Fitness Tips

‘I’m a Tennis Pro, and This Is How To Improve Your Agility On and Off the Court’

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Getty Images / Tony Anderson
A tennis player's ability to start, stop, and quickly change directions all boils down to agility. Excelling at quick movements engaging fast-twitch muscle fibers is everything for a tennis player, explains Nate Bolling, coach and director of content and community management at tennis training company PlayYourCourt.

"In tennis, we have the split step, when we're anticipating the incoming ball and you're getting into an athletic base. And then from there, it's about that quick-twitch, the firing that comes from the agility and having the ability to quickly change direction," says Bolling. The skills needed for tennis can also be helpful whether you're playing soccer, boxing, or even just running after your kids.

Scott Baxter, CEO and founder of PlayYourCourt, adds that with agility comes strength.

"A big part of the CrossFit community, for example, is functional movement and a lot of the exercises are to increase agility," says Baxter. "When you build up agility, you build strength, and when you build strength, a lot of things in your daily life are easier from picking up your kid to lifting a bag of dog food into the trunk to getting something heavy off the top shelf."

Whether you're a tennis plater or not, Bolling and Baxter favorite training exercises are meant to improve your your agility on and off the court.

The best agility training exercises, according to tennis pros

1. Skipping rope

"For the everyday recreational player, you can't go wrong with skipping rope," says Bolling, adding that it's such a simple agility exercise people often take for granted. "The ability to skip rope takes agility and it's actually wonderful for tennis because you're coordinating timing with the upper body [and] there's some core that's involved," he says. "In tennis, soccer,  and basketball, you've got to take what we call chop steps, these little steps to position for the incoming ball and skipping rope is an awesome way to [train to] do that."

This jump-rope workout is guaranteed to get your heart pumping:

2. Jump lunges

Plyometric exercises are great for agility. For jump lunges, begin in a lunge position with your right leg in front and your left knee touching the floor. Explode up into the air and switch your legs to land in a lunge position this time with your left leg in front. "Anytime you're doing any sort of lunge exercise, you never want your knee to shadow out over your toe," says Baxter. "As you're doing the lunges, make sure your front foot is far enough forward where your knee doesn't track over your foot." Though you won't get the same plyometric benefits, Baxter says you can remove the jump and just do alternating backward lunges if jumping is too much on your joints.

Note: The following moves are best performed with a ladder and cones.

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3. In-and-outs

"We do a ton of ladder drills with our academy, with the kids and the adults," says Bolling. One of the main drills they do is in-and-outs. Begin standing on the bottom left side of a ladder facing the top of the ladder. Quickly place your right foot into the ladder followed by your left and then step out to the right side of the ladder with your right foot and then place your left foot in the next rung, following the same pattern as before but on the opposite side. Continue this zig-zag motion up the ladder.

4. Side-shuffle

Another ladder move Bolling recommends is the side-shuffle. Start standing inside of the last ladder rung facing the right side of the ladder. Step your left foot to the side into the next rung followed by your right foot. Quickly continue this movement as you move your way up the ladder. Alternatively, "you can skip every other [rung] so you're working on covering more ground," says Bolling.

5. Lateral cones

"What you want is the ability to get low in tennis and cone [training] will enable you to do that," says Bolling. When performing lateral cones, begin with two cones nearby on the ground, one on either side. The goal is to get low and touch each cone. If you have a friend to help, they can shout out left or right to tell you which cone to go to and also tell you which hand to reach with. You can also alternate between the cones and your hands if you're by yourself.

6. Split-and-go

This exercise is all about sprints. "Starting in a ready position that you would have for tennis, you hit your split step and you take off, you run maybe 10 feet and then you're stopped," says Bolling. "We do that with cones as well. So you just take three cones, one to your left, one in front of you, and one to the right, you split, you go as fast as you can to the one to the left, return to center, split, go as fast as you can to the one to the middle, and then repeat and do the same thing on the right side as well."

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