I recently entered my 30s or at least I like to think that’s the case even though I’m now 35 years young. As a teenager, I never really warmed up before tennis, except during organized tennis trainings. I usually just showed up in time to meet my partner, walked on the court and played for 2-3 hours with a few short water breaks. When I played in the summer of 2016, I was 31 and I quickly realized my 30s aren’t anything like my teenage years or my 20s. Some days I would arrive at the court and feel like one big block of weight unable to move my limbs. The joints ached, the muscles were sore, and the next morning was in slow motion. So, was it time for me to start warming up? Let’s go through some of the benefits seen with a proper warmup

What we know

During a tennis match, there are a lot of moving parts. We are moving our bodies in multiple directions while our brain are working on autopilot to plan for the next shot. We need to see and move in the direction of the ball first. As we arrive, our racket needs to be back and ready to hit the ball in the sweet spot. Finally, instead of watching the beautiful groundstroke, we need to immediately move back to a central location in preparation of starting the process again. Our entire neuromuscular system is working when playing the game of tennis and needs to be prepared appropriately before starting competition.

What not to do

Evidence suggests typical stretching of longer than a minute can actually decrease performance. This is when you relax and hold the stretch in a passive way as a warmup before tennis. The neurological connection as the nerves enter the muscle decreases, making the muscles indirectly weaker. The capacity of the muscles to create force or produce explosive movements becomes more difficult increasing the risk of possible injury. If these stretches are held for a shorter period the risks can be minimized. To summarize, try to avoid long, passive stretches (such as yin yoga) before any sport.

What to do

Dynamic warmups have been shown to provide the following positive effects

  • When you warmup, the muscle and body temperature increase This rise in temperature facilitates more effective work of the body at higher temperatures and helps with muscle power. Performance in sports that require sprinting or high intensity activities have been shown to increase when properly warmed up. Every degree increase in muscle temperature has been shown to improve performance up to 5% within a limited threshold. A balance between warming up effectively versus too much Is critical. Athletes need to save their energy for the competition ahead which Is why warmups areusually limited in time and intensity. Occasionally passive options to warming up can be used for just that. Hot showers or baths can produce the same effects and benefits. Clothing that can keeps your body heat up after the warm up may be necessary if the activity doesn’t start within the next 15 minutes.
  • Dynamic warmups increase your heart rate and therefore, the bodies blood flow. This improves the efficiency of oxygen and nutrient transport directly to the muscles. The muscles then are able to work more effectively and withstand more loading.

  • Increasing your respiration rate prior to competition can increase your oxygen capacity on the court. High intensity exercise for 6 minutes can improve a subsequent bout of heavy exercise by speeding the oxygen available to the area. This primes the body for activity by preserving energy for the actual match and improves exercise tolerance. Again, a balance between warming up too hard or too little before the activity is required for this mechanism to reap rewards. This priming exercise must also occur very shortly before the actual sport (within 10 mins).

  • Moving the joints with control through their full available range of motion prepares them to activate. This promotes joint lubrication by stimulating the synovial fluid within. The connective tissue binding and supporting vital body parts together becomes more flexible. This can improve explosiveness and possibly prevent injury.

  • Progressively increasing muscle contractions helps prepare for speed, push off and performance on the court. Recent activity in a muscle can improve the ability of that same muscle to generate force soon after. For example, performing a weighted jump of moderate intensity can prepare you for jumping for a smash in tennis. Ladder drills or catching a ball before it drops activate the central nervous system. Waking up these neurological systems can help with coordination, reaction time, speed and agility during the match. Always remember to balance fatigue with proper activation of these mechanisms.

  • Dynamic warm up is also key to psychological preparation and concentration. Visualization, psyching yourself up, and using specific cue words can help you focus on upcoming tasks. These preparatory mental exercises help increase confidence and better execution during sport. 

Steps to perform during an ideal warmup for tennis

  • -  Should be limited to 15-30 mins max: this helps prepare your joints, muscles and nervous system for competition without burning out your energy levels.

  • -  Warmup the body temperature with some cardiovascular activity. (5 minutes) Examples include: run around the court, skipping, biking to the club, butt kicks, and high knees.

  • -  Move through the joints in a controlled manner by activating the muscles of the limbs and spine. This can be done with body weight or with resistance bands. Active stretching is the key here meaning you should be moving quickly but carefully in and out of the positions. Muscle control and balance is essential here. (5-10 minutes) Examples include: quad stretch with reach, leg swings, inchworms, and walking spiderman with rotation.

  • -  Perform tennis specific movements with the legs, arms, and body. (5-10 minutes) examples include: drills such as footwork patterns, shadow strokes with your racket and coordination drills like ladders. Reaction time and speed drills can also be done here combining upper and lower body movements together.

  • -  Prepare yourself mentally for the upcoming match by pumping yourself up through positive and energetic words or images in your mind (5 minutes).

  • -  Make sure to complete your dynamic warmup 10-15 minutes before playing as to not get cold during the transition to the competition. If there are possible delays, bring an extra layer of clothing that can keep the heat insulated for a few extra minutes.

Even though there isn’t clear evidence to the benefits of passive stretching, I would still recommend a full body stretching routine that targets the main muscles used during tennis. As we contract muscles repetitively on the court, these muscles shorten and need to be released through stretching or massage. Some examples include: Rotator cuff, chest muscles, forearm muscles, quads musculature and calf musculature. Try to hold any passive stretches for up to 60 seconds in order to maximize elongation without any negative consequences to muscle performance.

To summarize, yes, it is essential and worthwhile to warm up at any age. Remember to focus on a dynamic warm up and a passive cool down. These are the best-known approaches to limit any potential tennis injuries and perform at your highest levels during a match.