Running is widely considered to be the best form of aerobic conditioning for tennis, not just because of the cardio and endurance benefits but also due to the improvements it can bring in the speed and footwork of players. In fact, top tennis players have been taking to the running tracks and roads to further their performance for years.
Tennis is a unique mix of anaerobic bursts of speed and aerobic movements that last a long time. If you think about the top tennis players, they are able to mix the explosive pace of a 100-metre sprinter with the endurance of a marathon runner to keep going for the duration of a full three- or five-set match.
With such unusual performance requirements, it’s not surprising that there’s some quite specific running training for tennis players and tennis exercises that many of the pros swear by.
No matter what level of tennis you play, you absolutely must have a good level of cardio if you hope to compete. Of all the different types of running training for tennis players, the long slow run is one you cannot do without. It is performed at a constant pace of low to moderate intensity over a long distance or duration. An example of a long slow run is a 30- to 40-minute run at 60–70% of your predicted maximum heart rate.
There are a number of different benefits associated with this type of run that all help to build a basic level of tennis fitness.
1)Firstly, it improves your cardiovascular system, strengthens the heart and increases the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to your muscles.
2)It also helps to build up the strength in your joints and muscles, and gets them used to longer spells of activity.
3)This type of training also enhances the body’s ability to burn fat as a source of energy and store more energy as glycogen in your muscles.
4)Perhaps most importantly, it also teaches your body the importance of efficiency, helping to minimise the energy you need to run.
This is an example of running training for tennis players that’s at the opposite end of the intensity spectrum. A suicide run is a high-intensity sprinting drill that consists of multiple sprints to progressively distant lines. Stopping and starting abruptly, and running as quickly as you can over a short distance, is an excellent way to develop your speed, endurance and agility. This type of high-intensity training also gets the muscles and joints used to the high levels of impact involved in stopping and changing direction quickly on hard surfaces.
To perform a suicide run, start at one side of the court, on the outer doubles sideline. Then sprint to the adjacent doubles sideline and back. Then run to the singles sideline and back. Then run to the centre service line and back. Take one minute to recover and repeat.
As well as running in a straight line as quickly as you can, footwork drills are also excellent tennis exercises to add to your repertoire. They require you to run forwards and backwards, from side to side, and on an angle, helping to replicate many of the movements you will be required to make on court. The key to footwork drills is to try and use as many quick steps as you can to cover as little distance as possible.
Drills using a rope ladder, if you have one, can help you develop your quickness of foot, while spider drills are excellent at improving your ability to change directions quickly and building your speed and agility.
So far we’ve covered long-distance and sprint running training for tennis players, so now it’s time for something in between. Interval training involves multiple runs or sprints over a distance that can be anything from 10 metres up to 800 metres. Interval training is an extremely efficient form of cardio, delivering the benefits much more quickly than the long slow run we’ve described above. Interval training can also help to increase speed and endurance as well as all-round tennis fitness.
The key to successful interval training is to maintain the intensity of the training for the full workout. If your intensity drops off, reduce the length of the run or increase the rest period. An example of interval training would be three 400-metre runs separated by rest periods of 60 seconds. Over a shorter distance, you could do five 15-metre sprints and walk back to the start line between sprints.