Weight Training for Tennis Players

Build Strength and Power for Tennis

Sports woman on tennis court swinging racket

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Tennis requires strength and power and perhaps the endurance to take you over five sets or a long three-setter. Combining strength, power and endurance can be tricky to achieve.

For professional sports that utilize weights in their training, which is most sports these days, training is broken up into seasonal phases for best results.

Each phase has different objectives and each successive phase builds on the previous one. This is called periodization.

Tennis Weight Training Program

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

How Periodized Programs Work

Unlike football or baseball, you can pretty much play tennis all year round—indoor or outdoor.

This is how a weight training program might look if your tennis playing season is followed by a closed or 'off' season and you need to build up and then take some time off.

Early Pre-Season

During the early pre-season time, players are preparing for the season and starting to build up after taking a break. Here, the emphasis is on building functional strength and some muscle bulk (hypertrophy).

Late Pre-Season

In late pre-season, players are working up to the start of the season. At this time, the emphasis is on building maximum power.

In Season

During the season, competition or regular recreational tennis is underway and you expect to be in peak condition. At this phase, maintenance of strength and power is emphasized.

Break Season

Now it's time to relax for a while. However, you need to keep active if you want to maintain some level of fitness for the next season. Instead, the emphasis is on rest and recovery with maintenance of light activity, such as cross training and light gym work.

Research has shown that taking a break from serious strength training is often helpful. As pre-season approaches, more regular gym work can resume.

The Tennis Weight Training Program

In comparison to previous eras, currently big, strong players are making their mark. Players like Del Potro and Djokovic bring new levels of strength and power to tennis.

This is a four-phase program for tennis players. The first phase concentrates on building basic strength and muscle and the second on power delivery. This should suit most players.

If you play all year round you can just continue with the power program once you build the basics. If you take a break for longer than six weeks, start again with the strength program.

Keep in mind that aerobic and endurance conditioning will need to be added to this weights program.

Consider the program presented here an all-around program. The best programs are always specific to an individual's current needs, fitness, goals, and access to resources and coaches.

If you're new to weight training, brush up on principles and practices with the beginner resources. Here you'll find key reminders like always warming up and cooling down before and after a training session.

It's also important to remember that a medical clearance for exercise is always a good idea at the start of the season.

Phase 1: Pre-Season

Here's an overview of what you'll be working on during the pre-season phase.

Strength and Muscle Phase

In this phase, you will build strength and muscle. The emphasis is on lifting moderately heavy weights in order to train the nervous system in conjunction with the muscle fibers to move bigger loads.

Hypertrophy, which is building muscle size, does not necessarily imply strength, although in this foundation phase some muscle building will serve you well for strength development.

Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development. Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Essentially, power is a product of strength and speed.

For tennis, this could mean a better serve, more depth on those tricky volleys, or the speed to get to a return.

Time of year: Mid ​​Pre-Season
Duration: 6-8 weeks
Days per week: 2-3, with at least one day, preferably two, between sessions
Reps: 8-10
Sets: 2-4
Rest in between sets: 1-2 minutes

Phase 1 Exercises:

Key Points During Phase 1

Here are a few things to remember as you start your program.

Find the Right Weight

Adjust the weight so that the final few repetitions are taxing but don't cause you to "fail" completely.

Don't Skip Your Lower Half

Although the upper body is where the action is expressed in tennis, the "posterior chain" of the hips, gluteals (butt) and upper legs and the abdominals is of equal importance. The squats and deadlifts build strength and power in this region.

Practice Good Form

For the upper body exercises such as the dumbbell press, wood chops, and lat pulldown, always hold good form.

Keep the forearms in a vertical plane with the upper arms not extending excessively below parallel at the bottom of the movement.

It's especially important to protect the vulnerable shoulder joint when you're training for sports where the shoulder gets a lot of specific "out of gym" work (in this case, on the tennis court).

Listen to Your Body

Strength training can be physically and mentally demanding. If you find you are not able to recover from a session with only one rest day in between, move the program to two sessions per week rather than three.

You may be sore after these sessions, and a certain amount of soreness is to be expected. Muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal—joint pain is not.

Monitor your arm and shoulder reactions during this phase and back off when any joint pain or discomfort is felt.

Phase 2: Late Pre-Season to In Season

In this phase, you build on the strength developed in phase 1 with training that will increase your ability to move a load at high velocity.

Conversion to Power

Remember that power is the combination of strength and speed. Power training requires that you lift weights at high velocity and with explosive intent.

You need to rest adequately between repetitions and sets so that each movement is done as fast as possible. The number of sets can be less than phase 1, because there is no point training at this level when you're fatigued.

Time of year: Late pre-season and in-season
Duration: ongoing
Days per week: 2
Reps: 8 to 10
Sets: 2-4
Rest between repetitions: 10 to 15 seconds​
Rest between sets: at least 1 minute or until recovery

Phase 2 Exercises:

  • Barbell or dumbbell hang clean
  • Cable push pull
  • One arm cable raises each arm
  • Cable wood chop
  • Medicine ball push press
  • Medicine ball standing twist with partner (6x15 repetitions fast, recover between sets) or alone

Key Points During Phase 2

Here are a few quick reminders for when you're preparing for the season.

Take Time to Recover

In power training, it's important that you're relatively recovered for each repetition and set so that you can maximize the velocity of the movement. The weights should not be too heavy and the rest periods sufficient.

Push When You Can

While rest is important, at the same time, you need to push (and pull) reasonably heavy loads to develop power against reasonable resistance.

With the medicine ball twists, do a full set at maximum, then rest sufficiently before the next one. If you don't have a partner, use a lighter ball and keep the ball in your hands while twisting from side to side.

Phase 3: In Season

When the season finally arrives, that doesn't mean your training stops. If anything, it ramps up to help you maintain your strength and power as a player.

Maintenance of Strength and Power

Alternate Phase 1 (Strength and Muscle) and phase 2 (Power) for a total of two sessions each week. Every fifth week, skip weight training to assist recovery.

Key Points During Phase 2

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you're playing during the season.

Don't Overschedule

Try not to do strength training on the same day that you practice on the court. If you have to squeeze them both into a single day, at least try to separate your workouts into morning and afternoon sessions.

Plan Your Time Well

Rest completely from strength training one week out of every six (during this period, light gym work is OK).

During the season, use your judgment when it comes to putting in time at the gym. If you have limited time, don't sacrifice court technical skills training for weight work.

Off Season

If you have an offseason, now it's time to rest up. You need this time for emotional and physical renewal.

For several weeks, forget about weight training and do other things. Staying fit and active with cross training or other activities is still a good idea.

Now that you've progressed through the entire program, give yourself plenty of time to do it all again next year.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lorenz DS, Reiman MP, Walker JC. Periodization: Current Review and Suggested Implementation for Athletic RehabilitationSports Health. 2010;2(6):509-518. doi:10.1177/1941738110375910

  2. Lorenz D, Morrison S. Current concepts in periodization of strength and conditioning for the sports physical therapistInt J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):734-747.

  3. De Ridder EM, Van Oosterwijck JO, Vleeming A, Vanderstraeten GG, Danneels LA. Posterior muscle chain activity during various extension exercises: an observational studyBMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2013;14:204. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-204

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.