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!
Table of Contents
- Core Exercises for Tennis
- 1. Anti Rotational Alternating Dead Bugs
- 2. Side Plank With Leg Raise
- 3. Anti-Rotational Pallof Press With Wide Stance
- 4. Stability Ball Body Saw
- 5. Leg Raise Series (6 inches Series)
- 6. Overhead Med Ball Slam To A Partner
- 7. Alternating Med Ball Side Toss (10-second sets)
- 8. Split Stance Rotational Side Toss
- 9. Rotational Side Toss Alternating Forehand and Backhand With Shuffle
- 10. Overhead Slam-Shuffle-Rotational Side Toss-Alternating Forehand and Backhand
- Best Times Of Year For Each Exercise
- Final Thoughts
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.
Lying on your back, pull the knees up, and toes in, and have your shins parallel with the ground. Feel your core engage here. Both arms should be extended up toward the ceiling. Simultaneously extend the right arm and left leg, keeping the core engaged, and resisting trunk extension. Bring the arm and leg back in simultaneously. Alternate each side until the reps for the set are complete.
The dead bug is also a great exercise to do before practice or matches.
2. Side Plank With Leg Raise
The side plank 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.
Lie on your side. Stack the ankles and make a straight line with your body from head to toe. Bridge the hips up and engage the glutes. Brace abdominal muscles and engage the upper back. Your weight should be mostly on your down forearm.
With the up arm, you have 2 choices. You can put your hand on your hip or straight up in the air. From here, raise the top leg about 12-18 inches. Pause at the top and then bring your leg back to the starting position. Complete all reps on one side before changing sides.
Regular bodyweight side planks are great exercises as well to do as warm-ups before practice or matches.
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.
Grab an exercise band that provides about 20-30 pounds of tension. Wrap it around a pole, exercise rack, or perform with a partner. Get into a nice athletic wide stance position, slight bend of the knee, hips back.
With good tension on the band, grab the band with two fists interlocked, and press from the breastplate straight out. The band will be pulling you toward the rack. Resist this rotation by bracing the abdominals and upper body. Slowly press out and bring it back to the start.
Anti-rotational Pallof presses are great exercises as well to do as warm-ups before practice or matches.
4. Stability Ball Body Saw
The stability ball is a great implement for tennis players to train their cores and shoulder stability.
Grab a stability ball (A diameter of 55 or 65 works best). Assume a front plank position on the stability ball. Engage the core and upper back. Maintain a rigid, neutral spine, and brace. From here, push the ball slightly away from you and then pull it back to the start. This is training your anterior core to stay rigid and avoid overextension.
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 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.
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.
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!