EVERY AUSTRALIAN OPEN ushers in a two-week period of tennis obsession. In late January, as temperatures soar and the action at Melbourne Park has everyone glued to their couch, viewers are confronted with a startling temptation. Suddenly, a desire to emulate—or at least attempt—the on-screen heroics of our favourite tennis stars becomes irrepressible. Given the increased volume of high velocity serves, incisive forehands and acrobatic returns in today’s game, this can hardly be called a surprise.
In the days that follow, courts across the country are abruptly filled with prospective Grand Slam winners. But when it comes to tennis, whether you’ve never stepped on a court in your life, are trying to reignite a career based on aspirations that were given up before the turn of the millennium, or are genuinely close to breaking into the ATP Tour, it’s far too easy for your skill level to stagnate. You see, tennis is a sport of repetition. It’s about finding your rhythm, practising consecutive serves with identical form and achieving perfect timing on every shot. But where do you go once it feels like you’ve perfected the technical aspects of your game?
If you’re looking to improve your tennis, cross-training is the answer you’ve been waiting for. Cross-training combines multiple exercise styles within a single workout. By merging the intensity of plyometrics and circuit work with the injury-prevention capabilities of strength and recovery exercises, cross-training can lead to rapid improvements in your tennis game and daily life.
To aid the beginning of your cross-training journey we’ve enlisted the help of Luke Zocchi—Centr trainer and personal fitness coach to none other than Chris Hemsworth—who has designed a functional workout that will bolster strength, agility and explosiveness, all while protecting you from injury. Zocchi knows his stuff—he’s responsible for keeping Thor in shape after all—and he believes that this workout could be the key to unlocking your full tennis potential. “These are all movements you’ll do while playing tennis and that’s exactly what cross training is about,” Zocchi says. “They can help you in sport or everyday life.”
Figure 8 with arms, 60 seconds
Chest openers, 60 seconds
Jogging on the spot, 60 seconds
Walkout to world’s greatest stretch, 60 seconds
Jumping jacks, 60 seconds
As Zocchi says, the warm-up is just as important as the actual workout, “I’m a big believer in the idea that a really good warm-up sets you up for a really good workout.” During this segment, the focus is on movements that you’ll perform during the workout and preparing your body for the increased strain. “You’re basically priming your body to be ready to move and perform at a high level,” Zocchi says.
Our warm-up begins with figure eights and chest openers, two movements that Zocchi says replicate the feeling of hitting a tennis ball. Intensity increases throughout the warm-up, and as we progress to jogging on the spot, stretching and jumping jacks, we begin to practise explosiveness. In particular, Zocchi cites the jumping jacks as an integral facet of a holistic tennis workout. “In tennis, you’re jumping at different angles and doing different lateral movements, so those jumping jacks will really prime you in the last 60 seconds,” he says.
Strength and injury prevention
Banded face pulls, 10 reps, 3 sets, rest 60 seconds
Dumbbell YTs, 8 reps, 3 sets, rest 60 seconds
Reverse sled drag, 20 metres, 3 sets, rest 60 seconds
Dumbbell lateral lunges, 7 reps, 3 sets, rest 60 seconds
Calf raises, 12 reps, 3 sets, rest 60 seconds
Weighted pull-ups, 5 reps, 3 sets, 60 seconds
Underhand biceps curls, 6 reps, 3 sets, 60 seconds
Now we’ve reached the nitty gritty strength work that will allow you to build the requisite muscle needed to perform in any sport. Although, as Zocchi explains, strength training is also crucial for injury prevention. “Lots of tennis players injure their knees, ankles and shoulders and I know that when I’ve played tennis, I’ve suffered from tennis elbow,” Zocchi says. “The best way to prevent injury is through strength.”
An initial test of banded face pulls and dumbbell YTs will have your entire upper body burning, but not in a way that will cause injury. A dumbbell YT is usually known as a dumbbell YTW, but at Zocchi’s discretion the ‘W’ has been removed to “avoid putting too much stress on your elbows.”
Lower body movements are up next. Here, the focus is on mobility with sets of calf raises and lateral lunges. “Calf front raises will strengthen your ankles and lateral lunges are great for your abductors,” Zocchi says. “A lot of tennis players have issues pivoting, these will help with that.”
Closing out the regimen is a pair of exercises included to prevent tennis elbow: weighted pull-ups and underhand biceps curls. This is an area where Zocchi has learnt from personal experience. “While working on Thor, we were doing so many biceps curls and trying to get as big as we could, but we were all breaking down and started getting tendonitis in our forearms,” Zocchi says.
Tendonitis occurs when increased strain is placed on the tissues that connect muscle with bone from repeated movements. Tennis elbow is a form of tendonitis, and repeating movements is inevitable in tennis. The only solution is to bulletproof your tendons with strength training, performing those same movements with a lighter load and few reps. “It sounds backwards, but it actually works.” Zocchi says.
Cardio and Agility
Switches, 4 reps
Repeat for 4 sets, rest 30 seconds
Vertical jump, 1 rep
Side court shuffle
Vertical jump, 1 rep
Side court shuffle
Repeat for 4 sets, rest 60 seconds
To improve cardiovascular endurance and agility, we switch our focus to circuit work. Every aspect of these circuits is designed to boost explosiveness and mobility, and as Zocchi explains, the emphasis is on “mimicking movements you’d do while playing tennis.”
Downward dog, 60 seconds
Cobra stretch 60 seconds
Child’s pose 60 seconds
Lunge stretch with rotation, right side, 60 seconds
Lunge stretch with rotation, left side, 60 seconds
Zocchi holds the cool down process in the same esteem as warming up, meaning it’s non-negotiable. “Lots of people don’t take cooling down too seriously and as a result, they’re not signalling to their body that it’s time for rest and recovery,” Zocchi says. “I’ve got to put my hand up too because sometimes I’ll even skip the cool down after the gym.” In this section, Zocchi advises focusing on your breathing and tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system.
To the rookie tennis player, this workout likely sounds like an overly taxing endeavour. Zocchi recognises this. While this split was designed for performance at a high-level, he directs anyone looking for a challenge that’s suitable for people of all levels of fitness to one of Centr’s new programs called Centr Circuit: Elevate. “It focuses on compound movements, functional strength, agility, and endurance, and Centr could be right up the alley of people focusing on improving their tennis game,” Zocchi says.