SHOW NOTES AND EDITED TRANSCRIPT:
For many of the tennis players I know, tennis is not just their sport. It's also their workout. And I mean it's their only workout. Their only real, physical activity that they do on a regular basis. They're not lifting weights. They're not taking Zumba classes. They're not running races on the side. They're not even doing cardio tennis. No, for a lot of players I know and play with, they confine their workouts to playing tennis, usually doubles, a few times a week.
First, I tried to figure out how many calories I burn playing tennis myself . . .
Now, while I love tennis and think it is a wonderful way to get exercise, I don't know that it can really be considered a great workout if it's the only thing you're doing. Especially if you're hoping to use it as a workout to lose weight, increase strength and/or change your physical shape.
So let's take a look at that. First of all, we all know that, putting it very simply, to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in. I'm the first to admit, that's not the whole picture. I myself do believe there are differences in the quality of calories and some are better for you than others. But, putting that aside, let's talk about just how many calories can you or I burn playing tennis.
Just to be clear, I'm talking about the kind of tennis that I believe most of the audience of this podcast plays which is the kind of tennis I play. I'm not talking about 5 hour 5 set singles matches between 5.0 players. Rather, I'm talking about regular old club level tennis, whether singles or doubles, played by us players who are in varying states of physical condition and age. So we're not looking at what happens when Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams play tennis. We're trying to figure out what happens when you and me average Janes and Joes play tennis.
So, with that in mind, to find out how many calories we can burn playing tennis, I've done a number of things. First, I actually tracked my own calories burned using a heart rate monitor. I did this for several months, in all kinds of weather, playing mostly doubles and also doing some cardio tennis. At the time, I wasn't playing any singles so I didn't get numbers for that. But let's just say that my numbers were pretty much all over the place. I can only say that my doubles numbers came in at between 150 and 300 calories burned per hour and my cardio tennis numbers showed something like 200 to 400 calories per hour. There were just so many variables – what was the weather like, what time of day was it, how good was my partner, how many people showed up to cardio tennis. I myself couldn't come up with any number that I felt was dependable. Just a pretty big range.
I did not try tracking my calories using an activity tracker like a Fitbit because I don't have one of those. Maybe those would be more accurate and give me less of a range but right now, I don't have one so I don't know. If you're tracking your tennis on something like a Fitbit or a Jawbone or a Nike Fuel band, I'd love to hear what kind of numbers you're getting. You can leave a comment in the show notes for this episode, which you can find at tennisfixation.com/quicktips48 or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, I tried doing some on-line research into the tennis calorie burn . . .
Anyway, rather than try to guess using my heart rate monitor, I went on-line and found several sources that could tell me the calorie burn for tennis. Now, while these numbers are seemingly nice and precise, just keep in mind that, as I noted above, there can be all kinds of variables on any given day, in any given tennis match. So your numbers definitely will vary. But here's what I found on-line:
First, I looked at myfitnesspal.com. This is a website that lets you set up a profile to track your diet and exercise. I like it because it also has an iPhone app that I use and it is available for Android too. It assigns calories burned to a variety of exercises, including tennis, where it tells you these calorie burn counts for tennis:
Doubles – 300 calories per hour
Singles – 480 calories per hour
So those counts are not too terribly far off from what I came up with on my own using my heart rate monitor.
Another site that gives you calorie burn information for exercises is www.healthstatus.com. This site has a Calories Burned Calculator that gives these calorie burn counts for tennis:
Doubles – 250 calories per hour
Singles – 359 calories per hour
A third site I checked out was www.my-calorie-counter.com. This site requires that you put your weight into their calorie burning calculator so I tried weights of 125 pounds and 175 pounds and get these counts:
Doubles for 125 to 175 pound player – 341 to 477 calories per hour
Singles for 125 to 175 pound player – 455 to 636 calories per hour
So just how many calories can you burn . . .
So the range with just those three sites is, for doubles, anywhere from 250 to 477 calories burned per hour depending on your weight. And for singles, the range is 359 to 636 calories burned per hour, again depending on your weight.
