Fitness Basics: Learning to Love Tennis
Yes, it can help you get fit. But the benefits of tennis go beyond the physical, experts say.
Can a slice backhand, topspin forehand, or overhead smash help you lose
those love handles? Experts say tennis can do that and much more – it's a way
to learn a new skill, build strength and flexibility, stimulate your mind, and
gain a new social outlet.
And you don't have to be Rafael Nadal -- the Spanish player whose skills and
bulging biceps are taking the tennis world by storm -- to realize the benefits
of the sport.
"Tennis is for anyone and everyone," says Bob Helmig, a U.S.
Professional Tennis Association (USTA) and U.S. Professional Tennis Registry
(USPTR) pro from Tucson, Ariz.
Among tennis' physical benefits, he says, are improved strength,
flexibility, and fitness.
The fitness benefits are felt during long rallies with a partner and short,
intense bursts of activity while you're chasing a ball. The strength and
flexibility come because you're using large muscle groups to run, stand ready,
serve, and return balls.
Tennis is a sport where you're twisting, lunging and reaching all the time.
And this helps improve balance and stability as well as strength and
"There's great lateral movement because you're always changing
direction, unlike running, which is very linear," says Helmig, who teaches
at the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club.
And tennis will do more than help get you physically fit, he says.
"It's mental and emotional," he says. "A player really learns to
be focused, which transcends into other areas of life."
On the court, you learn to think several steps ahead, adapt quickly to
changes, anticipate your opponent, and implement winning strategies – valuable
skills in most any profession. You can also learn to be a humble winner and a
gracious loser, the USTA says. And you'll improve your reaction time and your
Furthermore, hitting the ball can be a great de-stressor, says Shannon
Smith, USPTA tennis pro in Fort Bragg, Calif.
And there are the social aspects of tennis, which can also be a huge
fitness benefit, says Smith.
Because you need at least one partner to play, "tennis can keep people
active by making a commitment to another person," she says.