In this age of fitness consciousness, people are no longer trying to work as little as possible and expend the least amount of physical energy. Instead, they are looking for ways to tax themselves physically, for interesting ways to exercise, for new challenges. They know that the effort of an hour's aerobic exercise will make the next 12 hours so much more enjoyable because they'll be energized and feel more alive.
Yet tennis players with fitness goals often seem to turn to other activities-to running, bicycling, swimming, aerobic dancing-to get a stimulating workout. Many even give up tennis in frustration: "I get a better sweat playing racquetball," or "I just don't get a good workout," or "It's not good aerobic exercise like running."
Why is this? Perhaps because tennis has traditionally been thought of as a country club sport where sweat was inappropriate and the idea was to make it look easy. Players have been so concerned with a "look," with style, technique, or winning that they've overlooked the physical aspects of the game and the chance to get a good workout. What a mistake!
Tennis-with a new approach-can give you a superb aerobic workout, and improve your overall fitness, your strength and your agility. Playing tennis gives you the chance to:
- Run, leap, lunge and stretch.
- Work your major body muscles.
- Get your heart pumping strongly and improve your cardio-vascular fitness.
At the same time, tennis has these advantages over "just plain exercise"; it gives you:
- The excitement of the bouncing ball to keep you moving.
- The mental stimulation of strategy and tactics.
- The camaraderie and competition of a friend or opponent.
Aerobic Tennis is where the game of tennis finally catches up with the fitness revolution. It's a brand new look at a grand old game. Instead of tying yourself in knots over the details of technique, trying to look like someone else, or at the other extreme "working" to relax, you're going to go out on the court and involve your whole body in everything you do. At the same time, you are going to learn how to orient your off-court sports and activities to make you a more fit athlete and a better tennis player.
I developed the Aerobic Tennis method over 30 years of watching, teaching and coaching players of all ages and levels of skill. I began to notice that with every player who had a consistently good shot-whether at Wimbledon or down at the local Berkeley courts-there were some common elements:
- The whole body was behind the shot: the more body, the better the shot.
- The player was getting away from the ball so he or she could move into the ball with weight and power.
- The player wasn't concerned with technicalities and wasn't worried about overworked slogans like "Get your racket back," or "Get sideways to the net," or "Scratch your back."
- The racket appeared to be an extension of the body.
- The entire stroke was a continuous rhythmic expression.
These players all seemed to enjoy the running, the jumping, the reaching and the exertion of the game. They looked forward to hitting the ball. They didn't dread the ball coming over the net, they wanted it to come back so they could hit it again.
Comparing my students to these players, I began to realize that I was over-teaching and over-coaching. I was breaking the strokes down into too many elements. It was like teaching by the numbers. It was producing a very mechanical result, unlike the spontaneous, flowing strokes of good players.
I then started looking for a teaching technique that would allow the player to put as much of himself or herself into the shot as possible. I began experimenting with the club players in Vail, Colorado one summer and with my team at the University of California at Berkeley.
Laurie was a typical player in Vail who tried to muscle the ball with her arm; the harder she tried the worse she became. Marty Davis, threetime All-American at Cal had the same problem, but on a different level. With both players there was a need to make the arm part of a complete body action, rather than an isolated movement. The trick was to find a technique that would encourage this.
These problems not only affected Laurie and Marty: they were common to most players. The more you break your movements down into segments mentally and physically-the more mechanical and awkward your playing becomes. Gradually I evolved a teaching method where I said less about the parts and asked the students to put more energy and body into both preparation and hitting the ball. They had to work harder and get more effort into each shot. But it was worth it. The balls they hit had more power, and they became less self-conscious and less concerned with technicalities. I began to see that this emphasis on whole body movement worked for every player and with each stroke.
These days, if you were to listen in on one of our practice sessions in Berkeley, you might hear me say: "Too much arm!" I don't mean, "Don't use your arm." What I do mean is, "Get your body behind your arm." Or, you might hear me say, "Don't run right at the ball!" I want the player to be able to use energy to get away from and behind the ball and then explode forward and hit with power.
This alive energetic approach, this eagerness and zest in chasing and hitting each ball-and the stimulating workout-are available to you. Aerobic Tennis will show you how to get more of you into each shot, how to concentrate on the physical aspects of the game and how to involve your whole body in everything you do on the court. Regardless of your age, skill or style, you will get the workout you've been looking for and improve your physical condition.
And what about winning? In one sense, you're a winner every time you practice or play a match this way. You have a good workout. You become more fit. You feel better and more alive. But in the real sense, you're also going to win. When you're in better shape, when you learn to hit the ball with your whole body, your shots will be harder to return and you're going to win more matches.