Britney Spears Showed Off Her Tennis Skills on Instagram—Here's Why It's a Great Workout
It seems like Britney Spears is always in motion, and she's no stranger to posting her active pursuits on Instagram—workouts, handstands, impromptu dancing, you name it. Her latest activity? Hitting the court for a casual tennis match.
"Just a little game of tennis with my man!!! Not professional, but it’s really fun," she wrote in her caption. In just two sentences, she makes a great point: You don't have to be a Grand Slam hopeful to get outside and hit a tennis ball around. And not only is it fun, but it can also be a great workout.
For one, tennis is an excellent cardio workout, says exercise physiologist and ACE-certified trainer Pete McCall, CSCS, host of the All About Fitness podcast. It gets your heart rate up, which is important for keeping your cardiovascular system healthy and improving endurance (and that goes beyond the court, too) .
Research has looked at the heart rate-boosting powers of tennis, too. A research review on the health benefits of tennis. Taking those 17 studies into account, they found that the mean heart rate ranged from 70 to 90 percent of maximum heart rate, concluding that the intensity during singles tennis is high enough to be considered moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise.
Of course, how high your heart rate gets depends on factors like how hard you're playing and your overall fitness level, and max heart rate varies by person. But if you're working hard, there's definite cardiovascular benefits to taking up tennis.
What sets tennis apart from other workouts, though, is the agility and reactivity training you get from hitting the ball back and forth. "That's what a lot of fitness programs don't have—you're not reacting to the movements," says McCall. "In tennis, you don't always know where the ball is going to be, so you have to work a lot harder to identify where the ball is and get your body there."
This makes tennis a body and brain workout. "To be able to change directions means you can control your center of mass over your base of support, and agility means you're doing that in a moving context—agility's a lot like dynamic balance," says McCall.
And working on this comes in handy in other workouts and daily life. Say you're going for a run and you dodge to avoid a puddle, or you're walking down the street and you have to quickly get out of a biker's way. Working on agility and reactivity means you're less likely to fall or tweak something in the process, because your muscles are ready to move in different directions quickly when they need to (and your brain can efficiently send them the message to do so).
Plus, if you're playing on an outdoor court, getting some fresh air can be a great way to boost your mood, and it's also a great activity to try with friends. So, physical, mental, and social health benefits: check, check, and check.
Of course, it's important to note that there are a few risks involved with tennis. Since you are making quick side-to-side movements and pivoting in different directions based on where the ball is going, there's definitely a possibility of sprains and strains, especially of the ankle variety. That's why it's important to include a dynamic warm-up, says McCall, to prep your muscles for the work they're about to do.
Incorporating lower-body strength training in your other workouts can also help you avoid injury, he says. He's a fan of moves like lateral band walks, which work your glutes and your inner and outer thighs-which all helps you move safely and effectively around a court.
Since tennis is often an outdoor sport, it's also important to stay hydrated if you're playing in the heat.
You've also probably heard of "tennis elbow" before, which occurs when the tendons in your elbow become inflamed from being overworked. While it's not just caused by playing tennis, it's the result of repeated contraction of the forearm muscles, according to Mayo Clinic. This is a pretty frequent arm motion in tennis, hence the name. It's generally an overuse injury that develops over time, but if it does happen to you, it can usually be treated with ice and rest.
If you're playing it safe, though, tennis can be a great activity to take up as an adult. All you need is a court, which are free in many public parks, some tennis balls, and a simple racket. "No need to break the bank—just buy a decent, entry-level racket that you can have fun with," says McCall.
Once you're ready to hit the court, setting realistic expectations is key. Instead of counting points, maybe you set a goal of trying to hit the ball back and forth five or six times, he says. What's important is that "you're outside, you're doing something fun, and you're with other people, and it's a completely different way to move your body," says McCall.
And in honor of Britney Spears, feel free to yell out "Hit me baby one more time" before the final serve.