Tennis is a great game for staying in shape. The fitness you develop from a regular tennis game has an added bonus: It carries over into the rest of your life. By playing tennis, you also improve your functional fitness or your ability to do ordinary things, like carry a sack of groceries in from the car or climb a flight of stairs. The better your functional fitness, the better you can get through all the usual activities of your typical day with ease—and with energy left over for tennis.
Exercises to build functional fitness aim to mimic the activities of daily living by working several muscle groups at once. They’re designed to improve your strength, flexibility, endurance, range of motion, and balance, because you need all those abilities every time you do something like pick up a toddler, or reach for something on a high shelf, or carry a briefcase. Because they build overall fitness, they’re also great for your tennis game!
Exercises for functional fitness
Functional fitness exercises focus on building a strong core and then working several major muscles groups of the body at once. The five exercises I suggest here are a good basic workout that doesn’t require any special equipment—you’re going to use just your body weight. Plenty of other exercises also build functional fitness, so once you’ve mastered these, change up your routine by swapping some other exercises in and out.
1. The Plank
This most fundamental of exercises is key to a strong core—it engages your abs, lower back, hips, and arms. This is the one functional fitness exercise that should always be part of your workout routine, because your core muscles are continually engaged when you play tennis.
►Lie face-down on a mat in push-up position. Place your forearms on the mat at shoulder width, with your elbows aligned under your shoulders.
►Flex your arms and push up, keeping your back straight, until you are supported only by your toes and your forearms. Look down to keep your head in a neutral position.
►Hold for at least 15 seconds. As you get better at this, hold for as long as possible, at least 30 seconds.
2. Two-Legged Squat
This is a great functional fitness exercise for building up and coordinating your leg muscles, especially the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves—the muscles that control your knees and hips. By doing this regularly, you improve your ability to get up and down from chairs, pick things up off the ground, and climb steps. For your tennis game, strong legs give you a strong foundation for your strokes and improve your ability to transfer your weight.
►Stand upright, with your legs apart a little wider than shoulder width and your arms at your sides.
►Pull your shoulder blades in toward each other a bit to tighten your abdominal muscles.
►Slowly bend your knees and push your rear end and hips down behind you, just as if you were sitting down in a chair. Keep your knees aligned over your ankles and your toes pointing forward. As you lower your body, raise your arms up in front of you.
►Keep lowering your body until your thighs and arms are parallel to the floor. Hold for 10 seconds.
►Slowly raise yourself upright again, while lowering your arms back down to your sides. Repeat 10 times.
Tip: As you get better at this exercise, try doing it as a deep squat instead. Instead of stopping when your thighs are parallel to the floor, go down as low as you can, keeping your arms extended.
The plain old push-up is one of those basic exercises we tend to overlook, but it’s great for strengthening your core, your gluteus maximus and the chest, shoulder and arm muscles. You’ll notice the difference when you’re lifting or carrying something heavy or reaching up to get something in or out of a cabinet. You’ll also see a difference in your strokes—strong arms and shoulders are key to good control.
►Get on your hands and knees (the quadruped position) on a mat. Place your hands a bit more than shoulder-width apart. Extend your legs straight back and flex your feet so you’re supported on your toes. Keep your back straight and your belly tightened. Look down to keep your head in a neutral position.
►Keeping your legs straight, lower your chest toward to the floor until your elbows are bent 90 degrees, then push yourself up. Repeat 10 times.
4. Bird Dogs
Bird dogs, also known as pointers, are great for the muscles of the lower back and thighs and the upper arms. If you do these, you’ll notice the difference in anything you do that requires lifting or bending. You’ll find that you’re more flexible on the tennis court.
►Start in the quadruped position, on your hands and knees. Raise your right arm until it is parallel to the floor and point it forward, like a bird dog showing where a duck is.
►Simultaneously extend your left leg back behind you until it is parallel to the floor. Balance on your left arm and right leg.
►Hold for 10 seconds, then bring your arm and leg back to the quadruped position and repeat with the left arm and right leg. Continue alternating arms and legs for 10 reps.
5. Lunges With Rotation
This exercise builds up your quads, hamstrings and butt muscles, while also working on the abdominal muscles that help you turn from side to side. It’s a good way to improve your ability to get up and down from a sitting or squatting position and pick up things; it also helps with upper back mobility and your ability to twist your torso. This exercise improves both stroke control and flexibility on the court.
►Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms extended out, parallel to the floor.
►Take a big step forward with your right leg into the lunge position: Upper body erect, right leg bent 90 degrees at the knee, left leg extended behind you, also bent 90 degrees at the knee.
►Hold the lunge and rotate your arms and torso to the right as far as you can comfortably go. Hold for 10 seconds.
►Return to the neutral standing position and repeat, lunging forward on the left leg and rotating to the left. Continue alternating sides for 10 reps.
Dr. Robert G. Silverman is a White Plains, N.Y.-based sports chiropractor and certified clinical nutritionist, specializing in functional medicine and the treatment of joint pain with innovative, science-based, nonsurgical approaches. He is also on the advisory board for the Functional Medicine University and a health contributor to various major TV networks. He is the author of Amazon’s Number One Best-Seller, Inside-Out Health. In 2015, he was honored with the prestigious Sports Chiropractor of the Year award by the ACA Sports Council. He can be reached by phone at (914) 287-6464, e-mail Info@DrRobertSilverman.com or visit DrRobertSilverman.com.