Core exercises to improve strength and stability in tennis are a vital part of fitness training for tennis. The abdominal, oblique and lower back muscles are extensively used for the three basic and most important shots in tennis – the serve, forehand, and backhand. Strengthening your core will provide that vital stability for times when you are forced off balance or pressed by an opponent on the baseline - and likely make the critical difference between a good shot and a bad one.
So, you might be wondering, what is the core? Typically abdominal, oblique and lower back muscles are defined as your bodies “core”.
Benefits of a strong core
- A strong core means you can generate a faster, more controlled swings to deliver a heavier, more dangerous ball
- A strong core will keep you stabilized during the start and stop phases of movements enabling quick changes in direction that are essential in tennis
- A strong core will drastically improve your balance and help you understand your center of gravity and how to use it to your advantage at each impact with the ball
- Last, but not least, a strong core can help you prevent injuries. Tennis is an asymmetrical sport that, without core stability, can result in back and hip injuries. A good, strong core will help you play better and injury-free for longer.
Medicine balls are available anywhere from 4 to 15 lbs. You should select one based on your size, age, and strength. Typically beginners should select 4lbs (2Kgs), Intermediate 6-8 lbs (3-4Kgs) and Advanced 8-12 lbs (4Kgs or more). These medicine balls are good value, high quality and bounce well.
Yoga mat (optional)
For some of these exercises, you may wish to use a mat. Here's a good value yoga mat.
Here are seven great exercises that will help you develop a strong core.
Grab your medicine ball. Sit on the ground or on a mat. Elevate your upper body so that it creates an imaginary V-shape with your thighs. Your feet should be off the ground and crossed. Contract your core and start performing rotations from the left to right side with the medicine ball held loosely in your hands. Beginners can start with a lighter medicine ball and their feet on the ground - and aim for sets of 30 rotations. Intermediates can have their feet off the ground and increase the amount of rotation with the goal to get the ball to touch the ground - and aim for sets of 50-80 rotations. Advanced athletes can use a heavier medicine ball and aim for 100+ full rotations.
Lay down on the floor face down. Now, assume a push-up position but where you will support your body weight onto your forearms. Make sure your body is linear (completely straight) where your core is contracted and your backside is off the ground but not too high. You can always get someone else to check your posture. The 'quality' of your planks is crucial. Having an incorrect position could cause back issues. If you find yourself straining to stay in an incorrect position, then stop and re-group. If needed, Beginners can start with their knees on the ground and hold for say 30 seconds. Intermediates should do sets of 60 seconds. Advanced athletes can aim for 2 minutes or more.
Medicine ball standing side slam
Stand upright facing a wall about 5 feet away. Contract your core and bring the medicine ball to the side of your body in a 'closed stand' position (right side if right-handed, left side if left-handed). Bring the medicine ball back such as if you were performing a forehand. Now throw the ball against the wall and catch it again. Repeat 10 times on your forehand. Then switch the other side (backhand position) and complete 10 throws. Beginners should use a lower weight ball (say 4 lbs), Intermediates mid-weight (say 8lbs) and Advanced higher weight (say 10 or 12 lbs). You can alter the number of reps and weight of the medicine ball.
Lay down on your stomach. If you have a yoga mat or similar, then you might wish to use it. Keep your arm straight in front of you, legs should be straight as well. Raise both your arms and legs about 5 inches from the ground and hold for about 5-10 seconds. Then come back to your resting position on the floor for 5-10 seconds and repeat. Intermediates and Advanced players can hold for longer periods.
Let’s focus first on the start position. Lay on your back, bring your hands by your ears and raise your elbow. Then raise your feet off the ground with a 90-degree at your hips and knees. You should have your thighs to be vertical and your shins to be parallel to the floor. Then as you bring your left knee closer to your stomach and extend your right leg, you should bring your right elbow to your left knee and make contact. Once they touch, extend now your left leg and bring your right knee closer to your stomach with your left elbow touching it. Beginners should complete a set of 20, Intermediate 30-40 and Advanced sets of 50 or more.
Low to high plank
The high plank is the same as low plank except that you keep your body up and support on your hands like a press up (not your elbow this time). Again, your body needs to be linear and core contracted. Low to high plank will help you strengthen the core, make sure you transition from low to high on different hands first each time.
Start exactly the same as a high plank. Contract your core. This time you are looking to touch your shoulder with the opposite hand while maintaining a stable, controlled plank. Beginners may struggle with this exercise and should only progress to it once they have mastered the low plank. Intermediate should aim for 60 seconds, Advanced players 90-120 seconds.
We suggest picking two or more of these core exercises and spend your available time focusing on the right posture and movement. When it comes to working the core, less (high-quality) movements is more. It is not a race. Fifty beautifully executed Russian Twists will have more benefit than two hundred badly executed.