Breathing is taught in so many other activities such as yoga and martial arts, so why is it not taught as being important in tennis? I feel that breathing properly is a huge part of the bigger issue of being relaxed when we play and very important in the search for playing in the zone.
Do you really know why relaxing helps us play better? When you relax your muscles, you are turning over control of your movements to your other than conscious mind. Trust me when I say that your other than conscious mind knows far better than you do as to how to hit the ball. Relaxing your upper body through breathing also helps to make your strokes feel easier and so much more flowing, which leads to fewer errors.
Proper breathing also has benefits other than to help us be relaxed with our strokes. For example, have you ever been out of breath and realized that you had not had to run for the ball? With proper breathing you can increase your endurance overnight.
Okay, so now that you know that breathing is important, how do you do it? First let me tell you how not to do it. It is not how Sharapova does it. Nor is it done loud enough for anyone to hear. In my opinion, even the pros don\\\’t breath properly as I hear many of them exhaling very tensely and/or grunting. That way is too loud and tense.
I spent years experimenting with just about every possible combination of breathing before I discovered what I consider to be the best way to breathe when hitting a tennis ball. Here it is.
Start your exhale before, as, or just after the ball bounces on your side as the ball is coming to you. This exhale should be a sigh that is long, slow, and relaxed and should continue well through contact with the ball. You don\\\’t have to concern yourself with your inhales as I guarantee that you will do it.
Exhaling just before you hit is a very natural way to breathe, so all you have to do is start your exhale before you hit the ball, make it smooth and relaxed, and make it longer than usual. It doesn\\\’t get any easier than that.
When you are at net you will notice that your breathing will have to be a little shorter. You will need to start your exhale it just before the ball hits your opponents racket and allow it to continue through your hit. Do this, and you may see some amazing things happen with your volleys.
When your opponent is at net, it is also a little trickier because, like when you are at net, the ball is coming back sooner than normal, and you will have to start your exhale before you make contact with the ball. This means that your breathing will be a little shorter than a ground stroke.
The breathing will be a little different on your return of serve. You should be starting to exhale just before your opponent hits the ball. But the exhale is still a long, relaxed sigh and continues well through your hit. This way your upper body has a better chance to stay relaxed, even when your body has to move quickly to react. This is especially important when playing someone with a big serve.
When you are serving you will also start the long relaxed exhale before you make contact with the ball. The ideal time to start your exhale is just after you release the ball on the toss. And again, continue to exhale well through contact.
Again, while you are working with your breathing, you still need to be focusing on the ball. However, you may want to forget about seeing the ball for a while and just work on the breathing part. After you have spent some time with the breathing you must then see if you can do both at the same time. Achieving both the correct breathing and seeing the ball at the same time, and without judgment, is the ultimate focus and leads to playing in the zone.
One of the ways I help myself pay attention to my breathing is to make a little sound open (always a relaxed sigh) as I exhale. It is not a grunt, and no one else can hear me, but it is loud enough for me to hear.
The important point to remember is that no matter what shot you are hitting, the exhale should always be very relaxed, like a sigh, and should be started before making contact with the ball and continue at long past contact.
Breathing was the last part of the inner game core principles that I worked on. I didn\\\’t work on it very much in the beginning because I just could not let go enough to focus on both breathing and seeing the ball. However, once I did get serious about doing both, my game started to really improve.
Doing both is not easy. In fact, many of my students say that the breathing part is the hardest of all the of the core principles. It takes a lot of work and a lot of letting go. Please don\\\’t let that keep you from working on your breathing. The benefit you will receive from proper breathing will be well worth it.