Bring It Back!
Published March 10, 2010 12:15
Stroke Mechanics: Backhand
The backhand shot is difficult for many people because it involves the non-dominant side. Considering the position of the upper extremities and stance during the backhand shot, this stroke is complex with many different options to hit the ball. No matter which technique you choose, the end result you want is to take the point. Read the following Tips to bring the backhand stroke into your practice!
As a right handed player you have a good "feel" for the right side which you will need to "mirror" for the left or backhand side. The technique components which influence the result of the shot include:
• Upper Extremity Position: shoulder, elbow, wrist, and grip
• Stance, Balance and Footwork
• Hand-Eye Coordination
Set Your Upper Extremities
During the one-handed Backhand stroke your dominant arm is working in a reverse direction, but still needs to be flexible so that it is not lacking leverage. The position combines bringing your arm across your chest, bending the elbow, and flexing the wrist when the racket is back. The motion into the ball initiates by swinging your arm forward towards the ball from your elbow and shoulder closely followed by wrist extension for stabilization at impact. Note that the wrist is the point of least resistance on all strokes and is especially weak during the backhand because it starts in flexion. The risk of wrist injury may be reduced with the use of an eastern backhand grip or by rotating the wrist and forearm clockwise (top spin) during the forward swing. As you move the racket and ball away from your body, be careful not to fully straighten the elbow as this may reduce the power behind the shot.
Control the use of your arm:keep it in, straighten it well, lock your wrist,
get the head of the racket out in front, and look at the ball!
During the two-handed Backhand stroke the dominant arm remains nicely bent and you will keep your elbow closer to your body than hitting the backhand with just one hand. This technique is typically executed like a non-dominant forehand because the back hand generates the power and direction of the shot while the front hand does the fine-tuning to control the ball. Try to avoid straightening your arms at ball contact and keep the flexibility. Note the potential risk for a wrist injury with this technique as you drop the racket head further below the path of incoming ball to produce a greater topspin. Repetition and forces experienced at the extreme ends of range of motion place a great stress on the tendons that cross the wrist joint.
Step in Balance
During forehand strokes the back foot dominates--it holds you in balance and directs your body's momentum into the ball for power. For a backhand stroke the back foot is your non-dominant foot, which is typically the weaker side, not the power generator. Train your non-dominant leg to empower your backhand stroke! A common "weakness" of tennis players is to rely on the dominant leg to direct movement. Speed training and specific foot work drills on court (instructed by a trained tennis coach or certified fitness trainer) can improve your power and movement so you will never be "late" for the ball.
For a strong backhand stroke maintain good posture and balance by keeping your front foot, knee, and hip in line while your weight is on the back foot in your stance position. This requires you to sit back a little at first, (since the tendency on backhand is to keep your weight on the front foot instead of the back), and then weight shift forward to "lean into the ball" as you execute the stroke.
Be aware that the two-handed Backhand stroke technique can be a potential problem for the front knee when stepping parallel instead of perpendicular to the baseline (called a closed stance position). During the weight shift over the front leg, you will rotate your hip and pelvis over the closed foot position causing stress on your knee and low back as they attempt to gain the motion limited by the hip's position. With a more open position (45 to 90 degrees angle to the baseline) you will decrease the stress on the hip and knee joints of the front leg. This also requires you to use your back leg to generate the power behind the shot.
Due to the body position during a backhand stroke you will turn your head much further to the side than during a forehand in an effort to watch the ball. Unless you have fantastic visual acuity, this head position can result in bad timing of the stroke. To see the ball accurately, you have to open your body to face the ball which should begin as you take the racket back. You will not time the ball well when your vision is impaired!
Watch the video in the video tab above with Dr. WB Kibler, Tennis Medicine expert and orthopedic surgeon, who provides a simple Backhand Tip and turn your Backhand into your strongest weapon.