Since there are more than 77 million tennis enthusiasts in the US, according to Sports Illustrated, and tennis is the number one female sport in the US, there is a good chance you have a client who plays tennis at some level, and if not, achieving a female tennis players body is something most women would desire anyways. However, getting in tennis shape requires an understanding of the requirements of the sport. Most of you reading this understand movements and exercises that can develop functional strength, power and flexibility. As a result, this article is not going to focus on specific exercises for tennis but how to best combine your workouts to train for �tennis shape.�


Working Key Areas

            Many of your clients who play tennis also want to lose body fat. This means that you have to work on muscles and movements that will help them play better tennis and avoid injury while maintaining a high enough intensity to burn a substantial number of calories. The most common areas that need to be stressed for a tennis athlete include the core, lower body and shoulder region. The core muscles need to be worked in multiple planes with a large emphasis on the transverse plane (rotational movement) and diagonal planes (low to high and high to low, across the body). Unilateral lunges and step-ups, involving linear, lateral and multidirectional movements are important to develop lower body strength. Shoulder conditioning is vital for increasing ball speed as well as reducing the likelihood of injury.


Setting Up Tennis-Specific Circuits

Most tennis players have weak external shoulder rotators and lack adequate flexibility in internal shoulder rotation. These imbalances are the major reasons why many tennis players suffer from shoulder and subsequent elbow injuries. Once a trainer has sufficiently tested their clients and determined what areas and movements need to be focused on during training sessions, it is important to structure workouts to improve these areas but to also focus on tennis-specific endurance training. To accomplish this, understand that the majority of points in tennis play last less than 15 seconds, and points range between one second for an ace to no more than 30 seconds for an extremely long point.

            Taking this into account, the most efficient way to train a tennis player who competes in United States Tennis Association (USTA) or other tennis leagues is to devise a circuit of between 10-20 exercises focusing on movements and muscles that are a required in tennis play. The best way to structure these circuits is to follow a work to rest ratio between 1:2 and 1:5. For every 10 seconds of work, it would be appropriate to have 20-50 seconds rest. Your knowledge of the client�s fitness level, tennis level and the goal of the exercise (speed, strength, power, muscular endurance) will determine which of the work-to-rest ratios you employ. These work-to-rest ratios should not be consistent. During a tennis-specific circuit, it would be important to vary the work periods between two seconds and 30 seconds and also vary the rest periods accordingly.

            By setting up circuits that follow work-to-rest ratios that simulate tennis match play, you can develop tennis specific strength, power, speed, flexibility and muscular endurance while also working on tennis-specific endurance. This type of program will immediately see results when the client steps onto the court and will increase your client�s ability to play at a higher level of performance for a longer period of time.


As your clients improve their on-court results, word will travel that you as their trainer understand tennis shape, which will result in gaining positive referrals based on devising programs that are specific to the sport of tennis while also burning a high number of calories during your sessions.

Dr. Mark Kovacs, PhD, CSCS, USPTA is an assistant professor of Exercise Science & Wellness at Jacksonville State University and was a former professional tennis player, collegiate All-American and NCAA champion. He is also the co-author of Tennis Training: Enhancing On-court Performance. For more information, email Mark at