If you’re new to tennis, you may be unaware that there are typical regimens tennis players employ to warm up. And if you’ve been playing tennis for a while and are not quite sure how to warm up properly, this post will tell you how.
When I first started playing tennis, I wasn’t sure of how to warm up, so I’d hit the ball a few times and just start. But when I joined my college tennis team, everyone warmed up the same way.
This is the basic structure of what a proper tennis warm up looks like. Overall, it shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes. I’m listing the events in sequential order.
The first one is mini tennis and it’s optional. Some people like to start with it and some skip it.
- Mini Tennis
- Groundstroke practice (both players on the baseline)
- Volley practice (one player at net and one on baseline – then alternate)
- Overheads (one player at net and one on baseline – then alternate)
- Serve practice (each player takes turns serving from both the deuce and ad sides)
That’s really it. For the remainder of the article, I’ll go into more detail on the warm up and how to properly perform each part of it.
I’ll also give you a few tips you can use during the warm up to make it easier for you during the match. Some players take the warm up for granted, but it’s a very important factor in gauging your opponent, court conditions and your level of play that day.
Stretching And Mini Tennis
Before you even step onto the court, it’s a wise idea to stretch. Personally, I never stretch because I never feel the need to. I’m like a gazelle who’s always ready to sprint away from an attacking lion – I just go!
But most weekend warriors and even long-time athletes like to stretch. Tennis uses all the muscles in the body so for that reason a full-body stretch is helpful.
When I was on the tennis team, we would stretch our arms, shoulders, back, hips, and legs. You also might want to warm up by doing light jogging or moving exercises before starting the “official” warm up.
Once you feel loose, you are your partner can take to the court for mini tennis. Again, mini tennis is an optional way to start the warm up; some people (like me) prefer going straight to the baseline.
If you want to begin with mini tennis, both you are your partner should stand at the service line (usually near the midline) and gently rally back and forth. If a ball comes to you in the air, just lightly volley it back.
When doing mini tennis, pay attention to your forehand and backhand form. Make sure it’s smooth and relaxed with a full follow through. Since it’s mini tennis, you’ll generally be swinging slower than normal.
Remember, mini tennis is mostly a control drill. Do mini tennis for no more than two minutes and then move back to the baseline.
Groundstroke Practice At The Baseline
Almost all professional tennis players start their warm ups at the baseline. Most people prefer to warm up this way – forgoing mini tennis.
This is not to say that professional players never do mini tennis. Most do but they’ll typically do it during practice sessions or in their pre-match warm up.
When you start this part of the warm up, it’s best to be in the middle of the court and a few feet in back of the baseline. It’s important that you hit to your partner and not try to hit winners.
When playing tennis, you’ll run into players of varying skill and levels. Some people have little control over where they hit and will spray balls during this part of the warm up.
If so, it can be difficult to establish a good rhythm. In that case, you either need to find people to play at a higher level or just cut this part of the warm up short.
Chances are you’ll win the match if your opponent has that much trouble hitting down the middle to you.
But some opponents do have good control but try to hit winners in the warm up. That’s a selfish way to warm up and doesn’t help you at all. When this happens, I’ll say something to my opponent.
If he persists in hitting to the sidelines, I’ll just say, “I’m ready to start playing – I don’t need to warm up anymore”. If my opponent insists he needs more warm up, I’ll refuse. There’s no rule that says you have to participate in a warm up.
Typically, this scenario doesn’t happen, but it can. The best warm ups are when both players can hit relaxed groundstrokes down the middle of the court.
Doing so gives you a chance to work on your forehands and backhands. You can definitely throw some slices in as well. Towards the end of this part of the warm up, feel free to hit some hard shots as well.
For me, this should be the longest part of the warm up at about 4-5 minutes. During this phase of the warm up, take note of the court conditions. Are they playing fast? What direction is the wind? Is the sun a factor and on which side?
Also, take note of your opponent. If you’re playing someone new, which side is their strength and which their weakness? For most players, their backhand is their weaker side.
Once you complete the groundstroke part of the warm up, one player will move to the net – the other can stay at the baseline. The player at the net will take volley practice.
This part of the warm up can be made better if both players hit to each other. It takes some control, but the volley player has to be skilled enough to hit volleys that can be handled by the baseliner.
It’s not uncommon for both players to make more mistakes at this point in the warm up. If so, just move on and hit another shot. When I’m on the baseline, I like to hit to both my opponent’s forehand volley and backhand volley.
I also like to give them high volleys and low volleys (close to the net). I’ll also hit directly into their body. In this way, I can gauge how good of a volley player they are and where they have a weakness.
