Warm-Ups and Workouts

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It seems strange to start an article about warm-ups with a note about cooling down (many teaching plans include a period for warming up and cooling down during a lesson). The New York Times recently printed a piece outlining how cooling off after athletic exercise was mostly unnecessary. For high-level athletes training to the max, a deliberate period of cooling off makes sense. But for most of us, a simple walk around the block after an afternoon of tennis seems to be enough of a cool down. My point is that sometimes we can overcomplicate our tennis lives.

I’m calling on grandma’s ghost here (simple is usually best) to define a warm-up as a way to help us prepare to play the game, mentally and physically.

A simple way to transition from the real world and prepare for some enjoyable rec time is to get to the courts early. Before going on court, you should perform some simple hip rotations, shoulder shrugs, wrist rotations and calf lifts. It might be helpful to touch your toes with bent knees, and try some squats for your quads. You want to loosen up your joints and muscles and feel limber and ready to play.

Some teachers and coaches recommend running around the court a few times to warm up. I would rather see players take shuffle steps from left to right as a warm-up, since 80 percent of the movement in tennis is sideways.

If you are at the courts early (a strong suggestion) you might want to try a simplified application of a program called SyberVision, whose foundation is neuro-muscular training via muscle memory programming. The key to this program is to repeatedly watch video of Stan Smith’s groundstrokes and serves. I confess I am a sucker for the self-help development programs from the 80s, and I still own a copy of SyberVision. But since my VHS player has long gone to the thrift store, I wondered if there were some modern ways to benefit from this information.

I recommend that you stand behind the best player on court before starting to play and let your mind try matching how they move their body on their strokes and forget about strategy and points and just absorb the athletic efficiency.

Once you are on the court, you can start with mini-tennis, and concentrate on foundations, focusing on take back, and point of contact. Then hit volleys, overheads and move to the baseline and hit forehands and backhands. Avoid starting your warm-up by gripping and ripping groundstrokes. And don’t forget the serve.

Limit your warm-up to no more than five minutes, which is what you are allowed in most sanctioned tournaments. I once played a man in a poorly regulated tournament who felt he could use the warm-up to practice every shot he ever hit, and even some he only dreamed of. Five minutes … please!

Workouts are very different than warm-ups. The old adage tells us that the best-conditioned athlete usually wins, and many of us have developed programs to work and develop our muscles. My experience is that an overall healthy body produces better results than tailoring your gym work to develop specific sport-related strengths.

A few cautionary notes about workouts. I recently spoke with a good player who raved about his personal trainer and the regimen prescribed. His only complaint was that his exercise plan was not producing results on the tennis court. As we spoke further, I learned that his trainer had him doing an intensive half-hour workout just before going on court for a match. This confusion about workouts and warm-ups brings to mind the old chestnut about not leaving your game in the locker room.

Set achievable goals. As a 135 pound 18-year-old in the army, I could do 15 pull-ups before each meal. A few years ago, I wanted to see if I could match those numbers. Between pull-up one and two, I twisted myself off balance and pulled a muscle in my side. I lost months of gym time, court time and suffered through many sleepless nights.

I have outlined a simple, efficient way to warm-up before a match, and pointed out some of the pitfalls when working out. Do you have plan? Is it realistic?

I may once have dreamed of hitting forehands like Roger Federer or powerful backhands like his compatriot Stan Wawrinka, and I marvel at how the pros slide on hard courts at the U.S. Open. But, my fitness dreams have changed. Today, I have more reasonable goals, and any results from working toward that goal should easily transfer to tennis success.