Tennis warmups and strengthening exercises

Tennis is a great sport that offers a cardiovascular challenge, a test of skill and strategy.  Proper tennis warmups and strengthening exercises can help prevent muscle and tendon strains and tears. Below are some tips to help get you tennis ready and help prevent injuries.

The warmup

Start with a light jog, jump rope, do burpees or do a combination of all three. The point is to get your blood flowing. In five minutes you should feel loose and have your heart pumping.

Dynamic warmup

The goal of the dynamic warm up is not just to stretch, but to make sure you are able to take your joints their full range.

  1. Frankenstein’s Kick – You can do this statically in one position or walk around. Keep your hips and pelvis pointing straight ahead and kick your right foot while reaching out with your left hand, then alternate with your left foot and your right hand. Do this for 30 seconds or go 30 yards.
  2. Butt Kicks – The ideal athlete should be able to kick his or her own butt. Stand tall, keep your tail bone tucked and kick your right foot back while reaching back with your left hand to touch it. Now alternate with your left foot kicking back with your right hand reaching back to touch it. Do this for 30 seconds or go 30 yards.
  3. Side Shuffles – We move in one direction most of the day: forward. Get in an athletic stance, like someone was going to knock you over. Side shuffle each direction for 30 yards. Keep your body squared and hips forward.
  4. Grapevines – This is the same as the side shuffle except you have to open up your hips, bring the push off leg in front of the lead leg, shuffle laterally and then bring the push off leg behind the lead leg. Repeat for 30 yards each way.

The stretching

Now that your body is warmed up, it is time to stretch. For tennis players and all overhead athletes, due to the repetitive nature of the sport, certain things tend to tighten.

  1. Cross body shoulder stretch – Keeping your shoulders low, bring your arm across your chest. Grab onto your elbow with your opposite hand and pull. Hold 20-30 seconds and repeat three times. Now repeat on the other side.
  2. Prayer stretch and reverse prayer stretch – Bring your palms together as if you are going to pray. Place your elbows out and feel the stretch of the muscles of your forearm. Now alternate with bringing the back of the palms together. Keep elbows out and hold each stretch for 20 seconds. Repeat twice.
  3. Sleeper stretch – Lying on your side, bring your arm that you are laying on out at a 90-degree angle from your body. Now bend your elbow to 90 degrees with your palm facing the direction in which you would arm wrestle someone. Use your top arm and push your hand down towards the floor/bed/mat. You should feel a nice stretch in the back of your shoulder. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat three times.
  4. Thoracic mobility – A stiff rib cage and thoracic spine can cause your whole shoulder girdle to overstress itself. Lying on your side, keeping your knees together, open up your trunk like a book. Your top arm is going to reach away from the direction that your knees are pointing. Turn your head facing your reach hand, as well. Hold 2-3 seconds, and repeat 10 times. Now try the other side.

Rotator cuff strengthening

There are many ways to approach rotator cuff strengthening. These are a few of my favorites:

  1. Neutral external rotation (NERT) – Using a resistance band, keep your arms by your side with your arms bent at 90 degrees, like you are holding a pizza box. Palms up, thumbs out. Grip the resistance band and pull it apart while keeping your elbows tucked into your rib cage. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Repeat 15 times. Do 2-3 sets twice a week.
  2. Plank and rotate with a band – Hold a plank on your elbows while holding a resistance band with light tension between your hands. Now rotate your body so all your weight is through one elbow. Extend the free hand towards the ceiling while pulling the band. Rotate and repeat 10 reps to each side. Do two sets at least once a week.
  3. The reverse throw – Set a band or a pulley system to waist height and stand centered to it. Grab onto the band with your throwing arm and cock your arm back as if you were to throw a football. You should be able to do 20 reps. Repeat for three sets and alternate arms.
  4. ABC plank – Plank on a Swiss ball with elbows on the ball. Now draw the whole alphabet with the ball, keeping a tight plank. Do one set with capital letters and one set with lower-case letters at least once a week.
  5. Other general upper body strengthening to help the shoulder girdle that should be part of any strengthening program include:
    1. Pushups
    2. Dips
    3. Pull ups
    4. Rows

Knee stability

The knee needs balance between all the muscle behind the knee, above the knee, and below the knee.

  1. Knee range of motion – Make sure you have full range of both knees. Can they bend all the way equally, and can they not only extend, but hyperextend equally? If not, stretch them or make an appointment with your physical therapist to figure out why.
  2. Squat – Feet should be shoulder width apart. Keep your knees behind your toes and squat down. You can add resistance with a barbell, kettle bell, dumbbell, etc. Find a trainer to make sure your form looks good.
  3. Single-leg dead lift – Stand tall holding a dumbbell or kettle bell. Hinge forward with one leg kicking back. Bring the weight down towards the floor keeping the three curves of the back. Allow the stance leg’s knee to bend. Now bring it back to position one. It is okay to do a standard dead lift with a barbell, as well. Form is everything when trying to prevent injuries in this exercise.
  4. Overhead reverse lunge – Holding a weight over your head with your right hand, step back with your left leg and sit in a lunge with the left knee close, but not touching the ground. Return to start. Repeat 8-10 times for two sets and switch legs.
  5. Side plank clams and hip abduction – Holding a side plank, try 20 reps of clams. The top leg should be bent at 90 degrees. Open the hips just enough before your trunk starts to rotate. For hip abduction, return to the side plank position. Keeping the hips and toes pointing forward, lift your top leg away from the bottom leg, leading with the heel. Repeat 20.

The leg exercises not only give you the strength needed to compete, but also improve the power of your swing.


Proprioception is your body’s ability to perceive its position in space. Simply balancing and standing on one leg can challenge your proprioception. Exercises like yoga and the practice of martial arts help you develop the balance, strength and skill to master your body awareness.

At a gym or at home use a Bosu ball or wobble board with your exercise routine to help you challenge your proprioception and improve your core activation. Simply standing on a BOSU while doing arm curls can help improve proprioception.

Stand-up paddleboarding is also a great way to challenge your balance, proprioception and core strength for tennis players looking for a way to cross train.


Plyometrics is a type of activity that involves explosion and using a muscle in a way that creates a quick stretch and response.

  1. Jumping rope – Keeping your body relatively stiff, jump rope. Variations include single leg, alternating skips and side-to-side jumping.
  2. Box jumps – Finding a box at an appropriate height for your level of skill is important. This is an explosive exercise. Keeping your legs parallel, hop up on to the box, landing as softly as possible. Then step down. The point is to explode and react with strong stability. Do reps of five for a set of five.
  3. Depth jumps – It is also important to learn how to react quickly with plyometrics. Set up two boxes at difference heights or a box and a hurdle. Start at the higher box and jump down. Now explode as fast as you can onto the second box. The cue is “attack the ground.” Again, repeat for five reps for a set of five.

Other activities that can help you train plyometrics include basketball, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes and wind sprints.

If you’d like help developing a training routine specific for your needs or help recovering from a sports injury, AAMG Physical Therapy can help. Call 443-481-1140 for an appointment or more information.

DSC_0054Dat Quach, PT, is a senior physical therapist at AAMG Physical Therapy and supervisor at the Bowie Pavilion clinic. To reach his practice, call 443-481-1140.
Originally published June 6, 2017. Last updated June 11, 2018.

Leave a Reply