Small Ball Warm-up?

Many players start a match by standing on the service line and like to use the “small ball” warm-up on court as the match is just starting.  What do you feel about that?  Thoughts on that and a “medical update” follow.

The Benefit

I believe the basic concept is to warm up the eye/hand coordination and to get you watching the ball as the match is getting ready to start.  Therefore, it is not so much a PHYSICAL warm up as it is a MENTAL warm up.

If I had a good warm-up on a wall or even just some pre-match calisthenics, I find I don’t need this; but I will politely accommodate an opponent who wants to use it.

I just started experimenting with using the green dot ball for just this first few minutes of on-court warm-up.  While many of my friends are not comfortable with it, I think it does provide a better stroke to practice in that drill.

What do YOU think… are you a Small Ball warm up player?

Medical Update

My appointment with the cardiologist (Dr. Santos, Brown U grad) was Wednesday morning at 11.  After all the “new patient” paperwork being completed, I was escorted by pretty, young Nurse Kelsey (who plays tennis with her 72 year old father every week) back to an examining room.

After weighing in and taking my blood pressure, she also checked my heart rate… which stopped her in her tracks at 38 beats/minute.  She then hooked me up for an EKG, which I told her was going to be “funny” and showed her the one I carry in my wallet for that very reason.

After a full 15 minutes of down time, Dr. Santos finally came in and apologized for keeping me waiting.  It seems he and his partner were debating my situation.  Nothing to do with why I was there (my 1,491 Calcium score); but due to my low heart rate, his partner wanted to “admit me immediately and install a pacemaker”!!

Slow Heart Rate

Dr. Santos talked him out of it; saying if I got any lower, then that would be in order.  And told me that my “funny EKG” has gotten “even funnier” since last time it was done. (For the medical techies, I have AV Block/second degree/ Type 1 … which means that the signals to make my heart beat don’t all get through.  But the Mayo clinic says, “A resting heart rate slower than 60 beats a minute is normal for some people, particularly healthy young adults and trained athletes. For them, bradycardia isn’t considered a health problem.”)

But we moved onto my Calcium issue and the doctor told me that he also has an abnormally high score (due to his having diabetes) and he lives with that.  And even though his specialty is doing catheterizations (which has a 1% complication rate), he would recommend our doing “non-invasive testing” first.

Next Steps

After a good discussion of the pros and cons (I really liked him and his style and gave him a copy of my book to get him back playing tennis), I agreed to schedule the other tests.  So in three weeks, I go back for…

  • A treadmill nuclear stress test followed by…
  • An echocardiogram,
  • And then get fitted for the latest in heart monitor patches (to be worn for three days)

Then the first week of December, I go back to meet with Dr. Santos to review all the results.  If I pass all three tests, I believe he says, “goodbye and good luck.”  But if there are any questions raised, we will then have a heart catheterization to look inside.

In the meantime, I was cleared to “live my normal life” and play tennis (and I made it onto the court for my 1 p.m. start time at The Strand!).  Upon leaving, he said, “Thanks, you made my day by giving me something interesting to think about!”

“Every cloud has it’s silver lining” (for somebody).  🙂

Any comments/experiences are welcome.

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27 thoughts on “Small Ball Warm-up?

  1. I prefer “small ball warm up” to allow my focus on footwork, shoulder turn, racquet in front, keep eye focus on contact point for a Federer moment in slow motion. Hard to think of all those things on first shots being hard, baseline to baseline shots.
    Also, even with good physical warm up before going on the court, my wrist appreciates the gradual increase in shock starting with low speed balls hit back low speed.

    Winder, easing into physical activity is surely smarter than jumping in. thanks, george

  2. George , have you ever measured how many breaths you take per minute ?
    Conventional wisdom tells us that respiratory rate of 12 -20 breaths per minute is “Normal”- When the breath slows to below 10 breaths a minute amazing things start happening to the human mechanism. One thing that happens when respiratory rate Per minute drops below 9 …. the resting heart rate drops dramatically :… the entire system simply becomes much more efficient ….

    Marc, are you saying that breathing less is good or bad? george

  3. Breathing less breath per minute Not just good ….. more like AMAZING for us and the way our bodies function the most efficient ….. there’s research that when breaths are only 6 per minute some really crazy stuff start to happen …. 1 example sleep requirements and duration .

