Sticky Elbow Syndrome

Here’s one of the most common forehand errors I see. People may have reached the point where they can hit with topspin, and they are trying hard to copy a pro with their swing mechanics. But for some reason they just can’t seem to hit through the ball with  much pace.

The bad thing here is when people let that right elbow stick in tight to their waist on the takeback. If that elbow sticks in right beside your waist in the ready-position, then when you turn your body, it stays there. Then, in order to get the racquet through to the hitting position, the only natural thing to do is lift the elbow from your waist to create room. This lifts the racquet well above your head, and it means the racquet must then take a very long arduous journey around your body to the ultimate point of contact (bad). It makes it harder to time the incoming ball properly, and it also makes it much harder for you to extend through the shot.

elbow in chain reaction

(Bad chain of events caused from having the elbow too tight to the body.)

Here you can see that my elbow begins right at my hip in position 1. The racquet is forced to go up over my head to position 2 as I try to create space for my arm. As I make contact with the ball at position 3, there is no forward extension towards the net, and very little power is imparted onto the ball. Instead, most of my weight is being shifted from my right foot to my left foot, sideways as seen by number 4.

Again, this bad chain reaction is all caused by tucking my elbow into my waist on the takeback. You don’t want this! Instead, keep it nice and roomy, and re-visit my 3-step forehand guide for the proper demonstration. Check out the Agassi forehand for an example of how you want lots of space between your elbow and body on the takeback.

Here’s the same mistake from another angle. The red line traces the path of my right elbow, and the pink line traces the path of my racquet. As you can see, having the elbow in too tight on the initial turn can cause a large meandering swing, which causes inconsistency and lack of power.

I got some feedback that the above images were confusing, so here I put together a side-by side to try and illustrate the host of problems that are caused by something as simple as having your elbow in too tight.

elbow in vs elbow out - elbow in vs elbow out- ready position

Figure 1 – The ready position. As you can see, on the left I have my elbows tucked in tight to my body as I splitstep. On the right, I have distance between my elbows and my torso, with the racquet held approximately 1 foot out in front – almost picture wrapping your arms around a small beachball.

elbow in vs elbow out - elbow in vs elbow out- unit turn

Figure 2 – After splitstepping, I start with a shoulder turn. On the left, since my elbow is already at my hip/behind my hip, the racquet is in tight to my body. On the right, after turning my shoulders, the racquet is naturally further from my body.

elbow in vs elbow out - elbow in vs elbow out- set position

Figure 3 – As I coil in preparation to hit the ball, the racquet flies behind me in the figure on the left. This is bad. The figure on the right has the racquet closer to my center line, an even there, the racquet is slightly too far behind my center line.

elbow in vs out pic swing initiated

Figure 4 – You can see here that the figure on the right only has to deal with the incoming ball on one vector – or one direction. The figure on the right only has to swing the racquet parallel to the sideline. The figure on the left, however, has to match the racquet to the ball on two vectors – he has to swing the racquet around the body, parallel to the baseline, and then through to the ball parallel to the sideline. This makes it much harder to hit the ball with crisp timing. An analogy would be throwing a straight right cross in boxing, versus a wild haymaker hook.

elbow in vs elbow out - elbow in vs elbow out- late on contact

Figure 5 – As I start the swing at the ball, you can see that the figure on the right is much quicker to reach the contact point. A more compact swing means that the distance from racquet to ball is smaller, and this makes it easier for you to hit the ball at the precise millisecond you want to. In contrast, the figure on the left is much slower to swing through to the point of contact. The slower swing means that you must time the incoming ball perfectly, and if your opponent hits with heavy spin or pace, then you will mis-hit the ball a lot. Typically people that get the racquet behind them too much end up hitting the ball late in their swing, because it takes them so long to reach the contact point.

elbow in vs elbow out - elbow in vs elbow out- harder to rotate

Figure 6 – Finally, at the end of the shot, rotation is natural for the figure on the right, whereas it is more difficult for the figure on the left. The left figure has had to use their arm to match the racquet to the ball on several vectors, so the shot is predominantly an arm-based motion, and thus will lack not only consistency but also power.

Here’s the video

Agree or disagree? Be sure to leave a comment below 😀


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