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Physical & Physiological Demands of Tennis

The modern game of tennis continues to progress and evolve. There are numerous ways for any player at any skill level to participate. Physicality of tennis continually grows along with the demands placed on the body. The focus of the game has changed from finesse to power and speed.

The primary skills needed to play tennis are racquet and ball handling skills along with strokes. Even if a player has fantastic strokes these attributes are not enough to overcome a top-notch opponent. A high level of physical fitness is required to take the game to the next level. “Increasing evidence suggests that motor skills such as power, strength, agility, speed, and explosiveness, as well as mental strength, and a highly developed neuromuscular coordinating ability correlate with tournament performance.” (Fernandez) Non-conditioned athletes can impair all other tennis specific skills such as technique and tactics if fatigue sets in early into the match. A great article was published a few years ago by Dr. Jaime Fernandez-Fernandez in the Strength & Conditioning Journal. Here is a short summary providing the major practical aspects:

Match activity during tennis play

A tennis match consists of short 4-10 second spells of high intensity exercise interrupted by 10-20 second periods of recovery. Further recovery of 60-90 seconds appears at changeovers. An average tennis match lasts about 1.5 hours. Of this time, a relatively small percentage is effective playing time. Players can run anywhere from 1,300 to 3,600 meters per hour of play depending on the levels of players. Take this information into account when scheduling training.

Factors affecting match activity:
  • Court Surface

  • Tactical Behavior

  • Gender

  • Thermal Stress

How to apply this information to a training program?
  1. Training players should focus on performing high intensity exercise and recovering quickly. This is because the body gets its energy from anaerobic and aerobic pathways. Therefore, it is beneficial to perform aerobic and anaerobic training. For example, running sprints one day and running several miles the next.

  2. It is important to train one’s aerobic capacity because a larger portion of energy needed can be supplied aerobically. This allows players to work at higher intensities for longer periods of time preventing fatigue.

  3. Most of a tennis player’s training is focused on low to moderate intensity exercise. These exercises include “technical and tactical on-court training” (Fernandez). Therefore, additional high intensity aerobic exercise must be incorporated into training. Increasing the rate of rise in oxygen uptake is the goal. This can be accomplished by interval training. Effective training is planned for players to use maximal effort for periods of less than 10 seconds with rest periods long enough for players to replicate maximal or near-maximal effort.

  4. Develop a hydration schedule. While every player is unique, all players can take advantage of some general guidelines. While playing in competitions players should drink at every change over drinking anywhere from 1.2-1.6 Liters per hour. It is also recommended players drink a combination of water and sports drink.

  5. Acclimatizing to hot humid conditions is critical. Acclimatization can help prevent major physiological problems and heat illness during competition. At least 2-3 days of preparation in hot/humid environments can help before competitions.

Feel free to share any specific exercises for interval training! *iTPA Members: A much more detailed version of this post is now on the iTPA Inner Circle Member Only Website. www.


Fernandez, J., Sanz-Rivas, D., Villanueva, A. (2009). A review of the Activity Profile and Physiological Demands of Tennis Match Play. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 31(4), 15-25.

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