Why do exercises for senior tennis players matter?
If you are keen to play tennis at a good standard for many years, it is essential that you look after your body. There are several changes that occur as you age which you will need to work hard to minimise.
It has been estimated that your aerobic capacity drops by roughly 10% every ten years, which can affect recovery and endurance on court. The body releases hormones at a different rate as the years go by, and some body tissues become less sensitive to their effects, which can also hamper recovery.
General slowing of the metabolism makes it easier to gain weight as you get older. Loss of muscle can also be an issue, as it is estimated that you lose around 5% of your muscle mass every decade after (approximately) the age of 30.
Finally, once you reach your fifties, bone loss can be an issue, especially for women, for whom menopause increases the annual rate of loss to as much as 2 or 3%.
None of this sounds very positive, but the good news is that the right kind of training can significantly slow the kind of deterioration described here. So, what are the best exercises for senior tennis players?
5 Types of Exercise for Senior Tennis Players
It is vital that you only undertake any kind of training if you are medically fit to do so. The first step, if you are starting to train from scratch or are significantly increasing the amount you plan to do, is to consult your doctor. If they are happy, you should begin gradually.
Whatever your ultimate fitness goals, remember that Rome was not built in a day, and if you push yourself too hard too quickly you are just likely to get injured.
Given all of this, there are several important types of training which should form part of your programme. Speed and agility training are key aspects, and these are covered in a separate article on this website.
Strength training will also be crucial, as will flexibility and core-strengthening exercises. Endurance training will help you to battle your way through long matches, and senior players will always need to include a few injury prevention or rehabilitation exercises.
Many people believe that strength training is intended to produce a powerful, muscular physique, and therefore do not consider it to be relevant for tennis. Certainly if you want a body like a young Schwarzenegger, strength training using heavy weights will be an important part of your programme.
Assuming, however, that your aim is to be fit to play tennis at the best level you are capable of, and to avoid injury, strength training is also vital, and will not lead to the development of a great deal of extra muscle unless you want it to do so.
By strengthening the muscles around your joints, you increase stability and prevent the kind of uncontrolled movements that lead to injury. In addition, weight-bearing exercise is crucial in maintaining bone density, so it is particularly important for women.
Everyone has different physical strengths and weaknesses, so the only way to find the most appropriate training programme for you is to consult a strength and conditioning expert such as a personal trainer.
Nonetheless, in this article I will give you an indication of some of the exercises which are likely to help you as a senior tennis player. The following strength training exercises will be beneficial for many, but make sure that you start gradually, using low weights. If you need more detail on how to perform the specific exercises, there are numerous videos online.
Bench Press. This strengthens the shoulders and chest, and contributes towards the ability to serve strongly.
Squats. Any type of squat is likely to be helpful in strengthening your quadriceps and gluteus maximus, which are vital in maintaining a stable position on court and absorbing impacts. Holding a weight can add to the challenge when you have mastered the basic technique.
Lunges. These offer a superb workout for the lower body. The type of strength they build is exactly what you need for stability and controlled movement, especially when stretching for a wide ball.
Dumbbell Rotations. Make sure you establish the correct technique for these before attempting them, as the angle of your arm will greatly affect the effectiveness of the exercise. Essentially, you move your lower arm up and down or from side to side while holding a dumbbell in order to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles around your shoulder.
If you do ever injure these muscles, which are crucial in serving, you can be unable to play for several months, so these exercises are excellent as a preventative measure.
Medicine Ball Throw. Throwing a medicine ball into the ground or a wall using appropriate technique can be an excellent means of strengthening core and abdominal muscles.
Box jumps. These are great for developing your ability to absorb impacts, which will help to prevent injuries on harder court surfaces. As always, start cautiously with a low box, and work on good landing technique.
One of the most obvious differences between the players in the different age groups of senior tennis is the reduction in flexibility as they age. The more you can fight this reduction, the more competitive you are likely to be. There are three principal types of flexibility exercise which you may wish to use.
Static Stretching. This involves stretching various muscles to a point where slight discomfort is felt, and holding for 20-30 seconds, perhaps increasing the stretch slightly if it begins to feel easier. This can help with flexibility and range of motion, but it is not recommended immediately before playing tennis as it can reduce muscle performance.
Dynamic Stretching. This is often recommended as a part of your pre-match warm-up. It features controlled, gentle swings of your arms and legs which take you to the limits of your range. You will normally perform around 10 repetitions. Dynamic stretching is good for thoroughly warming up your muscles and improving what is known as ‘dynamic flexibility’.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). This is a slightly more complex stretching procedure, which is best performed with the support of a trainer. It may be worth investigating for many senior tennis players, as studies have shown it to improve flexibility more than other stretching techniques.
Strengthening The Core
Developing a strong core enables you to be more stable when hitting the tennis ball, even in relatively extreme positions. This in turn minimises injuries.
There are several popular forms of exercise which are beneficial for the core, such as pilates. Joining a class for one of these could be ideal, although individual tuition is also available if you would prefer. The types of exercise which are most helpful for tennis include various forms of the plank and numerous abdominal exercises. There are many core exercise programmes described online.
It is vital that you are well equipped to continue playing well throughout the final set of long matches, and this requires you to have a good level of endurance.
Running is a very good way of building endurance: steady long runs can create a good base, but the most effective method is to do repeated sprints at short intervals. Sprint endurance is exactly what is required in a tennis match, as you will need to make numerous short sprints followed by short rests throughout the contest.
Some older seniors might feel that their joints are not up to a lot of running in training, in which case lower impact options like cross-training and swimming can be used instead. It is also possible to develop greater tennis-specific endurance by means of on-court drills. These might involve a specific pattern of play, or require points to be played out without a serve.
Alternatively, a coach could feed balls from a basket in a pattern designed to require rapid, dynamic movement.
Injury Prevention And Rehabilitation
When you injure yourself, you should visit a physiotherapist, as they will be able to diagnose the problem and suggest exercises to prevent it recurring. The more effective your overall training programme, the fewer injuries you will suffer, but when you do hurt yourself it will normally be due to a lack of strength in a particular muscle group.
If your physiotherapist recommends a particular set of exercises to prevent injury, you may need to add them to your programme indefinitely. As you age, the number of such exercises can proliferate, but carrying them out assiduously will keep you on court and pain-free.
Wrap Up on Exercises for Senior Tennis Players
Physical training will enable you to slow the effects of the ageing process and play tennis well for longer. A qualified strength and conditioning coach, or personal trainer with knowledge of tennis, will be able to design a programme appropriate to your needs and capabilities. On top of the speed and agility exercises described in the article elsewhere on this website, a good training programme will include:
- Strength Training
- Flexibility Training
- Core Exercises
- Endurance training
- Injury Prevention Exercises
If you work on all of these areas, your tennis will benefit, as will your everyday life. Just remember to start slowly and carefully to avoid injuring yourself in training.
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