Is Tennis Aerobic or Anaerobic?

Serena Williams showcases anaerobic tennis movements effortlessly.
i Elsa/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Whether you’re new to tennis or have been playing for years, your body will reach both aerobic and anaerobic states during the game, depending on variables such as intensity, fitness level and amount of time spent on the tennis court. Understanding these two states can only help you improve your game and might make the difference between a win and a loss.

Aerobic Exercise

    Aerobic exercise is low intensity and of a relatively long duration; in tennis that could mean 15 to 30 minutes. During aerobic exercise your blood vessels will expand and more blood will be pumped to and from your lungs. The word aerobic actually means "with oxygen," which means that your breathing rate controls how much oxygen makes it to your body's muscles to help them move, according to Cleveland Clinic. This system is the most efficient way that your body generates energy, so it is the system that kicks into action first. In order to stay in an aerobic heart rate zone, you must be in continuous movement. In tennis you generate repeated bouts of activity: A rally may last anywhere between six and 10 seconds, according to Sports Fitness Advisor. However, between points you’ll have the luxury of a 25- to 90-second rest, making the physical demand closer to a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.

Anaerobic Exercise

    Anaerobic exercise is high-intensity, short-burst movement. Anaerobic means “without oxygen." The most common examples of anaerobic exercise are sprinting and weight lifting, but it also applies to some activities in tennis. To get energy quickly in tennis, such as during an overhead serve, a sprint for a return or to hit a line drive shot, your body functions anaerobically. Anaerobic exercise supplements aerobic functioning by supplying a short burst of extra energy when you need it. The body cannot function anaerobically for an extended period of time.


    There are certain exceptions when it comes to the game of tennis. Not everyone can reach anaerobic heart rate levels, but will stay within the aerobic range. If you are just starting out, for example, or are playing a laid-back game of doubles, you won't always increase your heart rate to the level of anaerobic exercise and will therefore play a tennis game in the aerobic range for the duration of the match.

Heart Rate

    To find out whether or not you’re in an anaerobic or aerobic state while playing tennis, learn to measure your heart rate. First you'll need to calculate your maximum heart rate. The easiest method is to subtract your age from 220. Your aerobic target zone is between 70 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. For example, for a 22-year-old, the maximum heart rate is 220 minus 22, or 198. The aerobic target zone is 70 to 80 percent of that, or 138 to 158 beats per minute. The anaerobic state, which is more intense, is 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, or a range of 158 to 178 beats per minute.

the nest