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Warming Up for Tennis, Do I really need to?

Jan 13, 2021
Image of Tennis Warmup

Many people can’t be bothered with a proper tennis warm-up, and it always seems to be the first to go when pressed for time. But I’m going to give you some advice—DO NOT SKIP YOUR WARMUP.

Why? Well, think of your body as a car in the dead of winter. If you turn the ignition and just start gunning it, there’s gonna be a problem.

Still unconvinced?

In 2003, FIFA developed the 11+, a complete warm-up program consisting of 15 exercises to reduce injuries amongst amateur soccer players. What they found was that teams that performed the warm-up at least twice a week had 30-50% fewer injured players.  Better yet, the warm-up improved performance, too.

But what makes a good warm-up? Well, a good tennis warm-up needs to do three things: elevate the heart rate, warm up the muscles, and fire up the neuromuscular system.

Warming Up For Tennis

Take these 5 steps to establish your foundation for movement  

  1. Light cardio to get the heart rate up and muscles warm-5 min. Examples of exercises include; Multi-directional running, skipping, moderate-paced agility drills.

  2. ASMR releases the tight areas of your body to get the tissues gliding.

  3. Activation of specific muscles, for tennis these generally include; The shoulder girdle, lower limb posterior chain, and the core, in particular, the transverse abdominus (deep core muscle)

  4. Dynamic movements to obtain a range of motion. We typically call these “mobility exercises”, they are a great way to open up chains of movement throughout the body.  The shoulder rotation robot is a great exercise to awaken the rotator cuff and work on shoulder mobility.


5. Tennis specific movements: This is the final part of a good tennis warm-up and not to be missed, it creates the opportunity to get specific with your movements and build up the intensity. Shadowing is the best way to do this.  

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If there is a definite problem area of your body that you are having to manage, deal with it during the warm-up.  For example, if the back of your shoulder is a little tight, try this technique, called the active sleeper stretch,   

Not only will you prevent injury, but you will also perform better.  If you want to move forever and prevent injury, incorporate a 5-15 minute tennis-specific warm-up just before you go and play.

If you have ever watched any of the professional tennis players prepare for their matches, you will know that the 5 minutes we see on television is not their true warm-up.   The pros not only do their off-court prep but 20-30 minutes on court a couple of hours before their match.  For their on-court warm-up they will spend approximately 5 minutes on each stroke, initially starting out easy, at 50-60% intensity, working on rhythm and timing, getting a feel for the ball.

As they continue to warm up, they increase the intensity so that at the end of their on-court warm-up they are in fighting form.  So even if you are not Rodger Federer (and most of us are not…) focus the first 5 minutes of your on-court session warming up, getting a feel for the ball, and gradually ramping up the intensity.  Your rotator cuff will thank you.  

And don’t stop there!  Depending upon your intensity of play and what your goals are on the tennis court, you could have really worked hard and created muscle imbalances.  As we have discussed in previous blogs, imbalances are part of the game.  The key is to recognize them and correct them before they cause problems.  I know that every tennis player will develop imbalances if they hit enough balls.

During practice and play, you become fatigued, and imbalances begin to set in. A good Tennis Cooldowns are a way to begin to resolve those imbalances and start your recovery off right. Remember, a natural consequence of movement is to lose our foundation for movement, so re-establishing our foundation as soon as possible will prevent us from losing our rhythm of recovery.  

When we recover well, we don’t get injured.  Now I get it, time does become a factor, so just do your best, and so long as you warm up well, you can get away without as much cooldown.  Ideally, we do both, and the more important a specific activity is to you, the more important it is to do both especially if you want to keep moving forever.  I want to be able to be active when I’m 100 years old, so I make sure that I take the extra time to take care of my house.

The ideal recovery begins with 10-20 minutes of active recovery, like some easy spinning on a stationary bike, or a brisk walk. The goal here is not to get your heart racing, but to use light motion to help purge all the metabolic byproducts from a tough tennis workout.  I often walk my dog.

Follow this up with active self-myofascial release for any of your specific trouble spots, the key areas for tennis players involves the back of the body.  The back of the ankle, hip, thoracic spine, and posterior shoulder is key to mobilize so that the muscles will not adhere to one another and shut off.  Once you have a great foundation for movement, you do not have to spend as much time on this part of the recovery process as I have found when you have a good foundation for movement you do not get as tight.  

If you are not sure what area of your body to address, check in every once and awhile with the movement screen from the ROM Coach App here, or have Nathan and Giselle look at your motion, they will be able to tell where you need some extra love.  

Identifying any areas where you are lacking mobility or strength and dealing with this as a part of your normal recovery will take you far on the court.  Oh, and before you head home, chug a chocolate milk. Not only is it tasty, but its carb-to-protein ratio makes it the perfect recovery drink.  

A great recovery begins with a great cool down, but that’s not where it ends. For your body to properly recuperate after a tough practice or a grueling workout, you need to follow what I call the 4 Rs of Recovery: Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel, Regenerate.

Stay tuned for more on this next month.

By Dr. Erin Boynton M.D.

Dr. Erin Boynton is a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon and expert medical witness. Throughout her career as a surgeon and sports doctor, she has worked with many professional sports teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Argos, and she was the first female orthopedic surgeon to work in the MLB and NHL. For the last 20 years, she has acted as the Medical Director for the Rogers Cup WTA tennis tour. We encourage any player, coach, or parent that is seeking medical advice and guidance to contact Dr. Boynton for help. There is not much she has not seen, heard, and fixed! We have always found her extremely approachable, caring, and professional.