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Introduction to Tennis for Fitness

What to know before you hit the court
Written by 
Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
October 28, 2013

For overall fitness, playing a game of tennis is one of the best options: Not only is it a relatively low-impact activity—especially when you play on clay or grass courts—that you can do at almost any age, but it can burn more than 500 calories an hour while working your body and your brain as you strategize where to hit the ball and anticipate where your opponent will go with her shot.

Unlike traditional cardio workouts that primarily focus on moving in a straight line, playing tennis involves forward, backward, sideways and twisting movements. The result: a 360-degree workout that tones and strengthens your body from every angle. Plus, the start-stop nature of the game—you will alternate between short sprints and sustained rallies—challenges your lungs, heart and muscles in different ways, yielding maximum fitness benefits.

Did we mention tennis is fun? You can play with your friends, your children, your parents—it’s a social game that happens to be really good for your body. So it’s no wonder that tennis has exploded in popularity in the last decade, with participation up by more than 40 percent since 2000.

Getting Started

Unlike walking or running, which you can do virtually anytime and anywhere, tennis does require some planning, finding a partner as well as a court to play on.

Check Out Local Courts: Some tennis courts require a club membership or reservations, while others are first-come-first serve. Call or stop by ahead of time to find out what you need to do to get a court.
 
Find a Partner: If you’re a beginner, it can be helpful to start out by playing with someone more experienced—as long as they are patient. With some 18.6 million players out there, odds are in your favor to connect with someone at or near your ability level. But if none of your friends are up for a game or close enough in skill level, ask your local recreation center if they keep a list of individuals seeking partners. Or try a website like meetup.org.
 
Take a Lesson: Whether you’re a novice or just haven’t picked up a racquet in a while, brushing up on your skills with a professional instructor can help you get the most out of the game by engraining proper form and footwork. One-on-one lessons are great for focused instruction, but if you’re looking for potential partners, signing up for a tennis clinic, which involves at least one instructor leading a group of people through various drills, can be a great way to meet other players at a similar level. 
 
Singles and Doubles: When you’re ready to play a competitive match, you’ll need to decide whether you want to play singles or doubles. Playing singles versus doubles tennis isn’t just about the number of players you have available (though that’s certainly a consideration). Singles tennis is most fun when the two players have similar abilities, whereas doubles is easier to play with teams of varying skills. Try them out—you may find you enjoy one style more than the other or prefer to dabble in both.


While both types of tennis provide a great workout, singles is generally faster moving and more intense, while doubles can move at a slower pace, which can be easier for beginners. Research shows that doubles tennis burns about 340 to 408 calories an hour, while singles burns about 544 an hour.

 

Outfit Yourself For Success

You don’t have to make a large financial commitment to special gear and clothing, but if you plan to play on a regular basis, it’s worth it to buy a few key items. 

Racquet: Modern racquets are bigger and lighter, making them easier to control than now-obsolete “standard-sized” frames. And when you’re first learning the ropes of a new sport, anything that makes it easier is a bonus!


Some tennis centers or public courts offer rentals so you can do test runs with various racquet brands and styles to see which one you’re most comfortable with.

Shoes: Standard athletic sneakers like running shoes may do the trick for an occasional tennis game (just make sure they have non-marking soles, otherwise they will discolor the court). But if you want to get serious about the sport, invest in a pair of dedicated tennis shoes that provide the support and cushioning needed for the side-to-side movement and start-stop nature of tennis. In addition, most tennis shoes have extra material around the toe area to protect the shoe from all of the toe-dragging that occurs during serving and hitting groundstrokes.
 
Clothing: Unless you plan to play at a court that requires traditional “tennis whites,” the only requirement for tennis apparel is that it allows you to move comfortably and easily on the court. Skip cotton fabrics in favor of fast-drying wicking materials. Here are some other things to consider:
 
  • Pockets Tennis skirts, dresses and shorts often come equipped with pockets for holding spare balls. Don’t underestimate their importance! Nothing slows down a game like having to run to the sideline every time you lose a ball. And leaving extra balls on the court is a safety hazard, because tripping on one can lead to an ankle sprain or other injury. If you don’t have clothing with built-in pockets, add a ball clip to the waistband of your favorite bottoms.
     
  • Sun Protection If you are playing outdoors, a hat or visor, and sunglasses not only minimize squinting, but can also improve your game, helping you keep your eye on the ball. Always apply sunblock—ideally 15 minutes before your match—to prevent sun burn.
     
  • Socks Avoid cotton, which can get waterlogged and cause blisters. Choose wicking materials to minimize friction and hot spots, and consider socks with padded soles to help absorb impact and keep your feet comfortable.
 

 

Reference(s) 
American Council on Exercise
United States Tennis Association
SGMA 2009 Sports In America Report