In tennis, you'll be challenged to change directions quickly and often, relying on leg strength for knee bends, the upward push on forehand and backhand shots and speed for moving around the court. Plyometrics are great strength-training exercises to round your leg and glute muscles into tip-top shape. If you've ever jumped or hopped, plyometric exercises (aka "jump training") are already a part of your workouts.
Elite players on the men's pro tour, like Milos Raonic, as well as coaches and trainers, rely on plyometrics to improve speed, power, footwork and balance (all vital for things like effective net play). The best part? You don't need to go to a gym. You can use your own body weight, cones or boxes to achieve better on-court speed and power.
Given the nature of tennis, the height or distance of your jump isn't important. Depending on your particular fitness level and age, it's best to start low and slow with plyometric exercises, using repetitions with gradual progression over time. (*See below for the recommended number of reps for your age.)
The four exercises below are designed with specific fitness goals in mind: improving leg power, hip flexibility, ground push-off and your reactivity to the ground. Typically, two or three sessions of plyometric exercises can be completed in one week, with adequate rest between sessions.
1. Box Jump
Stand 11–15 inches in front of a sturdy box with your feet shoulder-width apart. The box should be approximately 12–23 inches high (start low and work your way up). Jump as high as you can and land with your feet on the box. Step off the box and repeat for the number of repetitions appropriate for your age.
2. Split Squat Jump
With your hands on your hips and an upright posture, stand with one foot forward and the other foot behind. Squat down, bending with the front knee at 90 degrees and the rear knee almost touching the ground. Jump as high as possible, then switch the position of your legs before landing. Repeat this for the recommended number of reps.
Results: Enhanced hip flexibility and hip flexor power.
3. Side Box Sweep
Stand next to a sturdy box that is approximately 19 inches wide and 11–12 inches high. Place your right foot on the box while keeping your left foot on the ground. Push up and across the top, landing smoothly with your left foot in the middle of the top of the box and the right foot on the ground. Repeat this back and forth across the box for the prescribed repetitions.
Results: Boosted ability to push off the ground and improved balance.
4. Side Cone Hop
Line up five or six cones that are 12–13 inches high (smaller ones can be used when you first start, if you prefer) and spaced 23–25 inches apart. Stand with your side at one end of the line of cones, then jump sideways over each one, landing on both feet. At the last cone, land on a single foot (your outside leg) and immediately push back. Repeat the exercise in the opposite direction, based on the allotted reps.
Results: Heightened reactivity with ground contact.