If you’ve ever longed for the strength of Serena and the agility of Naomi, dust off your tennis whites and grab a racket. Here’s why playing tennis is one of the best full-body workouts you could do.
Wimbledon is a time-honoured tradition that was just one of the sorely missed sporting events last year. But this year, it’s firmly back on the schedule for 2021 (pandemic permitting) and with a firm focus on outdoor fitness in the name of social distancing, it’s time to grab your racket and hit the court for a full-body workout like no other.
As the weather warms up and we revel in the freedom of the great outdoors, you might be exploring other avenues of fitness other than the gym – and tennis is a great place to start. “This is a life sport,” says tennis coach Emma Hellewell. “You can pick it up at age three or 93, and make lifelong friends as a result. It’s non-contact and low-impact, but still sociable – whether you’re playing singles or doubles.” You can’t get more socially distanced in a sport seeing as though you’re positioned at opposite ends of the court when playing singles. Plus, it ticks all the wellness boxes for strength training and cardio – not to mention the mental health benefits.
What muscles does tennis work?
Have you even watched Wimbledon if you haven’t swooned over Serena Williams’ strong and athletic physique, unwavering focus and strength of will? After all, you need a fair amount of power to hit a tennis ball at 129 mph. “A lot of people instantly assume that tennis just works your arms but it’s very much a full-body workout,” Emma says. “It’s a sport which uses both aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (fast explosive movements) capacities. Unlike sports such as running and cycling, tennis involves a massive amount of quick sprints similar to high intensity interval training (HIIT). As a result, you’re toning up by using your legs, shoulders, hands, upper and lower back as well as your core and obliques (thanks to that twisting motion).”
If that wasn’t enough, Emma is quick to point out that most local courts also offer Cardio Tennis groups which is one hour of intensive non-stop tennis with hitting and aerobic exercises set to music.
Does tennis improve overall health?
With so much heart-pumping movement, it’s fair to say that tennis is certainly beneficial for your ticker. “Any aerobic-based exercise such as tennis is fantastic for your overall wellbeing,” says Bianca Carew, a personal trainer at PureGym. “Not only can it can help lower your blood sugar levels, improve heart health and sleep, but it also helps to keep your lungs, joints and blood vessels healthy. This is because as you begin to play, you begin to move more and therefore use more oxygen. This means that your heart has to work harder in order to pump more blood around the body and deliver the organs with the oxygen it needs. Over time, your heart muscle will become more efficient at doing this, meaning it will have to beat less often during exercise as with each beat, it is able to pump more blood around the body.”
Can tennis improve my mental health?
Smacking a ball as hard as you can sounds like the perfect way to de-stress after a busy day, but Emma believes the benefits of the game run even deeper. “One of the biggest health benefits that tennis gives us is its life lessons,” she explains. “Players are continuously tested on how they react to situations and deal with adversity, whilst developing a competitive mentality. When the younger generation of players are able to be challenged by the game and are given opportunities to learn coping skills, they raise their ability to be mentally tough – both on and off court.”
For those whose hand-eye coordination leaves little to be desired, Bianca believes that tennis could be the remedy you’ve been looking for as it’s been known to keep your mind active since you’re being forced to think and react within the moment.
How can I start playing tennis?
While striding up to the courts for the first time may conjure up P.E. lesson flashbacks, Bianca reassures us that you don’t need to be Wimbledon-ready to get started. “It’s probably a good idea to buy your own racket and balls, but apart from that, all you need is some sportswear and an open mind.
Before your start playing, it is important to warm up properly to avoid injury. This can be done with a gentle jog, some star-jumps, high-knees or anything that involves moving the entire body and getting you warm and ready to play.”
Not sure where to go? Emma recommends visiting the LTA website to find your nearest club or public courts. “Look for group or individual beginner lessons,” she advises. “There are so many opportunities for women to get involved in tennis right now, through partnerships set up by Judy Murray (Andy Murray’s mum) and adult lessons including ‘Tennis Xpress’ and ‘Pair and Play’. They are six-week courses that are fun, low pressure and a great way to get started and make friends.”
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