How do I start playing tennis? And what are the health benefits?
Wimbledon has finally arrived which means the great British summertime is in full swing.
Over the next fortnight, superstars like Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova will compete to be crowned champion of lawn tennis.
And should you find yourself caught up in Wimbledon fever as you watch on TV, then maybe it’s time to pick a racket and start playing tennis yourself.
Tennis is a fantastic all-over body workout, a chance to boost your brain power and is brilliant fun too.
Who can do it?
“Tennis suits all ages and abilities – from four-year-old kids who play mini tennis (with smaller courts and rackets, and lighter balls) to 90-year-olds still playing the full version of the game,” says Sam Richardson, programmes manager at the Lawn Tennis Association.
“You’ll make a whole new group of friends if you join a club,” Richardson continues. “I’ve been playing for 30 years and I love the competitive side of tennis. Keep the game up and you’ll keep improving, so you can challenge yourself.”
What are the fitness gains?
When you start playing tennis, your body is challenged to a full workout which makes the sport a great fat burner – you can torch around 400 calories an hour on the court. “It gives an entire-body workout,” says Richardson.
“You work your upper body, core and legs as you sprint, jump and lunge to reach your shots. Most beginners are off balance when they hit the ball, so I work on that first,” says Richardson.
“There’s been lots of research into the benefits of tennis for the brain, too” he adds. “You learn to anticipate your opponent’s moves and their weaknesses and need to be able to read the incoming ball.
“So I encourage people to think about where they need to be on court to make their shot. Plus you’re constantly making decisions during the game – skills that can help you in everyday life.”
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Where do I start playing tennis?
To find somewhere to play, log on to the Lawn Tennis Association website and type in your postcode to find courts local to you. There is also an option to find people of a similar standard to play with so you can challenge them to matches.
If you don’t fancy a tennis match but want to get fit, try cardio tennis. This fitness class focuses on moving and burning calories rather than tennis technique. “It’s a mix of all types of exercises, so for example, you’ll hit a ball (it doesn’t matter where it goes) then drop down into squats,” Richardson says.
What kit do I need?
“All you need is a racket – and you can pick those up quite reasonably for around £10 to £20,” says Richardson.
Forget tennis whites, most clubs will let you play in regular sports kit; if you’re playing on a public court in the park, leggings or shorts and trainers will do.
The beauty when you start playing tennis is that you don’t have to be super fit to play, as it can be adapted to all levels. For example, you can play on a smaller court, using lighter balls.
“I see people struggling to play with yellow balls, the same type Murray and Nadal use which are heavy with a high bounce,” says Richardson. “Green or orange are slower and softer, so there’s more chance of hitting them and starting a rally.”
“The more you play and the better you get, you’ll probably want to invest in a pair of tennis shoes which give you more stability. These cost around £40 to £50,” advises Richardson.
If you want to join a club, an average membership costs from £120 per year – less than most monthly gym fees. And when you’ve caught the tennis bug, stick at it.
“Tennis isn’t just for summer, it’s a year-round sport,” says Richardson. “Floodlit and indoor courts allow you to play in the winter, too.”
So there’s no reason to stop at the end of Wimbledon fortnight – your body and brain will thank you for it.