The 10 Best Core Exercises for Tennis Players
A strong core is essential for success in tennis. Being able to rotate powerfully helps put away points and being able to resist rotation helps keep your body healthy through the long grueling matches. Tennis players must consider this sport-specific rotational movement, competition schedule, history of injury, and training readiness when selecting core exercises.
Tennis players need a strong core in all planes of motion, resisting trunk extension, stabilizing the trunk, and rotating powerfully. All of these movements work together. The more a tennis player can control and stabilize the core, the more power the player can generate through the hips and shoulders.
I would define the “core” as any musculature from the shoulders to the glutes. The movements I will be listing are going to train this musculature utilizing bands, bumper or iron plates, stability balls, and med balls. These implements allow for more sport specific-training and help prevent injury. (I will write more about barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell training in different articles).
In this article, I will be going over the 10 best core exercises for tennis players that will help you stay healthy, build your core, and hit harder shots!
Core Exercises for Tennis
1. Anti Rotational Alternating Dead Bugs
Anti-rotational core work is extremely important for tennis players. The ability to move the arms and legs in coordination without letting the core disengage will help to avoid injuries on the court.
- Begin by lying on the floor on your back.
- Raise both arms straight up toward the sky.
- Bend both knees at a 90-degree and raise the legs until the knees are directly vertical of the hips.
- Tuck the hips and flatten the low back against the ground.
- Brace the core and simultaneously lower the right leg and left arm toward the floor.
- The arm should end up six inches from the ground directly overhead.
- The leg should end up six inches from the ground directly below the hip.
- Return both back to the starting position and then lower the opposite arm and leg.
- Continue alternating back and forth, pausing and ‘locking-in’ each rep.
The back will naturally want to arch as you go through this movement. Try not to let it. Keep your hips rolled up and your low back flat against the ground.
Don’t rush through this exercise. Stay nice and slow and under control. Pause each rep at full extension before returning to the starting position.
The dead bug is also a great exercise to do before practice or matches.
2. Side Plank With Leg Raise
The Side Plank with Leg Raise is a great core exercise for training trunk stability and engages the obliques more than the traditional front plank. The reason this is so important is because of the way we hit the ball, we know having strong stabilizing obliques and trunks will help us stay healthy and hit harder shots.
Regular bodyweight side planks are great exercises as well to do as warm-ups before practice or matches.
- Lay on your side, one elbow down and feet, hips and shoulders stacked vertically above one another.
- The opposite hand (non-support arm) can be placed on the hip or held up in the air.
- From this position, raise the top leg in the stack until it is roughly parallel to the floor.
- This exercise can either be done for time (holding the position for a set time like regular Lateral Planks), or for reps (lifting the leg up and down)
The biggest mistake I see with athletes with Lateral Plank plus Leg Raise is allowing the top shoulder to hunch forward. Both shoulders (along with hips and feet) should be stacked directly above each other. If you allow yourself to twist forward toward the ground lifting the leg will be extremely difficult to impossible.
The other aspect of Lateral Planks to be mindful of is keeping the hips elevated and the body in a straight line. When fatigue starts to set in, the first thing that will happen is the hips will being to sag down toward the floor. Try to keep those hips high and fight through until the end.
3. Anti-Rotational Pallof Press With Wide Stance
A staple movement in a healthy core routine for a tennis player, the Anti-Rotational Pallof Press is a must.
I also like the additional wide stance here for tennis players because we often see wide stances when returning cross-court shots. Having a strong core in a wide stance is critical.
Anti-rotational Pallof presses are great exercises as well to do as warm-ups before practice or matches.
- Start by looping a band around the vertical beam of a squat rack.
- Stand* far enough away from the rack to get proper tension on the band and face perpendicular to the rack.
- You should feel the band pulling and trying to rotate you, but not so much that you cannot maintain your balance.
- Grab the band with one hand and then place the other hand over top.
- Start with your hands right in front of your sternum.
- The feet should be shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in the hips and knees.
- Now, in a controlled tempo, press the band straight out in front of you and then return it to the starting position.
- Repeat for the required amount of reps.
*Can also be done kneeling or on a single leg. Check the variations listed below for more info.
Keep the movement slow and controlled. Don’t rush through the exercise.
If done on a single leg, try to keep the opposite foot off the ground for the duration of the set. Touch the ground only if necessary to regain balance.
Press straight out in front of the sternum. Don’t allow the path of your hands to drift off in one direction or the other.
4. Stability Ball Body Saw
The stability ball is a great implement for tennis players to train their cores and shoulder stability.
RELATED –> The 7 Best Upper Body Exercises for Tennis
- Place a stability ball on the ground and kneel in front of it.
- Place your forearms on top of the ball with your elbows directly below your shoulders and your hands clasped together.
- Extend your legs behind you and balance on your toes, creating a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Using your forearms, push the ball forward and backward, as if you were sawing back and forth.
- Be sure to maintain your plank position and avoid letting your hips sag or lift too high.
- Repeat the sawing motion for the desired number of reps or time.
- When you’ve finished the set, drop your knees down to the ground first (for balance) before trying to stand.
The Body Saw does not need to be a big range of motion. About a 12-inch range of motion from front to back is more than enough to get the desired effect from the exercise.
Trying to overdo it could cause you to lose your position and fall off one side of the ball.
5. Leg Raise Series (6 inches Series)
One of my favorite exercises for anterior core stability, the leg raise series is great for tennis players. The leg raise series trains the abdominals to brace and engage the hip flexors. The better a player gets at this series, the more slowly and controlled they can perform it. This is a great movement for tennis players that need to train their cores and hips in coordination.
