11:00AM, Saturday 20 February 2021
Lockdown has shown us there’s a heck of a lot we can do with home workouts, from lounge yoga to hallway HIIT, not to mention all that running.
But some things are surely harder to replicate, especially where you need a specific setting, lots of space, and a partner – like tennis.
So, when the chance to take part in an at-home tennis training session swings my way, I’m curious. Will the neighbours be wondering what the racket is? Intrigued by what’s being served up, I decide to give it a shot…
Bringing tennis home
LTA has launched a ‘Tennis at Home’ hub, with a series of home workouts set to be available on their website, as well as Facebook Live sessions on Saturday mornings through February – all free.
On a mission to see tennis ‘opened up’ to a more diverse range of people, the training videos aren’t just for seasoned players. There are seated workouts in the mix, loads of useful stuff for beginners through to keen fans looking to boost their game, tips on technique and general home fitness fun with a tennis twist.
Ball games allowed
I’m taking part in a 40-minute group taster session led by Matt Smith, LTA coach development and learning manager. With 16 years’ coaching experience under his belt and range of accolades, including previous LTA Coach of the Year, the bar’s set high. But it’s years since I’ve picked up a tennis racket, and while I’ve enjoyed the occasional game or two during summer holidays over the years, I’ve never really been a proper tennis player. Plus, my lounge – where I’m doing the workout – is a tight squeeze; I’ve got about two square-metres to work with.
Thankfully, the session starts with balls put aside. Smith starts with some simple exercises designed to get us warmed up and test our coordination and reaction speeds, where Smith calls out certain words and we react accordingly. Once we get going, the rackets come into the mix and the sequences get a bit more demanding. Speedy reactions might be the aim, but these exercises mean we’re effectively doing a load of squats too, and stretching our arms, and my heart rate soon creeps up.
Next, Smith guides us through some basic techniques – working on our swerve positioning, forehands and backhands. This part of the session is a bit like miming, as we’re copying the motions without actually hitting any balls.
Eventually, we do pick up the balls – but there’s no whacking them around the room. Smith guides us through a series of challenges that involve bouncing the ball on the floor, then hitting and catching it, and then different types of volleys (essentially like keepy-uppies, not letting the ball hit the floor) and rallies (this means seeing how long you can keep a sequence going before dropping the ball) with the rackets, switching between forehand and backhand, and flipping direction with each hit, so we’re constantly challenging our coordination and moving our bodies.
Apart from the ball rolling under the sofa a couple of times when I miss, it all goes very smoothly. No smashed vases, and although we’ve not moved around a great deal, I’ve broken a sweat and definitely feel like I’ve done some exercise. It goes to show just how much you can do in a small space with a bit of guidance, and tapping into a totally different skillset makes a welcome break from my usual HIIT workouts and runs. Keeping a ball in the air is fun!
What else can you do to get tennis ready at home?
If you do like the idea of getting out on a tennis court when they start opening again, there are plenty of other ways you can start preparing. Harriet Dart, one of the UK’s most promising young pro tennis players, says there is no single ‘best’ approach when it comes to cross-training for tennis really, but aiming to work on both your general fitness and strength is a good idea.
“You can do such a range of stuff,” says Dart, 24. “I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of equipment at home, so I’ve been doing lots on the Wattbike, and working out with a weighted vest and bags. I’ve also been going out in the fresh air for runs, and that’s been fun. You can literally use anything to keep your fitness up.”
Smith also highlights the importance of full-body strength. “People sometimes think tennis is all about strong arms, but a lot of it is actually about having strong legs and core,” he says – as these key muscle groups are going to help you move and keep you stable, as you move around the court and drive your shots. So, factoring in some lower-body and core strength workouts at home will also pay off once you get back on the court.
If you want to work on your technique specifically, depending on the space available, Dart says using a wall to practise can be helpful, whether you’re just working on your serves and single shots, or getting some rallies going.
And if you are new to tennis, or just like the idea of enjoying some casual games, that’s totally cool. “I always think just having fun is quite overlooked,” says Dart. “To be honest, with technique, if you watch all the top professional players, no one has one single set technique. I think you can improve pretty quickly just by playing more and self-correcting as you learn. And just have fun!”
For more information, see lta.org.uk/tennis-at-home-hub
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