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How Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Roddick Incorporate Weight Training in Their Workout For Better Game at Court

October 16th, 2010 · 4 Comments ·


Some people believe that hitting tennis balls with racket all day long will help in performing better at the court.  No really.  If you are one of them, you may want to consider weight training.  However, most do not know whether they have done it right and where to start.  Today, let’s look at what some of the tennis stars are doing weight lifting to improve their games at the court.

Talking about tennis star and weight training, I cannot help but to mention about Rafael Nadal’s arms. It is not that Rafael Nadal has a bigger arm, just that he was always seen wearing sleeveless.  It is also true that his left arm is much more developed than his right arm.  Simple reason, because he plays lefty.  Rafael Nadal is actually not the only player with good built of body, other top ranking tennis players have toned muscles too.  It is because the sleeveless shirt that expose his arms.  When games continue to get increasingly physical, we will see more players with better built body in near future (especially when they are sleeveless or shirtless).


Rafael Nadal does not purposely do any specific exercise for his big arms. He just trains like any other tennis players will do.  Some people have this perception that having big arms will mean that they can generate powerful shot as him.  The truth is that Rafael’s workouts focus on muscle groups rather than on individual muscles.  While audience may pay attention to his toned arms, I doubt his opponents are intimidated by them.  It is much more better for his opponent to be observant on Rafael’s running direction, speed and shots.

Rafael does not spend days and nights at the gym. He trains mainly in the court, improving his shots and speed.  The other top player, Roger Federer, also spend time training in the gym.  According to Federer’s trainer, Pierre Paganini, Federer usually spend longer hours at gym during off-season when he does not have to play for big games.  Even that, the duration is not more than 10 hours a week.  So, tennis players do train in the gym, but not long hours like many have thought.


Top 10 Training Tips To Improve Your Tennis Game:

Here are 10 tips if you want to weight train for your tennis game:

  1. Do not just do dumbbell curls for your biceps.  You need to concentrate on other muscles too, especially legs, shoulders, and upper back muscles.  Do more compound workouts and not isolation workouts.  One good example will be squat and leg press for your legs.
  2. Once you finish your weight training session, grab a racket and do some swings for each of your primary strokes.  By doing do, you will ensure those muscles that are used for the training session are kept loose.
  3. Remember to cool down and then do stretching such as touching your toes and hold each stretch for at least twenty seconds.
  4. If you are a right-handed tennis player, you will probably have a better developed right side.  Not only your left hand, your left chest and shoulder may be less developed.  Muscle imbalance may cause injury and therefore it is good to do some workouts to “even out” the body.  Check out this article – How To Solve Muscle Symmetry or Muscle Imbalance Problem?
  5. When you train in gym for tennis game, what you want is the power with agility.  You have to be fast and skillful too.  So, you should do these 2 exercises which are practiced by Federer – Lateral lunge with twist and medicine ball toss.  These workouts are designed meant for tennis player.  They mimic the efforts of the body when you reach and play a shot.
    • Lateral lunge with twist – Hold an empty weight training bar on your shoulders.  You can replace it with a broom handle too (for beginner).  Step forward into a lunge and then twist to face the side, as if you are taking a shot.
    • Roger-Federer-Lateral-lunge-with-twist.jpg

    • Medicine ball toss – Stand across the net from a partner, with both of you at the singles sideline, about halfway back to the service line. Then, move quickly across the court with shuffle steps, pass a medicine ball of comfortable weight back and forth, keeping the ball at chest level. This exercise builds functional strength and help improve performance on the court.  If you can shuffle your feet while lobbing and receiving the ball, it is even better because you can develop your footwork by doing so.  If you train alone and cannot get a partner passing the ball back to you, then throw the ball to the wall as if you are doing a tennis stroke.
    • Roger-Federer-Training-Medicine-ball-toss.jpg

