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Is Tennis Aerobic or Anaerobic?

author image Sam Ashe-Edmunds
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.
Is Tennis Aerobic or Anaerobic?
A man is shaking a tennis player's hand on the court. Photo Credit Shalom Ormsby/Blend Images/Getty Images

Tennis is an anaerobic sport, played in short bursts of high-intensity activity. Depending on whether you're playing singles or doubles, whether you're a baseliner or net rusher, and generally how hard you play the game, you will reach different heart rates and burn different amounts of calories. Understanding how tennis affects your body will let you train properly for competition or create workouts that burn more calories.

Energy System

Tennis uses your body's adenosine triphosphate, creatine phosphate energy system to fuel your activity. Points generally last less than 30 seconds, keeping you well below the threshold for an activity to become aerobic. You burn primarily glycogen during points and recover frequently. This helps you improve your cardiorespiratory system so you can catch your breath sooner between points. It also helps you improve your muscles' ability to remove anabolic waste and replenish adenosine triphosphate to prepare you for the next point.

Fuel Source

Although you burn more glycogen than fat during tennis, you burn more calories than you do during activities that burn a high percentage of fat. Because you burn more calories overall, you actually burn more fat calories than during so-called fat-burning activities. To fuel your body for tennis, eat complex carbohydrates before matches and drink a high-carbohydrate sports drink during play.

Muscle Use

To make the quick movements you need to play tennis, you use more high-twitch muscle fibers than slower, low-twitch muscle fibers. This is one reason that long, steady aerobic training is not appropriate for tennis players. Sprint training works your muscles properly for tennis, uses the same energy system you'll use during a match and improves your ability to recover.


An effective way to train for tennis is to work using a work/rest ratio of 1 to 3, working very hard for 30 seconds, then taking 90 seconds to recover. Spider drills, suicides from line to line, sprints and other activities that raise your heart rate to 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate will help you build tennis stamina and endurance.


If you are a beginner or senior player who plays doubles and does not move much during your points, you heart rate may not reach sufficient levels for your match to become anaerobic. If your points are extremely short and you perform very little movement, you may not even reach your aerobic threshold of energy use during matches.

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