As a London personal trainer and tennis fanatic I’m always keen to see what fitness routines the world’s top tennis players use to get into peak physical condition.
Tennis demands a wide range of fitness elements, from cardiovascular fitness, physical strength, stamina, core strength, to joint stability and muscle flexibility. And of course speed, agility, balance and proprioception (heightened perception of movement and spacial orientation).
Here’s a glimpse at the fitness regimes of the tennis world’s top four players:
Novak Djokovic’s fitness regime
Novak Djokovic used to be so injury-prone and plagued by failure of stamina in big matches, that it was blocking his chances of getting to the very top of his game. How did he become super fit, enabling him to achieve 3 grand slams in 2011?
Thanks to his nutritionist Igor Cetojevic who diagnosed Novak’s coeliac disease, he is now following a gluten-free diet, and this seems to have boosted his stamina and made him much leaner.
In addition, Novak uses a high-tech fitness pod (manufactured by CVAS) which simulates high intensity physical training at high altitude. This forces Novak’s body to produce more red blood cells, and shoot his aerobic capacity through the roof. He also trains outdoors in high-altitude locations to further boost his CV fitness.
On the tennis court, Djokovic trains with high-intensity tennis drills to the point of exhaustion, to boost his speed and agility even at the limits of his endurance.
And like most of the top players, he makes regular use of resistance bands for physical strength and shoulder joint stability.
One of the most outstanding features of Novak Djokovic’s fitness is his incredible leg flexibility, thanks to a dedicated programme of stretching. He is without doubt the most flexible male tennis player on the tour.
This flexibility enables him to go for wide shots and recover with a slide (sometimes with the splits!) which would put most players at risk of hamstring and groin injury. He’s also able to reach balls for a recovery shot on the slide, balls which are beyond the reach of any other player.
Rafael Nadal’s fitness regime
Rafa is obsessively disciplined when it comes to his fitness. He employs a team of experts to assist him to reach peak condition. Key to his team are physiotherapist Rafael Maymo, and physical trainer Joan Forcades. Maymo pays particular attention to Rafa’s knee tendonitis, so regular stretching and massage of the quads are part of the routine.
Joan Forcades uses a wide range of equipment for Nadal’s fitness sessions. The Bosu Ball (an advanced type of wobble board) is used to boost his balance and co-ordination. The Power Plate (a vibration platform machine) boosts Rafa’s leg strength and balance (exercises include balancing on one leg, and isometric squat positions).
Shoulder stability is vital for Rafa to remain injury-free, particularly as he has such extreme topspin on his forehand groundstrokes. So Forcades uses resistance bands and the cable-crossover machine to increase Rafa’s rotator-cuff strength (with internal and external rotations), and a range of exercises to strengthen all the muscles round the scapula (such as scapular retraction and protraction in the pushup position and pullup position).
For cardio fitness Nadal favour running drills in waist-high water, which takes impact-pressure off his knee.
The most outstanding feature of Rafa’s fitness is his ability to generate incredible RPM on his topspin forehand shots, and this is thanks to his emphasis on muscular strength and joint stability in the shoulder complex.
Roger Federer’s fitness regime
The hallmarks of Federer’s fitness routine are footwork drills for speed and agility, and core strength. It’s not surprising that his footwork is arguably better than any other player in the top ten.
Roger spends a lot of time doing speed/agility drills using cones and other equipment to boost his footwork skills.
For core strength he uses bungee ropes attached to a training partner for a range of side to side shuffles, and changes in direction, which put great demands on the muscles of the core. Roger also makes great use of the medicine ball for rotational core strength (the obliques), with medicine ball tosses to a training partner, and for core flexion (rectus abdominis) he slams a medicine ball into a mini-trampoline set near the floor at a 45 degree angle, and catches it on the rebound.
Federer also combines core strength with cardio training, with intervals of one minute rope skipping, alternating with advanced plank variations (which targets the deepest core muscle, the transverse abdominis).
For overall muscular strength, Roger uses resistance machines in the gym, far more so than Rafa, which is surprising given Rafa’s bigger muscles, in his upper arms particularly.
Federer’s long-standing personal trainer Pierre Paganini deserves a lot of credit for keeping his world-famous client injury-free, apart from some back injury issues which are now under control.
Footwork is Roger’s most outstanding attribute, along with his near-perfect technical skills in shot-making. This has kept Roger injury-free most of the time, as his technical prowess and tennis genius enables him to perform with great economy of effort and minimal wear-and-tear on his muscles and joints.
Andy Murray’s fitness regime
When Andy Murray was in his late teens, he was very skinny, and also lacked the endurance for long matches. Andy’s fanatical dedication to his fitness since those days has propelled him to (nearly) the very top of the game.
One of Murray’s secret weapons is his fitness trainer Jez Green, a former pro kick-boxer. With Green’s help, Murray has grown into a muscular athlete of incredible strength with the ability to perform 27 pullups, and leg-press 500 lbs (approx 227 kg). Dedication to his diet has been key to his new physique, with a large increase in healthy food calories, and a ban on all junk food.
Another secret weapon is of course his coach Ivan Lendl, whose relentless dedication to his own physical fitness in the 1980’s stood head and shoulders above all his rivals in that decade.
There is nothing quite so fatiguing as hot climates, so Murray trains in the heat of Miami, Florida to prepare him for the many tournaments in hot countries, not least the Australian Open. 400 metre runs on the soft sand on the beaches in Miami build his CV fitness and endurance. Shorter distance sprints give Andy the ability to reach drop-shots from the baseline.
For strength and muscular endurance Andy Murray’s weapon of choice is the Versaclimber, a fitness machine which strikes fear into the hearts of lesser mortals. Developed by NASA in 1981 to build the full body strength and endurance of US astronauts, the Versaclimber is a highly sophisticated piece of kit, and gives Andy some gruelling workouts.
Thanks to his fitness regime, Andy Murray combines physical strength, speed and agility, CV fitness and muscular endurance, making him possibly the most rounded athlete in the top 4.
(Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London, who also provides online nutrition coaching. He runs Fitness Buddy, a social network for Londoners, with over 880 members and rising.)