    Marc, ok, i will stop breathing and live longer! 🙂 thanks, george

  4. hahahaha don’t stop but seriously this is scientifically proven….so it would be good for you to check as this directly relates to your resting heart rate.
    we don’t hear much about these type of things do we?
    as you said…we treat symptoms…not causes.
    Fro some reason the narrative has become that that we are all “broken” in some way …. the human mechanism is the MOST sophisticated mechanism on the planet… we still know very little about it actually…. even with all our “scientific advancements”

    Marc, i agree. thanks, george

  5. I like a short ball warm up. As said before I work on watching the ball hit my strings (one of my weaknesses), moving my feet to getting the exact distance from the ball (another thing that always needs work) and exaggerate my follow thru to stretch out my arm, shoulders, back, legs etc. I really don’t like to talk during this warm up but have been known to get sloppy and end up in a conversation. Good socially bad for tennis.

    I love reading the medical reports. I was playing a tennis tournament in Palms Springs 2 yrs ago this January and kept having chest pain. ( I had had periodic chest pain before and had gone in to do a treadmill. Was told everything was fine.) I felt felt like I was getting weaker each match till in the fourth round I could barely move my legs. Basically just walked thru match. I chalked it up to playing 3 singles matches in a row and 2 going 3 sets. Couldn’t be my heart. I was 6 ft and 180 lbs and in good shape. Next morning letting the dog out I had serious chest pain and weak arms. Called ambulance. Long story short 100% blockage of widow maker and 3 other main arteries 80-90% blocked. Quadruple bypass. Dr still doesn’t believe I was playing tennis day before. Good news it took about 1 1/2 yrs but playing well again. Wish I had read some of these stories sooner.

    Randy, i am glad you are here to be able to tell us your story!! thanks, george

  6. I prefer to start at the baseline then come in. The small ball warm up seems artificial to me, since we hardly ever volley that way in a match. Professional players never do it. But I agree to do it if my opponent wants to.

    Dan, exactly how i feel! thanks, george

  7. I never used to do it, but I’ve started warming up just behind the service line, and treating the opponents service line as their baseline for my initial warm-up. I concentrate on my split-step, my spacing to the ball, and watching the ball through contact.

  8. If it is a tournament with a five-minute warm-up time, then forget the shorts. If it is not , then I like to do the shorts in singles about 10 feet back from the net standing inside the doubles alley and hitting easy shots back and forth with player in the opposite doubles alley (one at left side of court and other at right side of court), then after a few shots do a half moon rotation getting to the other side of the court while other player is also moving to the opposite side of the court. Gives some cross-court practice while warming up.

    Jim, interesting variation. thanks, george

  9. A tennis buddy who is older than I is now stuck in Hawaii. We like after a match to do this drill. We stand in or close to an alley and rally trying to keep the ball inside the alley. That is not easy and reminds me how hard it is to hit down the line winners. Hopefully it has improved my down the line shots.

    I recently, from reading your stuff, told my Doctor I wanted the calcium test. He said healthy as I am, I don’t need it. Just read a book “Less medicine more health” that is great on this subject. Since the test can’t hurt me unless I over react to bad numbers, I’ll do it. George, make sure you go slow as advised by the book.

    Dick, who do you know was “as healthy” as Fred Drilling or Evert Jonsson?? Yes, i will take it as slow as my habits allow. thanks, george

  10. I personally dislike the small ball warm up because 99% of the partners I play cannot do it properly. They hit “to me”, too hard, without enough spin and the balls always land around my feet or in a place where it ends up being a half volley.

    If the pros do the T line warmup (which is rare) they hit super relaxed and super slow where the ball lands half way to the service box. I prefer to do a very slow baseline rally, almost slow motion and then ramp up the speed. For hand eye ball coordination, I think volley-to-volley from mid-way in the service box is more appropriate than ground strokes.

    Yes, if your warm up partner does it wrong, it is less than worthless! thanks, george

  11. I have always had a low resting pulse of about 47. In July, I started feeling a bit lightheaded, tired, and short of breath. I went to my internal medicine doctor in Minneapolis. He had me do a ZIO heart monitor test, which showed some arrhythmia’s, no A-Fib, but the lowest recorded heart rate was 22 bpm !

    I then went to a Cardiologist who had me do another 7 day ZIO monitor (lowest heart rate this time of 33 bpm), 2 EKG’s, and an echocardiogram and ALL of these showed that I was in Atrial Fibrillation all the time.

    The doctor strongly recommended a pacemaker and felt a pacemaker is a safer approach for me than starting with medications or an ablation to deal with the A-Fib, due to my low heart rate. Medications can be tricky to balance and tend to lower pulse which could be a bigger risk for me starting with such a low pulse.

    Therefore, I had the pacemaker implanted on August 18th. The pacemaker itself does not cure A-Fib but keeps me at a minimum of 50 bpm. It also has a rate-responsive feature that senses activity (like tennis) and increases the heart rate for someone with a lower HR (Bradycardia) and therefore you get more oxygen and feel better while exercising.

