Having a strong and powerful upper body is essential for tennis players. Having a powerful upper body will help you hit harder serves and cross-court shots harder and put pressure on the opponent. Intelligent upper body training will also help tennis players be resilient to injury.
You need to consider your shoulders, elbows, and wrists in every movement that you perform. Upper body training is not about getting jacked and pumped up like a bodybuilder. Training the upper body for tennis is all about functionality, sport-specific, low risk-to-reward ratio movements, that will directly carry over to the court.
To gain strength in the upper body, I think the best implements are barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. These implements will engage the most musculature and can be trained and overloaded over time. Never sacrifice your form for weight!
You are not going to see a lot of bodybuilding or bicep and tricep exercises here. Compound movements train these muscles naturally anyways.
I recommend these movements in the early off-season, fall season, winter, and in-season training regimen. How heavy, how often, and what exercises you are using are determined by the game schedule and your training readiness.
In this article, I will be going over the 7 best upper body exercises for tennis players to help you stay healthy and hit harder shots!
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Upper Body Exercises For Tennis
The Weighted Push-Up is one of the best movements a tennis player can master. I love the weighted push-up for tennis players because it is a horizontal push, that can be overloaded, and is very shoulder-friendly.
Load this movement with bumper or iron plates along the midback (Chains work well too if you have some). Because the scapula is free to move, you will find the weighted push-up to be very shoulder-friendly. Remember to go slow in your progression.
A strong posterior chain is essential for shoulder health and upper body strength. The Pull-Up trains this posterior chain (Lats, upper back, rear delt, rotator cuff) to be strong and resilient. Another added benefit of the pull-up is core and lower back stabilization.
A full range of motion in your pull-ups is critical for success here. I like to progress athletes into pull-ups. We initially will start with an eccentric phase, followed by an isometric, and finally a concentric one. I sometimes have athletes use bands to help with their pull-ups initially.
If you’re not ready for the pull-up, don’t worry! You can start with inverted rows and lat pull downs to gain strength. I also recommend straight arm hanging and isometric holds with your chin over the bar. These are great alternatives that will help you in the pull-up progression.
I typically program pull-ups in the early off-season and winter programs. I avoid most heavy overhead movements during the fall season and in-season training regiments due to the high load on the shoulder and elbow with multiple competitions per week.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench
One of my favorite horizontal pressing movements, the Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press is a great option for tennis players. This pressing movement is great because it can be overloaded, trains single-arm strength (sport specific), and is extremely joint friendly.
Inverted Row (Multi-grip bar with neutral grip option)
The Inverted Row is a staple movement in any healthy training regimen for a tennis player. Specifically utilizing the multi-grip bar with a neutral grip option. I think this is most ideal for tennis players because this would be the identical grip they use with the racket.
Even without this specific barbell, a regular inverted row is tremendously beneficial as it trains the posterior chain, core stability, and grip strength. These are all sport specific, will help enhance performance, and mitigate injuries.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
Single-arm overhead strength is critical to the success of a competitive tennis player. On the court, we spend a lot of time serving and returning shots with our hands over shoulder height. Therefore, being strong overhead is critical to enhanced performance and resisting injury.
You can execute this exercise seated on a bench, on the ground, half kneeling, tall kneeling, or standing. All of these options are great and can be progressed within a program. Focus on core stability, neutral grip palms facing in, and finishing with a great overhead position with the bicep near the ear.
1-Arm Dumbbell Row
A classic horizontal row that I love for tennis players, is the One Arm Dumbbell Row. This is a great rowing variation for single-arm training.
An awesome benefit of this variation is the non-rowing shoulder needs to stabilize as the other performs the row. Because your positioning is perpendicular to the floor, you are also training cross-body tension, engaging that core, and resisting rotation.
We know anti-rotation in the gym will aid in our ability to display rotational power on the court, so this is a great movement to train often!
1-Arm Farmer’s Walk
Grip strength has been correlated with health and longevity. The 1-arm farmer’s walk trains grip, core stability, and upper body stability. This is a unique and surprisingly challenging exercise that tennis players can benefit from.
Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell (start light and focus on posture before going heavy). Hold it at your side and with the none holding hand, place it on your side, and pull the shoulder blades back. Focus on crushing the dumbbell with your grip, squeezing the core, and keeping great posture.
Intelligent upper body training is essential for tennis players. Getting strong with basic movements like push-ups and pull-ups will only benefit your health and performance. Utilizing barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells to overload your upper body work is great as well.
Balancing pushing and pulling movements is important. In general, for every 1 push repetition programmed, I would aim to have 3 pulling repetitions programmed.
Remember why you are training. Everything you do should have some type of carry-over to your sport. Training with a specific purpose will always help you stay motivated and train hard consistently over time.
Focus on proper form, progressive overload, and continue to work hard on the court and you will see your results pay off!
If you found this article helpful, make sure to check out my favorite core and upper-body exercises for tennis as well!