Cardio is a huge factor in any tennis match. After a tough point, there is a good chance that you are breathing hard. One hard run can hinder your effort level for the next point or the rest of the game.
On the other hand, a well-trained player can recover quickly from one point to the next and give full effort on every play. Watch Roger Federer play. Even after the toughest points, full of running, he barely breaks a sweat! Well before the next point begins, he is calm and ready to go again.
It’s enough to make you wonder: what’s his secret?
Federer’s superior level of conditioning allows him to focus on his shot selection and power instead of reserving energy to make it through the match. This should be every tennis player’s goal.
The First Step to a Cardio Training Plan: Data
To start working toward it, it helps to have some data on where you currently are. We love MyZone because it offers the most complete, accurate data for tennis players. It can really help you improve your game, your fitness level, and your recovery time (aka: less soreness & tiredness!)
When you go out to play, wear your MyZone strap for the entire match. After you are done playing, look over the heart rate data. Was your first 10 minutes in Zone 1 (blue) and 2 (green) before hitting Zone 3 (yellow) or higher (red)? If so, congrats! You warmed up properly.
If not, focus more on a light warm up.
Does the data show you mostly stayed in Zone 1 (Blue)? Consider increasing your effort level. Otherwise, you won’t get all the cardiovascular benefits of regular tennis. Some ways to do this are moving more, and going after more balls. Be more active in your court positioning. Even in a doubles point where you didn’t get a single touch on the ball, you can move quickly for strategic positioning.
A particularly tough and close match may show you were mostly in Zone 3 and Zone 4. Look for these extended periods of high heart rates. It is these tough matches where your true conditioning level is exposed. A well-trained player would still expect times of high rates … followed by a drop back down shortly after. It’s how quickly you can drop back down that is a great indicator of your conditioning and your ability to stay in a match.
Think of Djokovic playing his masterful defense, sprinting all over the court, to then start the next point calm and collected once again. This level of conditioning, and speed of recovery, can separate a good player from a great player.
After your match, did you stay in Zone 1 for at least 5 minutes? If not, this means you skipped the crucial cooldown.
The Key to the Plan: Effort & Timing
Don’t be fooled. It’s not just pros who have such physical conditioning. Every player can achieve spectacular cardiovascular conditioning; it just takes a specific plan and a dedicated work ethic. As a Tennis Performance Specialist, I’ve been trained to help design a plan to address the specific demands of a tennis match, to help get you in the best shape for tennis.
The first step is effort level. Effort is the key to reaping the benefits from your cardio training. On-court cardio takes serious effort, beyond just lightly pedaling a bike. What you need to remember is that your off-court training should be more challenging than your on-court effort. By doing this, your body is more than prepared for the exertion on the court and you are better able to focus on technique and strategy instead of catching your breath. This helps you perform better, feel better after, and prevent injury – so you can play for the long run.
The next step is timing. During tennis points, there are 5-20 seconds where you are expending tons of energy to run around to each ball and hit strong shots. Each point is followed by 10-30 seconds of recovery, until the next serve. After 8 to 18 points (2 full games no ad), you will need a longer recovery during changeover. Knowing this information, we can structure your cardio workouts to prepare your hearts to meet this demand.
Off-court workouts that will increase your conditioning require intervals of great effort to achieve a heart rate of 85-95% of your max, followed by monitoring your ability to quickly decrease your heart rate back into the 70% range. That sounds like a lot of measuring and math, but using your MyZone makes it easy – another reason we love it.
I always wear my MyZone when I train cardio. It is crucial that you know your exact effort level because conditioning is a science. That’s the only secret the pros have: they know this, and train for it.
You can’t fool your body into conditioning by simply thinking you are working hard when you really aren’t. A MyZone helps ensure you’re doing it. Make sure to wear yours to help you train at the correct effort level.