Lie down on your back and place your palms flat on the ground (Underneath your butt makes it a little easier but may be good for athletes that deal with lower back pain). Straighten your legs out, pull the toes in toward the shin, and hold your heels 6 inches above the ground (in general 6-10 inches is acceptable here but don’t go higher in this stage of the series).
At this point, I think it’s best to have a training partner call out the series. The series has several options:
- 6-inch hold
- 12-inch hold
- Flutter Kick (Big or Small)
- Scissor Kick
- Legs Out Wide
Each set of the series should last about 20 seconds. Focus on core control. Once the low back comes off the floor (Ribs flaring up is the sign here) or you feel the movement more in the hip flexors instead of the core, it is time to stop the set. This one burns so enjoy it!
The leg raise series is great to do as warm-ups before practice or matches.
6. Overhead Med Ball Slam To A Partner
The overhead Med Ball Slam does a great job of training rapid force development utilizing the whole body. The reason I like this variation the most for tennis players is that the partner gives great feedback on your force development.
After you slam the ball, the rebounding height will give you an indication as to how hard you are slamming the ball. In tennis, each point is a chance to win a point. With this Med Ball Slam variation, you are competing with yourself and your partner to see who is generating more power.
- Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Reach the medicine ball high overhead.
- Using the core, pull the body down – hinging forward at the hips.
- Follow through with the arms and release the ball.
- Let the ball slam into the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat for the designated number of reps.
First and foremost, test how ‘bouncy’ your medicine ball is before starting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen athletes almost have their face smashed by a medicine ball bouncing much harder and rebounding much faster off the ground than they were anticipating.
The biggest mistake I see with Med Ball Slams is athletes not utilizing the core and simply throwing the ball down with their arms. The bulk of the force should be generated by aggressively using the core to hinge forward. If done correctly, it should almost (and actually might) lift your feet up off the floor.
7. Alternating Med Ball Side Toss (10-second sets)
One of my favorite core exercises for tennis because of how specific it is to the sport is the alternating med ball side tosses.
In tennis, the average point lasts 10 seconds.
With this in mind, I recommend alternating med ball side tosses into a wall for 10 seconds. Each rep should be fast and explosive as you are replicating trying to win the point.
- Grab a medicine ball and stand perpendicular to a sturdy wall.
- Distance away from the wall will vary based upon the type of medicine ball you have*.
- Stand in a good athletic position, feet shoulder width apart, hips and knees bent.
- Begin by rotating away from the wall, reaching the medicine ball toward the back hip.
- Now, aggressively rotate toward the wall, turning on the ball of the back foot, opening the hips toward the wall and releasing the ball into the wall.
- Catch the ball off the ball, reset and repeat. Once all reps are completed switch sides.
The biggest mistake I see athletes make is using their arms (and not their hips) way too much to throw the ball. Power for the throw should primarily come from rotating the hips and torso and the arms should be secondary.
*The distance away from the wall will vary depending on what type of medicine ball you have. If you have a hard rubber medicine ball then be prepared for the ball to bounce a good ways back off of the wall. If you have a soft Dynamax-type medicine ball then you can stand much closer as the bounce off the wall will be much less.
8. Split Stance Rotational Side Toss
Having a strong core in a split stance is also very specific to tennis. The ability to load and explode through the core and hips is critical to success here. The split stance rotational side toss is a great exercise to train for rotational power.
Take a split stance, have a partner throw a ball to you, absorb it, rotate, and return the ball back to the partner. This can also be done with a wall if you don’t have a partner. Complete all reps on one side before switching sides.
9. Rotational Side Toss Alternating Forehand and Backhand With Shuffle
Being able to powerfully return shots is critical to success in tennis. Incorporating a shuffle into your med ball work is sport specific and trains your core to be explosive as you move laterally.
Have a partner throw a med ball to your forehand, catch it, and explosively return it. Next, shuffle about 10 feet, and your partner will throw the ball to your backhand. Catch it and explosively return it. Again, I recommend each set last about 10-15 seconds.
10. Overhead Slam-Shuffle-Rotational Side Toss-Alternating Forehand and Backhand
This last med ball variation is one that I think most replicates the movements we see on the tennis court. The overhead slam represents the serve, the shuffle is sport-specific, and alternating forehand and backhand are what we often see on the court.
Start the set with an overhead slam to a partner. Your partner will catch the ball off the rebound and throw it either to your forehand or backhand. You will have to respond to the partner’s choice similar to the way you would have to respond in a match. Shuffle and alternate sides. The set should last about 10 seconds. Rest for about 20-30 seconds and repeat until you complete the sets.
Best Times Of Year For Each Exercise
I recommend doing exercises 1-5 as part of the early off-season, fall season, winter, and in-season training regimen. These are great to do in the weight room as an auxiliary exercise built into the program with a superset or circuit.
I recommend exercises 6-10 as part of the early off-season, fall season, and winter training regimen. As you are competing in matches, I would take a lot of med ball work out, as to avoid overtraining the rotational power movements.
Med ball work should be a priority in the off-season. When practice volume is low, look to gain power with those med ball movements.
When you are in the regular-season focus on those planks, side planks, and anti-rotational movements. These movements will help you stay healthy through the grueling season.
However, I do think med ball work is great for warm-ups before practice. Also, if you happen to be on a bye week or have significant downtime. Med ball work can supplement to maintain rotational power.
The core is incredibly important for tennis performance. It is also important to consider your core work in conjunction with your practice and game schedule.
A healthy core routine that consists of stabilization, anti-rotation, and med ball power work is important and can take your game to the next level!