You may be surprised that we have to discuss breathing in relation to tennis since we all breathe all the time; don’t we?
And yet, in practice, you may be holding your breath in different stages of playing and therefore holding back your best performance as well.
While this article explains how you need to breathe properly while playing tennis, we need to look at different underlying reasons why you don’t breathe properly in the first place so that you can become aware of the deeper issues that need to be resolved, too.
There are three main situations during play when you may hold your breath:
1. Holding your breath when you’re about to hit the ball
As you suddenly hold your breath as you’re swinging towards the ball, you’re also suddenly “holding” your arm from swinging smoothly since you’re creating tension/tightness in your body.
You may hold your breath for different reasons, but the ones I know of are:
(Note that in reality very little strength is needed to bounce a 59-gram ball off your racquet. The problem exists only in your mind and not in reality.)
2. Holding your breath as you’re observing your shot and/or your opponent
If I tell you to pay attention to the video below, you’ll unconsciously hold your breath as you’re observing what’s happening.
The same happens on the court as you’re observing your shot and observing your opponent in anticipation of what will happen next; you’re unconsciously holding your breath.
That’s why you’re soon going to run out of breath (oxygen), start to lose energy, and very likely go for a risky shot just to end the rally and get a chance to catch your breath.
Remember: attention causes tension because we hold our breath and for that we need to tense up our core muscles.
You must learn to override this instinctive reaction of the mind/body connection if you want to play higher level tennis.
3. Breathing shallowly after the point is over
If the point you played affected you emotionally, you’ll also not breathe to your lungs’ fullest potential.
Getting irritated, angry, disappointed, frustrated, and so on will cause different breathing responses.
Try to imagine or recall these emotional states and observe your breath. You’ll see how it changes and how it’s not deep and rhythmical.
If you’re staying in those emotional states for too long, you’re losing the opportunity to enrich your lungs and body with oxygen which you need to help you play longer rallies and longer matches.
You may also be thinking and analyzing the previous point too much; as you pay so much attention in your mind to the previous point, you’re breathing shallowly again.
Now that you’re more aware of the reasons why breathing becomes shallow and why we even hold our breath sometimes, you’ll most likely breathe better already.
Here are the key points to keep in mind to improve your game even more when it comes to breathing in tennis:
1. Exhale as you’re hitting the ball
Your exhale should be long for groundstrokes and serves and just naturally shorter for volleys and overheads.
A good way to practice is to start exhaling slightly early – immediately as you’re beginning your forward swing towards the ball.
Your breath should also last for a while after you make contact with the ball. Don’t release all breath as you hit the ball.
Hit the ball in the middle of your exhale, half of it happening before contact and half after contact.
I am certain your groundstrokes and serves will improve more with this breathing technique than they did with the last mechanical instruction you tried to apply to your strokes.
2. Maintain a steady rhythm of breathing between strokes in the rally
Tennis is similar to running and hitting some strokes in between.
(And yes, lots of decelerations and accelerations when it comes to point play, but for a free hitting session, it’s fairly comfortable to move between shots.)
Try to get the rhythm of breathing between strokes as the ball is leaving you and also as it’s approaching you.
This may be more challenging than it seems because your attention to the ball and your opponent will instinctively make you hold your breath.
I suggest you practice in easy conditions first by just rallying with your partner down the middle and seeing if you can establish a nice rhythm of breathing.
Then ask your partner to move you around the court and see if you can achieve the same calm and steady rhythm of breathing.
3. Recover after each point with a few deep breaths
The first thing you need to do after each (longer) rally is to resupply your lungs with oxygen as that will give you the energy you need for future points.
Take a few deep breaths as you walk around the court until you feel you’re almost back to normal breathing.
Remember, in a real match, you have only 20 seconds in between points, so you need to recover quickly (in about 10 seconds) before you start preparing for the next point.
In summary, proper breathing as you play tennis is another often overlooked skill that you need to master if you want to get to the next level.
Being able to exhale smoothly (a full, long exhale) as you hit the ball can do wonders for the consistency of your strokes as it will also smooth out your stroke and get rid of little jerky movements that caused problems in the first place.
And now that you’ve come to the end of the article, you can take a deep breath again as paying attention to all this information surely made you breathe very shallowly. 😉