    We came to Fl on September 10th. I started meds for A-Fib then had a cardioversion shock which put my heart back into sinus rhythm and it has remained in rhythm so far. I am playing tennis 3-4 times per week and continuing to feel stronger.

    As I talk with our tennis friends here, I can’t believe how many have had or are dealing with A-Fib.

    After hearing about you and Evert and others on your blog, I got a calcium test recently and my score was 97.

    Tom, good stuff… especially the low calcium score. After our talk today, i ordered a Garmin wrist heart monitor! thanks, george

  12. Not to insult anyone here, but my experience is that people who don’t like warming up “short court” aren’t doing it right. As George points out, it is more of a mental, get the blood flowing warmup. Over focus on the ball, happy feet, feel the ball on your strings. Obviously, if you have hit against the wall, you did short court with the wall as your opponent and may not need to oblige your match opponent. I also have the issue of needing to loosen up my wrist before hitting those hard deep balls from the opponent who wants to “win the warmup”.

    For those who think it is only for “girly men”, none other than Roger Federer usually starts short court, if only for a couple of minutes. Locally, Pavel Slozil, Emilio Sanchez and the entire ASC Academy student population, and most of the players in the Naples Pro League start out this way. But, to each his own.

    As for the other topic, I have three stents, two in my LAD widow maker, but I have no idea what my calcium number is. That is now at the top of the list for my next visit to the cardiologist. If the hardest working player on the senior circuit, Evert Jonsson, can be laid up by this problem, we all need to put it on our list of concerns. I also have a low pulse rate (high 30’s at night to low 50’s during the day), which can sometimes correlate to higher blood pressure to move more blood at those slower rates. Bottom line, the cardiologists should become our best friends in order to keep us on the court.

    Good luck, George.

    Jim, the health lesson for all of us: be aware and be tested. thanks, george

  13. George-
    I really like your doctor from Brown….very conservative in his thinking…one step at a time….you really don’t want a pacemaker, if you can avoid it. I had an ablation….made a huge difference for me…..but my heart rate is still slow, which I think is fine…..we athletes seem to have that slow rhythm.

    John, i’m hopin’. thanks, george

  14. Thanks, Marc. Didn’t see anything significantly more impressive with the _Nature_ abstract. But, if *those* folks find it of interest, then I shall keep an eye on it. 🙂

  15. I once thought a short-ball warmup was boring and for girlie-men. But I’ve come to appreciate it more with time. It’s great for improving hand-eye cooridination and helping you really focus on seeing the ball. And practicing some of those soft little drop volleys and half-volleys can come in handy during the match. Naturally, the time spent on this part of the warmup should be appropriate to the time constraints and preferences of the players.

    Thanks for all the discussion on heart issues. It’s been helpful and informative. I plan to discuss some of the diagnostics with my primary care physician when I meet with her for my annual check-up next month…..if I can survive till then!

    Jerry, i think there are some lessons we can all take to heart and learn from. thanks, george

  16. I like the short court warmup, but, the other player needs to have good control & “ buy in.”
    I focus on the footwork needed to create space, vary spin & “feel “ the ball on the strings.
    Standing just beyond service line offers opportunity to develop a variety of shots: half volley, controlled volley to volley & dipping spin )And George, I know you have seen me use the wide angle shot with heavy spin to pull opponents off court on short ball landing near the service line.
    Glad to hear your med report was , overall, good news.Thought you played well on Monday at Wilderness!

    Walt, i have actually practiced using a drill for that soft, angled cross court roller! thanks, george

  17. For me, “small ball” or what I like to call mini-tennis is a great warm-up before playing a match or doing drills. It’s great for improving your feel, footwork and reaction time. When playing mini-tennis, the focus should be to keep the action going for a reasonable amount of time—say 5 or 10 minutes without missing many shots. The technique should involve trading shots with your partner which must remain within the respective service boxes. Practice hitting topspin, underspin, or flat, just not with pace. The key difference is that the backswing is abbreviated. A good drill to try is where you must hit all of your shots crosscourt and your partner’s shots must all go down the line. Great for footwork,
    quickness and touch. Since min-tennis doesn’t involve hard hitting, it allows players to loosen up muscles and joints to help prevent injuries down the road.