  6. Train with your body weight and use simple gadget like medicine ball. You do not need to try hard to bench press 350 pounds of weight because you definitely do not want to get yourself hurt, neither do you want to bulk up like Mr Universe.  It is no point to train so hard until you have sore muscles every now and then and not able to train well in the court.  What you want is power and speed and not bulky muscles.  In fact, in comparison with bodybuilders, Rafael Nadal is considered small size.  So, “muscular big arms” is a relative term. Weight training can only bring you so far.  It gives you strength and endurance, but not speed and agility.
  7. Train with the medicine ball. Another top tennis player, Andy Roddick admitted that he often uses a 10-pound medicine ball for his core muscles training.  Core muscles, which include the abdominal and lower back muscle, links the upper and lower halves of the body and therefore are one of the most important muscles for tennis players.  I was told that Andre Agassi spent about 80% of his training time on his legs and core muscles.  Quite often, tennis players have stronger abdominal muscles than back muscles.  So, make sure you train your back muscles and obliques to help in trunk rotation.
  8. You still needs to do cardiovascular exercise to build stamina.  You need to jump rope, jog, and cycle too.  Do distance running and sprints.  If you do not have much time, focus more in power-speed type running drills.  Run for 30 to 40 meter and then rest for about 20 seconds.  This 20-second interval mimic what you normally experience between points in the tennis game.  You will train your body to recover from that interval.
  9. Speaking about rope jumping, tennis player should do that often as it increases endurance and leg strength.
  10. As for the secrets to recovery, Rafael does stretching after each match.  Getting enough rest is equally important.  Federer actually sleeps about 10 hours at night. Yes, it is quite extended but for a champion like him.  He needs more rest to recuperate.  Professional players also have a team helping them – they have fitness trainers and physiotherapist traveling along with them in tournaments.


When the muscles are hidden under the shirt, you can’t really tell Rafael has big arms.


Roger Federer taking a shot with his agile stride.


Roger Federer goes shirtless during his training.


Andy Roddick with muscular forearms


Shirtless Andy Roddick in action.


(Left) Pete Sampras, one the greatest tennis players of all time, with sleeveless shirt in one of his exhibition games year 2009.  (Right) Pete Sampras in action in the late 90s.


  • As for diet, just like Michael Phelps (swimming star), Rafael does not really control what he eat.  In fact, he sometimes eat lots of chocolate and other junk foods.  As for Roger Federer, while he is on the road for tournament, he will control his food intake.  Once he is back to Switzerland with his wife and kids, he does not watch his diet too much and he just wants to eat anything because he wants to give himself a treat.
  • As for drink, unless you are playing like these professional tennis players, water will be good enough.  You often see Roddick drinking electrolyte infused water during the games.

Remember that tennis is not all about being the strongest player, but the one with the functional strength, skill, agility, speed and power.  No doubt, big strong arms give you the power to hit the ball harder, but every shot involves the entire body.

Check out these 2 videos on how Rafael Nadal trains at his home gym:

Pay attention how he does his stretching and rope jumping.

You may notice that he is using Power Plate.

Try some of the workouts above and I hope that you will have a better game next time!




Category: Weight Training

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4 responses so far ↓
  • Jodi // Oct 18, 2010 at 9:28 PM

    What a great article! I’m a huge tennis fan and enjoy playing, as well. I love their use of the medicine ball!

    Fantastic piece. Thank you!

  • Kim // Oct 19, 2010 at 1:21 AM

    I think this was a fantastic topic to touch on. I love tennis, and although I am not a fantastic player, I always wondered about the different techniques that players used to keep in shape. Not only do I have my question answered, but I now have more moves to add to my routines. thank you.

  • Fadhli // Oct 19, 2010 at 10:01 AM

    Yup.. Tennis is definitely one of those sport which you can build your muscle up… Swimming is one of the best too.. These sports will be more fun to do compare to the daily boring routines in the gym..

  • FitnessExpert // Oct 20, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    Wonderful article. I really like the way that Nadal has developed his muscles and the way that Federer maintains his lean frame.

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