A Guide to Shadow Tennis

BY DAVID BAILEY

What is Shadow Tennis? More importantly, how could YOU be “shadowing” differently to improve your tennis game?

Shadow Tennis is one of the oldest, most pure, and versatile exercises for improving many aspects of your tennis game. Shadow Tennis is not just swinging a tennis racket by yourself.

Shadow Tennis challenges your speed, rhythm and power, while skyrocketing your heart rate and spurring fat loss. Plus, it allows you to rack up high reps without the distraction of approaching balls to slow you down, so you can go faster and smoother for longer.

Mix forehands, backhands, volleys and overheads together in any pattern for 1- 2 minutes straight, and then rest 30 seconds. That is 1 round. Do 6 to 10 rounds with some extended breaks in between

Learn how to use Shadow Tennis in your training, warm ups and cool downs, to become a natural and more fluent player.  

WHAT IS SHADOW TENNIS?

Shadow Tennis is when a player moves around by him/herself swinging the racket at the air. Shadow Tennis is an amazing exercise for tennis players to hone their swing techniques, condition their muscles, warm-up or warm down during their workouts, or even to mentally prepare themselves before a match. Done properly and with the right goals in mind, Shadow Tennis can improve your swing technique, strength, power, speed, endurance, rhythm, footwork, attacking and rallying and defensive skills, and overall playing abilities.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SHADOW TENNIS?

 Shadow Tennis is incredibly versatile because of its freestyle nature and simplicity. You can practice anything you want without any distraction (ie: an approaching ball or an opponent trying to beat you), and take instant feedback from a mirror, coach or camera. You do not need any equipment or anybody. Shadow Tennis is quite harmless as you are not punished for making mistakes. All you need is an imagination and you can practice virtually any Footwork Moves you want. You can practice your “out steps”, your recovery steps, your contact point, your balance moves, your hitting stances and corresponding swing lines. You can even focus on a still head, racket head speed and even visualize patterns of play, playbooks and/or point routines. It is totally up to your own imagination and dedication.

The drawback to Shadow Tennis is that it not as realistic as an actual match. There is nobody for you to adjust to or no ball to react and respond too. Even if you are playing an imaginary opponent, there is a good chance this imaginary opponent is moving the way you would move and with too much predictability. Of course, playing a real opponent is always harder because he or she plays unpredictably and requires you to change your thoughts and react on the fly.

MOST TENNIS PLAYERS ARE NOT SHADOWING ENOUGH

The reason I say this is because most players do not have good movement. They may have good power and good speed, but their movement is not natural and is not relaxed. As athletically impressive as they may be, it simply does not look coordinated. I see a player huffing and puffing, sweating and grunting, simply to move his or her own body.

Rod Laver (pictured), one of the greatest players of all time, practicing shadow tennis barefoot as a teenager. Source: Unknown. 

YOU SHOULD NOT BE GETTING TOO TIRED WHEN YOU SHADOW TENNIS!

 Shadow Tennis is all about the movement. There are no distractions from having a target in front of you or an opponent to make you uncomfortable. The focus of Shadow Tennis is to get used to tennis movements. Nothing else!

Before you try hitting a hundred backhands down the line, you should first do it in with Shadow Tennis. Your arms and legs need to get used to the movement.

The feet need to get used to being wide, your body is turning as a unit automatically and the recovery steps are efficient and effective. You do this, so when you play a real match, the things that do not happen naturally are suddenly “there”.

I have also noticed a lacking in “calmness” from tennis players that do not Shadow Tennis enough. There is something different about a player that does Shadow Tennis regularly. The player looks amazingly comfortable moving around and swinging the racket as if it is their default movement…it is as natural as breathing for them.

On the other hand, a player that does not Shadow Tennis regularly (or at all) always looks like they must be “switched on” to match mode. The player who needs to be pumped up before they get on the court.  Then they get in there and they appear to be a bit too “ON”. They’re moving around too much, they’re all over the place. They’re too excited, too anxious, perhaps even too nervous. It is not natural for them to be on the toes, or split stepping or staying low.  Sure enough, they eventually get “switched off” in match play. They get tired, beaten down and go into panic mode because the tennis movements are not natural.

Shadow Tennis is the practice of committing repetitive tennis movements to muscle memory. Forget about power, speed or endurance, strategy, improvised and flashy moves, etc. It is simply the raw exercise of moving your body like a tennis pro. You might be too tired to drill or hit against the ball machine, but you can always have energy to practice moving.

It is the constant practice of developing this coordination that truly makes you a great player and makes you a natural. It is the supreme ability to move your body that develops naturalness, allows you to relax, to be efficient, to be balanced and to feel comfortable in your own body.

David Bailey, Contributing Editor

Visit Bailey Tennis Footwork

 

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