How do Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer warm-up? Diligently. How do many amateur tennis players warm-up? With a few stretches and a few minutes of hitting before playing. That's a mistake. To play your best, regardless of your ability level, you need a thorough warm up session that lasts about 30 minutes. You'll be physically and mentally ready to practice or compete. At the end of your practice session or match, remember to cool down properly. You'll recover more quickly and reduce muscle soreness.
As veteran tennis instructor Anne Pankhurst explains on the Intosport website, tennis uses all energy systems, most joints and muscle groups. So a proper warm-up needed to ready your mind and body for rigorous activity can't be rushed, but the rewards are significant. A thorough warm-up enables you to play with good rhythm and coordination from the very first serve and helps prevent injuries as well.
Optimum Tennis recommends beginning your warm-up by jogging slowly, which warms your muscles and elevates your heart rate. Then you can ease into some high knee kicks as you jog or some sideways running, diagonal hopping or bounding. If you're playing on clay, sliding exercises at a 45 degree angle in both directions are advisable.
A 2010 research study conducted by the University of Milan and published in the "Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine" suggests that dynamic stretching with different joints moving in different directions gives you more flexibility than traditional stretches. Instead of traditional static exercises, such as touching your toes and holding the stretch for 30 seconds, increase the range of motion in your joints as you prepare to play. For example, you can pump your arms back and forth as you jog, or do stretches that are sport specific to tennis, such as shadow swinging the racket. Make sure the dynamic stretches involve your legs, knees and shoulders. Dynamic stretches can be followed by a few short sprints to prepare you for moving quickly on the court.
Hitting Warm Up
After about 15 or 20 minutes of jogging, stretching and running, you're ready to spend the last 10 minutes of the warm-up hitting with a partner. This can be thought of as both a tennis and mental warm up, as Coach Pankhurst describes it on the IntoSport website. Concentrate on good technique, sound footwork and making solid contact on each shot. Start with light hitting from close range and gradually move back past the baseline as you pound the ball harder. Practice some serves and volleys and then you'll be ready to play.
After a grueling match or practice session, you might want nothing more than a cold beer and a soothing hot tub. But, don't neglect a proper cool down. Jog for a bit so your body can gradually slow down and then move to static stretches -- stretching your quads, hamstrings, calves, back and other essential muscle groups. By hydrating to replenish your fluid levels and eating some carbohydrates and protein right after the workout, your muscles will recover quickly and you won't be so sore the next day.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.