much more effective to combine running with another workout such as CrossFit. In CrossFit you will run as part of your workout as either a warm-up or cool-down. It is not, in itself, a workout. I’d bet serious money that a tennis player who runs 3 times/week for an hour each, is not getting into shape as the tennis player doing three 20-minute CrossFit workouts per week. Running is a hobby, a hobby that damages your joints.
Jogging vs. Walking: high and low impact
While not the best for gaining muscle/strength, swimming will get you in shape and burn fat. It’s the hands-down winner for cardiovascular health. It will get you slim and trim but it will not help you develop the explosive strength that benefits tennis players.
Okay, so while not a fitness fad, it should be mentioned. Ever had a tennis instructor criticize your footwork? Ever miss a shot because you weren’t set up for it? Likely it’s a footwork problem. So go put on those fancy shoes and hit the dance floor. Or alternatively, set up the Kinect and load up Dance Central in the privacy of your own home. But just dancing won’t get you in great shape. It’s best to combine this with a more structured fitness and strength-training program.
Obviously this is likely to be the best. To have a personal trainer develop a diet and fitness plan specific for you and to motivate you to do it. A good trainer should incorporate aspects of all of the above.
Tennis fitness program at AVPTC in Bellevue, WA
Whatever works for you. Most people quit whatever program they start. That’s a surefire way for it to be ineffective. Sure, CrossFit is both more intense and varied than P90x, but if you’d prefer to workout in the comfort of your own home, go with P90x. Personally, I practice CrossFit. I started doing classes about 2 years ago, 3 workouts per week that are 20 minutes each. Two years ago I weighed 200 pounds and my only form of exercise was tennis. In one year I plummeted to 180 pounds; that’s 20 pounds (10% of body weight) in one year. And then in the past year I’ve gained about 10 pounds of muscle. It feels like I am in the best shape I’ve ever been.
Regardless of what you choose it’s important to choose something and stick with it. Tennis players especially need off-court conditioning to improve the balance of strength. Playing with a racquet tends to strengthen one side of the body more than the other and this imbalance can lead to injury. All of these workout programs can help prevent that. And then in order to be effective you need to stick with it, even if you don’t see results right away. Soon enough motivation won’t be a factor. Make it a habit and you’ll start to need it.