Many amateur players spend most of their time doing just that: playing. And that’s a good thing. Tennis is lots of fun and a great way to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle if you don’t like to spend a lot of time in the gym.
But there are a number of simple things you can do off the court to maintain your tennis health, which will help you not only maximize your performance but also enjoy the benefits of tennis as long as possible.
A sports medicine specialist can help you find the right balance between just playing and taking better care of your body, especially if that specialist is also an athlete who has enjoyed both playing and training in the gym.
“I was an athlete myself, and I love treating patients who are motivated to get better and to work to improve their tennis health,” said Melissa Leber, MD, Assistant Professor of Orthopedics and Emergency Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as well as Director of Emergency Department Sports Medicine at the Mount Sinai Health System. Mount Sinai is the official medical services provider of the USTA Eastern Section and the US Open.
“I can envision myself as the patient, and it’s easier for me to make recommendations,” said Dr. Leber, who played tennis, basketball and softball in high school and continued with softball in college.
In this Q&A, Dr. Leber offers some insights she has developed through treating both amateurs and elite athletes, including rising young tennis stars and established players on the tour. Her key takeaways: It’s never too late to start a fitness program, and it’s best to mix it up—that is, mix your tennis with a variety of other activities.
Q: What do you mean by mixing it up?
Dr. Leber: Cardiovascular exercise, like sprinting around the tennis court or running on a treadmill, is essential. But we underestimate the importance of strength training, whether it’s hand-held weights, weight machines or resistance bands. If you can work on a good strength-training program and really focus on specific muscle groups, it will help prevent injury. Another benefit is that a resistance training program actually boosts your endurance.
Q: Why is mixing it up important?
Dr. Leber: The best thing you can do is change your frequency, intensity and duration of exercise so that your body never gets accustomed to any one training routine. The more you change it, the more effective your training routine will be, and this will help you to avoid overtraining. It’s much the same for professional athletes. You should avoid doing the same routine over and over.
Q: Can you give an example?
Dr. Leber: If you like to lift weights, then you can lift heavier weights one day with fewer repetitions, and then on some days, try less weight and more reps. If you like running, you can do long distances, or interval training, mixing in sprints. Instead of just playing tennis, you can add swimming or weights to your exercise routine. Or you may want to add yoga, pilates and core work, such as barre class. This will help you avoid overtaxing your body and become a stronger and an all-around better athlete.
Q: How much strength training in the gym do you recommend?
Dr. Leber: I like to use this general rule of thumb: If you are 30 years old, you should think about spending 30 percent of your exercise on resistance training, typically lifting weights, either free weights, using weight machines or body weight exercise. As you age, the amount of weight training should increase, so that when you are 50 years old, you should devote 50 percent of your activity to resistance training.
Q: Any advice for a newcomer to exercising in the gym?
Dr. Leber: There are plenty of resources available to get you started, including joining your local gym, applications on your smart phone, finding a personal trainer, watching videos or just weightlifting in your basement. You can also talk with your doctor or a sports medicine specialist for a suggestion about using a physical therapist. Most important: Go slow and work your way up, just as you do to build endurance. Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. It takes time to make something a habit. But you will learn to enjoy it, and the benefits will last a lifetime.