Max Mirnyi: The flexible beast

Max Mirnyi has been one of the most imposing figures on the ATP World Tour since turning pro in 1996. His 6’ 5’’ ripped body and lengthy arm span at the net helped him reach the Top 20 in singles, but having elite flexibility and agility to complement his strong build has enabled the Belarusian to find even greater success on the doubles court.

Mirnyi has captured five Grand Slam men’s doubles trophies, most recently at Roland Garros last year with Daniel Nestor. The two closed out 2011 by going undefeated at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to win the year-end championship in their first season together. spent a day with Mirnyi at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in December, gaining insight on the types of exercises he does and his commitment to fitness in order to maintain his Top 5 doubles ranking.

Why is having a consistent fitness regimen one of your main priorities on the ATP World Tour?
It’s a pretty easy question, because tennis is a physically demanding sport. The player or team that does better is normally the fitter of the two. Plus, it’s been a part of my life for a long time. I love to stay fit and train, whether I’m on the road, at home, or training in Bradenton.

What are you most proud of in terms of your fitness, being one of the strongest and most flexible players in the game?
The flexibility part has certainly been a big part of my fitness. It allowed me to recover quicker and it’s a big reason why I’ve been able to be out on the court for many years, basically injury free, due to me being pretty mobile.

You’re naturally flexible, but what sorts of exercises have you done to keep it up and continue extending your muscles?

More than anything, it’s attributed to doing the exercises every day. You have your dynamic stretching, you have your cool downs, but stretching my body, trying to be loose has been a part of me for many years. I don’t go a day, whether I’m on vacation or have a tough match, without dedicating 20 to 30 minutes working on my most important areas. These are my hip flexors and the shoulders. I like doing it and you can sometimes even find me doing some exercises front of the TV when I’m watching a show or movie.

Doubles has different styles of shots to singles. More angles are used, lower shots are played and teams have to be able to pick up the half volley. Do you believe you have a big advantage in having that extra flexibility to compensate your powerful game and imposing frame?
Being strong and flexible is going to benefit anybody, whether you’re walking or playing tennis. I’m aware of my strengths, but I put in a lot of work to maintain them. You don’t just become fit or flexible because you’ve put in some work in December. I like hitting the gym before and after practises. I dedicate more than 50 per cent of success on the court to a fitness program. Most players, coaches, academies and agents realise this. They look at who’s able to be physical and stay out there the longest.

Since transitioning to doubles full time, in what ways have you adjusted your fitness program?
If I am doing sprints, in the past for singles, I’d do them from 60 to 100 yards. Today, though I do them as frequent, I only go from 30 to 50 yards. In terms of weight training, I lift a little more now because I’m older but also stronger. From the nature of doubles today, it’s a much more explosive game than 20 years ago.

Which area of fitness do you find contributes most to success in doubles?
I’d have to go with agility, because doubles is a lot of up and down, whether you explode for an overhead, come back to run down a lob, or reach forward to try and cut through no man’s land on the first volley. These situations are why I believe being agile is the most important thing in doubles.

What exercises or stretches would you recommend a recreational tennis player add to their fitness program?
I think many don’t realise to have a good serve, it’s important to have all joints and muscles around the shoulders flexible. For those that like to play tennis on a regular basis, some don’t pay enough attention to warming up and cooling down. One of my favourite stretches to recommend is the sleeper stretch. You get on your side and try to point your elbow 90 degrees from your shoulder. Then, gently pushing on your wrist, you try to bring your hand down towards the floor. Three sets of eight repetitions are good for that. I also like to take a baseball bat, grabbing it on both ends and swing it over my head, holding the position. This lets the chest stretch out.

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