Now, just to be clear, I looked at just those three sites and I did NOT look into where those sites are getting their calorie-burn information. But, if I take their information along with my own very wide-ranging readings, I come up with something like these numbers for calories burned in tennis:
Doubles – about 300 calories per hour
Singles – about 425 calories per hour
I don't think those numbers are too ridiculous and, again, they are in the ballpark of what I felt like I was getting when I tried to measure this myself.
Now that you have some idea about how many calories you can burn playing tennis, what does that tell you?
Well, what it tells me is that I'm probably not ever going to lose a lot of weight just by playing tennis. Because, although I play tennis several hours a week, my two hour doubles match probably consists of me maybe playing thirty actual minutes of tennis. I'm saying that first because, in the book Tennis Training: Enhancing On-court Performance, a book I happen to love and will link to in the show notes, the authors note:
Several studies have examined the work/rest intervals in tennis matches. For high level play, work/rest ratios have been found to range from 1:2 to 1:5. Total amount of match play has been shown to be 20 to 30 percent of the total match time [footnotes omitted].
Also, as you know, when you play a tennis match, a lot of your time is spent standing around, chatting, drinking water, walking during the changeovers, retrieving balls, etc., etc. You do not spend the entire two hours running down balls and hitting them. So at lower level, recreational play, the kind of tennis I play and I'm guessing that you probably play, these work to rest ratios might actually be worse.
But let's say these numbers are in the ballpark. What they tell me is that if I want to lose a pound a week, which would mean burning off 3,500 calories, I would have to play almost eight hours a week of singles and over ten hours a week of doubles! I don't know about you but I have this thing called a life that prevents me from playing that much tennis. Even though I'd truly love to do that.
And my conclusion is . . .
My conclusion to all of this is that, while I do love tennis as exercise, I do not think you are going to lose a whole lot of weight or get into any kind of life-changing physical shape just by playing tennis. That doesn't mean that tennis is not a great way to get a workout because it not only allows you to exercise, but it also allows you to socialize and get competitive. And I think both of those things can be missing from a simple weight lifting session at the gym or a five mile run that you do all by yourself.
By the way, all of this talk of exercise and getting into shape is also a good part of the reason I recently became certified as a Tennis Performance Trainer by the International Tennis Performance Association. The iTPA is the worldwide education and certification organization for tennis trainers, coaches and specialists who are passionate about tennis-specific performance enhancement and injury prevention. To become a Tennis Performance Trainer, I had to spend a lot of time studying about how best to get fit for and stay injury-free in tennis. And I'm hoping I can pass some of that knowledge onto regular, club-level players who may not compete at the highest levels but who want to play the best tennis they can and want to get into the best physical shape to do it.
To celebrate my Tennis Performance Trainer status, I put together a Quick Summer Tennis Fitness calendar for the month of August. Here's how it looks:
You can download a pdf copy of it by clicking here:
This calendar has a weekday workout schedule with some of my favorite simple bodyweight exercises that are perfect for improving your performance on the tennis court. I hope you'll download this calendar and follow along with me throughout the month of August as I add a little extra exercise to my usual workout schedule. I'll be posting updates and photos on my Tennis Fixation Facebook page and on my @TennisFixation Instagram account with the hashtags #tennisfitness and #summertennis. I hope you'll check in there too and let me know how you're getting and staying tennis fit.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE:
- myfitnesspal.com – this site has great counters for measuring the amount of calories you take in from the food you eat and the amount you burn off from your exercise, it also has an app for the iPhone and for Android devices
- www.healthstatus.com – this site also has a calorie burn calculator that can tell you the amount of calories burned through a variety of exercises
- www.my-calorie-counter.com – this site provides a more customized calorie burn calculator that estimates calories burned for various exercises based on your weight
- Tennis Training: Enhancing On-court Performance – a great book with incredibly detailed analysis of what it takes to properly train for high level tennis
- International Tennis Performance Association website – this website has plenty of free information available to all tennis players that can enhance on-court performance and help prevent injuries
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Thanks so much for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!
The workout calendar and exercises provided in this post are intended for educational and instructional purposes only. As with any exercise, fitness or weight loss program, you should consult with your doctor and consider any current or past health conditions or injuries before participating. No liability is accepted or assumed for injuries incurred as a result of use of the workout calendar or the exercises it contains.
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