When it’s your turn to come to net, work on practicing your volleys on both sides. Hit most of the volleys back to your opponent, but towards the end, you can direct a few volleys away from your opponent. You may also want to throw in a couple of drop volleys.
Remember, you practice like you play, so make sure you’re not being lackadaisical in your warm ups. Move your feet and volley like you would in a match.
For this part of the warm up, each player should volley for no more than two minutes.
After completing groundstroke warmup, one player will come to the net. That player will take volley practice. Before returning to the baseline to allow the other player to come up, he or she will stay at the net for overhead practice.
The player will take a couple of minutes of overhead practice and then return to the baseline. Then the other player will come to the baseline for volley practice and then overhead practice.
Once that’s done, both players can move onto the final part of the warm up, which is serve practice. I wanted to point that out to you in case you were confused.
Basically, the volley and overhead practice go in sequential order where one player practices both and then the other player practices both. I just broke them into different segments in this post to clearly illustrate the different parts of the warm up.
During the overhead part of the warm up, the net player will work only on hitting overheads. The baseline player will hit only lobs. As a baseline player, try to hit your lobs to the forehand side of the opponent.
Lobs to the backhand are too difficult for most players. Also, keep your overheads from going too short (falling right by the net) or too long (landing near the baseline). Aiming for the service line is a good idea.
You can hit lobs right off the returns – if your opponent hits in your direction. If your opponent doesn’t hit right to you, it’s fine, as overheads can be difficult to control.
When you’re at the net for overhead practice, keep your feet moving and do the best job you can at setting up early. Turn your shoulders right away and move into position to hit the perfect overhead.
I like to hit the first few overheads directly to my opponent and the last few to the corners. This gives me a good warm up on my overheads.
Once you complete the groundstroke, volley, and overhead practice, you’re ready for serve practice. At the professional level, both players hit serves at the same time.
Professional players do this to save time and because they have an unlimited number of balls with ball kids to help. But at the club level, we don’t have that luxury, so one player at a time will practice their serve.
It doesn’t matter which player goes first. Usually, the person with more balls in their pocket can start serving first.
If that’s you, start on the deuce side and hit three serves. Typically, the returner will just collect the balls without hitting them back.
The returner should then serve three serves to you – on the deuce side again. You’ll collect the balls and then the process repeats. You serve three times and your opponent will serve three times – all on the deuce side.
Once complete, both you and your opponent will switch to the ad side. Go ahead and hit three serves to your opponent. Your opponent will collect each serve and then serve three times back to you.
Repeat the process once more (so you each hit three more serves on the ad side) and then the warm up is complete. There’s no hard-fast rule saying you can’t take even more serve practice.
I’m just giving you the protocol that most tennis players go through as a ritual during warm up. After both me and my partner each take six serves on both sides of the court, I’ll always ask them if they’re ready to play.
It’s a good idea to ask your opponent this then just assuming they’re ready. Sometimes your opponent will ask you if they can serve a few more times. It’s always a good idea to let them do so, as long as it’s just a minute or two more of warm up.
Once both you and your opponent agree that warm up is complete, you’re ready to begin the match. At this point, you can spin your racket to see which player goes first in deciding whether to serve or receive.
The player who wins the toss can also forgo that decision and just choose which side they want. Whichever option the player who wins the toss decides (serve/return or side) the other player gets to choose the other.
For example, if I win the toss and elect to serve first, my opponent gets to decide which side of the court they want to return from.
However, if I win the toss and decide which side of the court I want to begin on, my opponent gets to decide if they want to serve or return first.
During the serve warm up, it’s a good idea to practice both your first and second serve. You only have six serves on each side during a traditional tennis warm up, so it’s a wise idea to hit three first serves and three second serves.
I also like to vary the placement of the serves, hitting both sides of the service box. It’s also important to take note of the sun in the day time, any wind, and the lights at night.
If the side you’re serving on is particularly bad because of the lighting or sun, do your best to start serving on the other side of the court.
During serve practice, you can also gauge how good your opponent serves to a degree. He or she might not be serving at 100% yet, but often you can get a good sense of the speed, spin, and placement you’ll be dealing with.
By the way, during serve practice, if you serve into the net, just pick the balls up and give them to your opponent to serve. If you need to take more serve practice, tell your opponent after you both take all your serves (six on each side).
Some players like to hit six consecutive serves and then give you a chance to hit six consecutive serves. That’s fine too, as there is no one set rule or way to warm up.
The main point of warm up is to loosen the body and be able to play better during the match. The total time of the warm up should not exceed 15 minutes, but if it does, there’s no penalty.
However, in tournament and league matches (or when paying a lot of money for courts), time is often at a premium. In those cases, limiting the warm ups to 10-15 minutes is essential.