5 Tips to Put a Spring in Your Step

If you're anything like me, you lumber around the court, dreaming of being able to glide around like the pros. Tennis magazine have apparently heard my pleas and have come up with five great tips to help me move faster on the court. Take a look...

If you're anything like me, you lumber around the court, dreaming of being able to glide around like the pros. Well, the folks over at Tennis magazine have apparently heard my pleas and have come up with five great tips to help me move faster on the court. Take a look...

Watch the pros fly around the court at the French Open this month and you might find yourself wondering: Just how do they get to the ball so quickly? Sure, some of it is genetics, but there's more involved when it comes to getting faster feet. We asked Mark Kovacs, Ph.D., senior manager of strength and conditioning and sport science for USTA player development, how the rest of us can get to the ball quicker, no matter what our age or ability. Here are his tips.

1. Keep your eye on the ball
Knowing where the ball is going to land before it does will help you get to it much sooner. Roger Federer is one of the best when it comes to this sense of anticipation. "Roger never looks like he is moving very fast, yet he's always in the right position," Kovacs says. "It makes him an incredibly efficient player because he's able to get to where he needs to without having to expend a lot of energy."

You can work at predicting ball placement by studying your opponent. "Try noticing things like where your opponent's racquet head is pointing, how he's gripping his racquet, or how big of a swing he's taking," Kovacs says. "All of those can help you clue in on just where the ball is going to be hit."

For example: If you notice your opponent is about to slice the ball, move forward, since the ball will likely stay low. If he's at the net with the racquet face open, a drop shot is probably coming. "That split second of movement can make a big difference," Kovacs says.

2. Stand at the ready
Being ready to move in any direction will help you overcome some of the inertia of waiting for the ball to arrive on your side of the net. So stay in a ready position with your body weight over the balls of your feet, your knees slightly bent, and your feet shoulder-width apart. "It's that little jump you take just before you land in any direction," Kovacs says.

3. Train like a sprinter
Catch any track and field competition on TV and check out the sprinters' extra large thighs. There's a reason for all that muscle: "Sprinters need leg strength so they can get out of the blocks quickly," Kovacs says. "The stronger your legs, the faster you can move."

Start by building up a firm foundation with a series of moves that includes stationary forward lunges, side lunges and 45-degree lunges. You'll hit the glutes and various leg muscles in different angles to help develop your lower body. Next, add some tennis-specific lower-body strength exercises that mirror how you move on the court. One way is to practice taking a first step in all directions with a long rubber resistance band or tube around your waist. Finally, add core strengthening moves that also mimic how you play. "The best athletes have a strong, balanced core," Kovacs says. "It helps you maintain your body position and gives you lasting endurance, as well as helping you get that quicker first step." For descriptions of these exercises, see "Moves for Strength."


Though I'll never be an Olympic level sprinter, there's certainly plenty of lower body exercises I could incorporate into my workout. - Ben, Editor


4. Head for the hills
In addition to regular cardio workouts and interval training, you should spend some time sprinting uphill. "That kind of short overload against resistance will help further develop leg strength and that first-step speed," Kovacs says. Find a steep hill and sprint up for 5 seconds, then rest for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 10-15 times. Do this drill a couple of times a week.

5. Get fancy feet
Footwork drills are an excellent way to develop speed. One that's widely used is the Figure Eight: Place two cones 5 feet apart on a court in line with the net. Start behind one cone, facing the net. Move around the cones laterally, making a figure eight between them as fast as you can. Continue for 15-20 seconds and repeat in the opposite direction.

You can also use the lines of the court: Hop one foot in front of the other as fast as you can along the singles sideline. Or try a lateral alley drill, quickly shuffling back and forth between the outside of the doubles sideline and the outside of the singles sideline. Do this for 10-20 seconds to build agility in your side-to-side movement. Do footwork drills a couple of times a week before or after practice.


Source: Tennis.com


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