3 January

New Year, New You - health and fitness tips to make 2020 the year tennis works for you!

Illustration by yoosillyone 

You probably already know that tennis is one of the best sports of all when it comes to improving your physical and mental well being. Here are some easy ways to ensure you ensure you get the most out of your matches and make 2020 the year that tennis works for you!

It's everyone's New Year goal to feel as well as they can be and in tennis terms that means being faster, stronger and achieving match-winning stamina. It might mean too that you want to lose weight or to add muscle and gain weight. If you have a nagging injury or an existing medical condition, you will want to tailor your tennis to suit your needs, but as long as tennis is a possibility for you, make it the driver that gives you focus and control. Keep it simple... you don't have to make it too ambitious. Here are some suggestions to keep your 2020 tennis on track.

FITNESS

OFF COURT

Think cardiovascular and strength training They say you should get fit to play tennis, not play tennis to keep fit. That means doing the right training. The USTA recommends varying your training, and says an added benefit of resistance work with weights or bands is that it boosts endurance. As a rule of thumb it recommends "If you are 30 years old, you should think about spending 30 percent of your exercise on resistance training, typically lifting weights, either free weights, using weight machines or body weight exercise. As you age, the amount of weight training should increase, so that when you are 50 years old, you should devote 50 percent of your activity to resistance training".
Don't overlook the huge benefits of walking. Shane O’Mara, Professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin told the BBC that walking benefits your brain, digestion and posture and regular low level activity is actually better for than short bursts of intensive effort.  “People tend to overestimate the benefits of going to the gym and pounding out an hour on the treadmill when they’ve been inactive for the rest of the day," says Shane. As humans, “we’re built for regular rhythmic movement."

ON court

Give yourself a warm up and warm down routine: A brisk walk to the court, and when you get there, star jumps or arm windmills will really help get the blood flowing and prepare your muscles for action.
Keep on your toes during the match. It makes it much easier to move to the ball quickly 
Keep active in the downtime: Have you seen how Rafa moves about the court even between points? Maximise your active time on court by being the one to track down the stray balls, use the opportunity of sending a ball down to your your opponent's end of the court to practice a backhand (a top tip from Grand Slam legend, Roy Emmerson), and run to balls that you don't think you can make. You will be amazed at the number of short balls you can reach and every attempt is a sprint exercise.

MENTAL WELLBEING

OFF court

Tennis is a mental game, and no matter how well your eat or how hard you train, nothing in tennis is as important as what goes on in your head! The USTA has a good guide to mental skills training here and says the purpose of it is to:

  • Develop self-confidence;
  • Set goals and create a positive long-term vision;
  • Use imagery and visualization to work on competitive skills;
  • Focus concentration and attention;
  • Deal with adversity;
  • Improve error management;
  • Develop a positive approach to competition;
  • Create on-court routine.

Get started with some mindfulness. Djokovic says he has done so much mindful meditation that his brain functions better automatically, even when he's not meditating. He still makes mistakes but has learned how to acknowledge the self doubt that follows and let it go. Headspace.com, a highly recommended meditation app says “Mindfulness can help you tackle anything,” and a big section on sport includes packs on concentration, competition and the performance mindset. Cost £9.99 pm, first week free or £49.99 pa, first two weeks free. 

Visualising how you want to play also really helps. Psychology Today offers some tips. 

ON Court 

What you think during a match can make all the difference to your performance, but it is crucial to stay in the present. If you find yourself thinking you are going to win, it’s likely to be all over within a few games. Instead, repeat like a mantra: one point at a time, one point at a time. If the score board is against you, think: "I am still in this", or "Focus". Whatever phrase works for you,  keep it simple and positive.

NUTRITION

OFF COURT

Prepare for your match. Gemma Bes, Rafa’s personal nutritionist recommends that 2-4 hours before your game you eat 2-4 grams of carbohydrate per kg of your weight. The food should be rich in carbs, moderate in protein and low in fat to aid digestion. She says you should stick to low fibre foods to avoid stomach discomfort, have simple cooked food and NEVER try anything new!
Don't forget to keep hydrated. Your urine should be very pale yellow. Anything darker and you are dehydrated (though taking vitmains make effect this). Gemma recommends drinking a glass of a hypotonic drink every 15mins an hour and half before a match but stopping 45 minutes for the start.  
To make your own hypotonic drink, mix 700 ml water (or 230ml of water + 350 ml of coconut water) + 300 ml cranberry juice or 3 tablespoon of panela sugar or coconut sugar + 1 the juice of big lemon + ½ teaspoon unrefined sea salt. Or eat some almonds which provide magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium.

ON COURT

During a match, Gemma recommends an isotonic drink (or water). In the first hour, take fluids only – 750m to a litre. From the second hour you can add 4 dates or one big banana which provide energy and are easy to digest.
To make your own isotonic drink, mix 400 ml water (or 250ml of water + 250 ml of coconut water) + 600 ml cranberry juice   + ½ teaspoon unrefined sea salt  

After the match  you need carbs (eg bananas, dates, rice milk, cranberry juice) to replace lost energy; protein (eg yoghurt, skimmed/soya/almond milk, whey protein or spirulina powder) to repair muscles and vitamins and minerals (eg strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges).
More suggestions for post-match recovery foods are offered by the USTA here and include low fat chocolate milk + a protein bar or Greek yogurt, fresh fruit ad chia seeds