"I think taking just as much time for regeneration as you do for practice is the key to being healthy all the time," said Daniela Hantuchova. Photo: Alex Livesey
TORONTO (CP) - It's hard to resist getting on the courts after watching your favourite tennis players duel it out in tournaments around the world. But pros say that while tennis may be the perfect answer to your fitness needs, too much of the sport may force you to take a seat on the sidelines.
"Tennis is a wonderful way to get fit and meet new people," said Karl Hale, a tennis coach and the tournament director for the Rogers Cup taking place in Toronto.
"But people don't realize that playing too much, or with the wrong technique, can cause injuries."
He suggests that those starting out join a local club where they can take group lessons to learn basic techniques and get a handle on the sport.
"It's important that you don't develop bad habits when you first start playing," said Hale. "Because that's where most of the injuries like tennis elbow and back or ankle injuries come from."
He said that he tells his clients to start off by playing twice a week, in order to "give your body time to adjust." After a month or so, you can increase your playing time to three or four days a week on the courts if you want to keep improving.
Hale considers tennis to be perfect for people looking for a sport that can help them maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially if they alternate a few days on the court with a few sessions at the gym.
"Tennis is one of those sports which you can play from when you're eight to 80," said Hale. "It's something which you can continue for the rest of your life. Seniors tennis is very big right now," he added.
Despite the intense daily training regime of tennis pros like Daniela Hantuchova, who's ranked 10th in the world on the WTA Tour, she agrees that those new to tennis should take it slow.
"When I started playing, I would only play two days a week," said Hantuchova, 24, who began playing when she was six, and now plays most days of the week.
Currently, she follows a strict schedule, common to most players at her level, of hitting for four to five hours a day followed by a 90-minute session in the gym. Because of the immense strain on her body, she tries to gives herself a day or two off a week to allow her body to "regenerate."
"I think taking just as much time for regeneration as you do for practice, is the key to being healthy all the time," she said.
"Most of it comes down to staying positive and being at balance with yourself--I think that can really help to prevent a lot of injuries."
For ninth seeded Nadia Petrova, who is on the schedule for the Rogers Cup this week, a lot of it comes down to knowing how far you can push your body.
"We get injured all the time, because we push our bodies too far," said the Russian tennis star. "I think in many sports it's like that where people just take their bodies for granted."
"There are some days when we have just finished a three- to four-hour match, you are really sore and the last thing you really want to do is go out on the court again."
"That's when you have to know what to eat, remember to stay hydrated and sleep--that is really the best way to recover."
While some professional players have the luxury of having physiotherapists, trainers and massage therapists with them while they're on tour, the average player has to rely on common sense, and a few introductory lessons.
"If you know how to hit the ball properly, chances are you won't injure yourself," said Hale. "And once you get the hang of it, don't overdo it on the court."
Tips from tennis pros on how to get fit and stay healthy on the courts:
Take lessons to learn proper techniques
Play with friends to keep it social
Maximize time on the courts
Eat proper/nutritious food
Start out by playing two days a week
Allow body to get used to movements
Give body some time to rest
Maintain a positive outlook
Wear proper tennis gear, shoes