    Glenn, that is what makes horse racing. Thanks. George

  18. Glenn Morse gave the best description/purpose of mini-tennis. The first time I heard of mini-tennis was in 1975, when as a young man, I got a summer job, working for Peter Burwash,  as a tennis instructor in Canada. Peter firmly believed that mini-tennis was a must for a minimum of 10 minutes before play. Since that summer, mini-tennis has been ingrained in my practice routine. While I never imposed it on tournament opponents, I try to get  to the courts 15 minutes before the match to stretch and play mini-tennis with my partner. 
    Heart Health.
    In 2011, I had my first heart attack driving home after playing tennis. I was feeling progressively worst and decided to drIve to a fire house for help. That decision may have saved my life, as they got me on time to the ER.
    I was in denial because up to that time, I had Zero Symptoms, and yearly check ups at Mayo Clinic, where they did all the non evasive tests. I was told every time that I was ok. I now believe that because we are in good shape, those tests are useless.
    Five bypasses later, which I survived only because of my excellent physical condition, my advice to all is to request an angiogram and/or CT calcium scan, which inexplicably doctors are reluctant to do, until a catastrophic event.
    My advice to all is, if you are 65 plus, to insist on taking those tests before its too late. Anything else is inadequate, because your doctor cannot see anything until he can actually go in with a camera and take a look. I am still in good shape and playing tennis 3 or 4 days a week, but I could have had a “ widow maker” nine years ago.

    Guy, one thing we all have to learn is to NOT be passive, but be proactive! Thanks. George

  19. George,

    Being in the healthcare business for over 50 years, I obviously love your medical reports and information. I also have a low heart rate (42) and get funny looks every time I get it measured. However, this does not alarm my primary physician. Although I don’t know the exact number on my calcium test, I was told it was “moderate.” After hearing all the medical updates from your and your tennis buddies, I will try and find out the exact number. Thanks for sharing all this information. A well-informed person is usually a more healthier person.

    Larry, stay well! george

  20. I’m a short court fan if the other player is cooperative. It’s good for getting the feet moving, watching the ball onto the strings, and brushing up on the ball. As for your new doc, sounds like a winner. “First, do no harm.” Invasive tests like an angiogram can be useful when warranted, but they’re called “invasive” for a reason. Here’s a good discussion of the pros and cons:

    Joe, thanks for the added info. george

  21. My resting pulse is consistently in the low 40s. It has been all my life. I often get funny looks from new doctors or nurses when they measure my pulse. Then it is quite common for them to move from my wrist to my neck, or to move to my other wrist, to measure it again just to be certain.

    I don’t know if this means I am healthier than I should be or not. It is just the way it is for me. Even when I have been in great shape, or terrible shape, it has always remained in the same range.

    As for what we like to call around here “short court,” and what you call “small ball warm-up,” I tolerate it when I am about to play a match and my opponent (or opponents) insist on doing it, but I get zero utility out of it and I think it is monumental waste of time. It is also incredibly boring.

    So, if I am feeling particularly annoyed by it all, as for example happens when an opposing player doesn’t know when to quit and move back to the baseline to practice REAL groundstrokes, volleys and overheads, I will often play a little game with myself — which is to hit the closest possible slice balls to the net that barely dribble over onto the other side that I can, followed by the deepest possible half volleys that still stay in the service box that I can also hit. The former are obviously to sharpen my touch for drop shots when we start the match, and the latter help me to get into the mindset of trying too land my real groundies as deep and close to the baseline as possible also when we start playing.

    I know it is kind of obnoxious, and I never do this if the short court warm up is reasonably limited by my opponent to only a few minutes. But anyone who is going to waste my time hitting this ridiculous exercise that does nothing to actually sharpen their game or mine for too long before playing real points needs to understand that a warmup before a match is NOT the same thing as a consensual practice. If one of the two opponents needs to hit some other way to warm up his or her game, the other player needs to be reasonable about accommodating that wish.

    In fact, there is a guy (who shall remain nameless) who plays in one of my weekend indoor singles league in the winter who will actually take 15 to 20 minutes of short court warm up before a match if he can get away with it. (He has obviously never played a sanctioned tournament where the referees limit your whole warm up to no more than 5 minutes.) This guy is notorious among all the players in the league and we regularly joke about him, behind his back, that nobody has ever beaten him in an actual match because the best anyone has ever been able to do with him is to win one set at 6-0 during the 15 minutes left to play a match after he has wasted an initial hour and 15 minutes in his short court warm up before playing actual points.

    Whenever I am scheduled by the league to play a singles match against this guy, I usually conveniently wind up finding a sub and then I go play doubles with some friends at a different club.

    Marty, that guy thinks he is King of the Court! thanks, george

  22. ” Live your normal life”….now that’s good advice from your Doctor,…and your “normal” tennis last Monday at Spike’s was pretty darn good! Yes,, I like small ball warm up….all mental….keep your eyes on the ball. stay safe…wear a mask! Go Falcons! Scoot

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