1 November 2019

Fit for purpose the Rafa way

Domingo Rosselló has been Head of Physical Training at the Rafa Nadal Academy since it opened on 1 July, 2016 overseeing the fitness programme both for the students who study full time at the Academy's international school and the recreational players who come for holidays. If you want to play well, he says, you must prepare!

Rafa Nadal inspiring children at the AcademyAt the Rafa Nadal Academy there are 3 principal objectives in its physical training programme:

  • to improve fitness levels,
  • to prevent injury. and
  • to improve co-ordination skills.

For the students at the school (pictured right, some of the younger players who get to meet Rafa Nadal), there are a variety of tests to assess, among other things, their speed, aerobic endurance, flexibility, agility and balance.

But you don't need to be studying tennis full time to improve your physical fitness and your ability to play tennis well. Here Domingo offers some pointers for how to get into better shape, how to avoid injury and how to keep playing for as long as possible.

To give yourself the opportunity to continue playing, you need to be in good health and to know where you are now. You have to check your fitness level, know how your body is now and what you need to train. You can do a cardiology test, ideally with a doctor or if not in the gym, to see if your heart is prepared for the kind of effort you need to do. This is a health test, not a performance test. Then you have to study what tennis needs. It’s very important to know which part of the body is more important for your sport, and to work the muscles that involve that part. In tennis, this includes:

Tennis is an asymmetrical sport. You are repeatedly doing the same movement with the shoulder so you have to compensate. You need to work the lats, the muscles at the back of the shoulder. For example, with your arms at right angles to the body, elbows just in front of your waist, hold a theraband in your hands and move your forearms outwards.

The glutes are the most important muscle to give you stability or balance. Rafa has a big bottom! To develop the gluteus, lie on the floor with your knees bent and push your hips up. If you squeeze your bottom, you will work more. You can put a theraband around your knees and open and close them to increase the work out. You can also put weights on your stomach.

You need good quad muscles. You can have broken ligaments, but if you have good quad muscles, you can live without the ligaments. With good muscles, you can play with no problems, but if you lose this muscle, you will have problems. Do squats. Stand with your feet hip width apart and bend your knees. As you bend down you work the back of the legs and as you go up, you work the front. If you do the same movement but with your feet wider apart, keeping your back straight, it works your back.

Footwork is very important in tennis, and you need to make the technique automatic. Rather than side stepping towards the ball, we recommend you cross one leg in front of the other, then shuffle. You will get to the bal faster and more naturally. Also, video yourself playing. You will see what you need to work on.

You have to read the ball fast and get to it quickly. Practice with a ball machine or a coach or friend hitting balls, and get to the ball as fast as you can.

If you don’t prepare your body, you have more possibility of problems. It is the same if you go into an exam without studying, you will fail. All things need preparation and in winter it is more important than in summer when you are less active. Everyone is different in how much time they need to prepare before a match but start by walking, then running, moving your arms and as many muscles as possible. Run in different directions, change your speed and take small jumps, then higher jumps. Nowadays, the science says it’s not good to stretch before activity because if you warm up and then stretch, you are relaxing, so stretching before a match can do more harm than good. When you start to play, begin with low intensity and small movements, to prepare the joints.

Post-match stretch
The thinking is now that when you exercise, you make small tears in your muscles. If you stretch hard afterwards, you can make that worse. The stretching has to be separate from the activity, so do it several hours later or the next day. Most of all, you need to stretch the legs but also your lats and shoulders. Hold for 20-30 seconds, relax for 10 seconds, then do a bit more.

The most important part of tennis is your mind. You can play amazingly well, have incredible fitness levels and get to the ball really fast but if your mind is not in the court or if today is not a good day you will lose the match. You have to be realistic. It is no good to say 'I can play better than him' when he is playing better than you! You have to know your level, be realistic and work and train. Have realistic objectives and understand that losing matches are part of the process. You need to get the right tools to make yourself quiet, control your breathing and visualise what it is you want to do.

Above, Rafa Nadal's Facebook post from the gym at the Rafa Nadal Academy in April 2017

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