I couldn't agree more with Williams' professional opinion. My many years on the court have too often seen dedicated players leave the game because they mistakenly believed that being a fit tennis player began and ended on the court.
Referring to often-overheard grumblings from tournament tennis players as they exit a hard-fought match, Williams explains, "They always say, 'My butt and legs hurt.' ... There is no substitute for the time put in on the court hitting balls, but, with regard to conditioning, there is no substitute for running to harden the legs for the pounding they take during a match."
Williams, who coaches players of all ages, advises: "In addition to cardiovascular [heart and lungs] conditioning, players need to spend time strengthening the shoulders, lower body and the core [abdominals and lower back]. Training these tennis-specific muscles will equip a body to withstand the repetitive nature of this sport."
He adds, "Players need to understand that to do well in tennis, as in any sport, the training must be year-round and ongoing. It must include time spent on increasing or maintaining flexibility to help muscles recover and to prevent injury. Stretching the body after a tennis game or a workout is essential. Don't expect gains if you are training sporadically or in spurts. It'll get you nowhere."
Williams' advice comes from years spent on the court observing countless players who show up for matches either prepared or unprepared. The degree of conditioning will usually predict the results. Conditioning the body for tennis can be the difference between managing to compete for a couple years and making tennis your lifetime sport.
Another valuable tip many inexperienced tournament players have unfortunately learned the hard way is to stay hydrated and learn to eat to compete. A three-set match under the sun on hard courts will not only test your conditioning level but also your nutritional habits and ability to withstand heat.
Finally, serious tennis players gain a competitive edge when they fine-tune skills such as foot speed, agility, explosive power and balance. Simulating authentic tennis movement such as short sprints, backpedaling, crossover steps, shuffling side to side and plyometric movement will help you move around the court quickly, efficiently and gracefully. First, though, become a durable athlete through regular strength training and cardio conditioning, and you'll be on your way to becoming a competitive tennis partner.
Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindys...@aol.com. Look for her fitness advice book, "CindySays ... "You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her Web site www.cindysays.com or contact the YMCA at 340-3527.