Unilateral Training May Be the Strength Solution Tennis Players Need

Believe it or not, strength training for tennis players wasn’t in vogue back in the 80’s, even among the professional players. John McEnroe famously avoided strength training, and to keep himself fit, he would play as many matches as possible. He got away with this because of his outworldly talent, but times have changed.

Modern tennis players look more like Carlos Alcaraz Rafael Nadal than skinny and fit John McEnroe. If you want an edge on the court, hit the gym. Strength training is essential to a professional tennis player’s routine, not just strength training. Unilateral training or training on one side of a time must be prioritized in a tennis player’s routine.


That’s what we are about to get into. If you want to improve your tennis game, this article is where to start.

The game and movements of tennis are three three-dimensional, random, explosive movements where anything can happen and usually does. Almost all tennis shots happen on one side of the body except for the two-handed forehand and backhand.

It is not unusual for a tennis player to have more well-developed arm muscles on the dominant side of the body. Although this is great on the court, it may hinder a player off the court. We’ll get into this and a few other reasons why unilateral training is necessary for the tennis player.

Major Body Movements Used In a Game Of Tennis

  • Lateral side shuffle and running: Moving side to side to hit groundstrokes.
  • Across the body/rotational movements: Hitting backhands.
  • Running Backward: Back peddling to get to a lob shot.
  • Running Forward: To get to the net for a drop shot or volley.
  • Note: Often, the above four movements are combined.

Volley & Overhead Shots

  • Forehand and backhand shots: 

Muscles Used In Tennis


Come into play as you stay low, accelerate, and decelerate, and hip extension adds pop to shots.


Both kick in as the tennis player stays low for acceleration and side-to-side movements.

Deltoids/Rotator Cuff:

Provide the strength, stability, and mobility needed for groundstrokes, serves, and volleys.


The chest muscles kick in to hit powerful forehands, backhands, and serves.

Upper Back:

This is involved in all things hitting the ball, and its strength and mobility allow for a full range of motion, better mobility, and, therefore, better shot-making.

Forearm, Biceps, and Triceps:

Forearm muscles are needed for grip strength and play a role at the end of every groundstroke, volley, and serve. A firmer grip allows for more power in the swing.

Why Tennis Players Require Unilateral Strength

Think of strength as gas in your car.

The more gas (strength) you have in your car (body), the longer you will go. Seeing tennis is a power endurance sport, having more gas in the tank is pretty handy. A good strength base is required; seeing power is a huge factor in the modern game.

Strength training is critical for tennis players because it helps build strength in the soft tissues of the tendons and ligaments. Because tennis has a lot of positive and negative accelerations on hard surfaces, players need to absorb these forces safely, and being stronger helps significantly. But not only being strong but unilaterally strong, too.

Here are a few crucial reasons tennis players should include unilateral exercises in their routine.

Better Carryover

Unilateral strength training done standing requires a transfer or shift of weight, and this shift puts a greater reliance on the glutes and posterior and anterior core to coordinate to produce and absorb force. This is required for every ground stroke, change of direction, and acceleration on the tennis court. Doing it in the gym means you’ll do better on the court.

Tennis is a hip and core-dominant sport because players must rotate through the hips with great force. Simultaneously, the core must produce and absorb force, creating a significant need for unilateral strength.

Injury prevention

Due to tennis’s physical demands and unilateral repetitive nature, targeted strength training exercises will help with injury prevention. Injuries to the shoulders and elbows are commonplace and must be addressed in their workout program. Unilateral exercises for the shoulders and elbows, such as side-lying external rotation, prone reverse fly’s, and wrist flexion and extensions using a dumbbell or a wrist roller, are needed.

Better Overall Strength

Strongness is needed with hard-hitting groundstrokes, and serves are a massive part of the modern game. The glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, chest, and upper back are all required for the player to move well and hit for power and precision. Because tennis is predominantly a unilateral sport, being powerful on both sides of the body while addressing muscle imbalances is essential.

PeopleImages.com – Yuri A

Workout Program For Tennis Players

This is for you if you want to add strength training to improve your tennis game. It’s a straightforward A and B program that you can perform two to 3 times per week to beef up your tennis game. After the warm-up, rest 90 seconds between exercises and two minutes after each tri-set and do three rounds of each tri-set. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUK0hjHz5oI&ab_channel=MomentumPerformanceTraining


1A. Foam roll: calves, glutes, hip flexors, and upper back 10 rolls of each.

1B. Dead bug: 6 reps per side

1C. Passive Leg Lowering: 10 reps per side

1D. Hip 90’90s: 10 reps per side

1E. Hip Rockers: 10 per side

1F. Spiderman with Rotation: 6 reps per side https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYVKVAbbFTM&ab_channel=EricCressey

Workout A

1A. Trap Bar Deadlifts: 4 to 8 reps

1B. Unilateral Landmine Press: 6 to 12 reps per side

1C. Wrist Roller variation: (do it till grip failure)

2A. Unilateral Dumbbell Snatch: 5 to 8 reps

2B. Seated Cable Row: 12 to 15 reps

2C. Half Kneeling Cable Chop: 8 to 12 reps per side

Workout B

1A. Landmine Cossack Squat: 8 to 10 reps per side

1B. Half Kneeling Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press: 8-10 reps per side

1C. Side-lying External Rotation: 12-15 reps per side

2A. Heels Elevated Goblet Squat: 12-15 reps

2B. 3-Point Dumbbell Row: 12 reps per side

2C. Rotational Med Ball Slams: 6 reps per side

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