Develop More Power on your Backhand – Shoulder to Shoulder Drill

If you constantly struggle to hit your backhands aggressively, and never quite feel like you can hit through the ball, one drill I like to do to get myself in an aggressive mentality is to practice touching my right shoulder to my chin on the preparation phase, and after I hit the ball, touch my chin with my left shoulder on the follow through.

With each backhand, the physical contact of right shoulder / left shoulder will give you immediate feedback as to whether or not you are (a) turning your shoulders properly and (b) hitting through the ball.

It may feel different at first, but like Agassi’s dad used to tell him – ‘just keep whacking that ball hard and one of these days it’s going to go in’. But in all seriousness, it will help you break through the mental barrier of having a ‘weak’ backhand, and help you feel like you can attack the ball from both sides.

Check out this slow mo of Djokovic – 36 seconds for the right shoulder touch, and 2:40 for the left shoulder touch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed3S-X1Xiv4

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Every Day I’m Shufflin’

Okay, so you’ve already seen the basic shuffle step and karaoke step, and you’ve got those movements down pat – but like the karate kid with your waxing on and off, you can’t see the application.

The shuffle step and karaoke step needs to be practiced so frequently that you never have to think about it. They are used when you recover after a shot, they are used when you move back, when you move in, and when you hit inside-outs — as seen in the video below. It must be so natural that you never think about your feet, and when the ball comes you just react and move.

When recovering along the baseline – you must use the shuffle step because you are essentially in the ready position as you are moving. You can change directions very easily and splitstep as soon as your opponent hits the ball.

Unfortunately I’m just dropping the ball here to demonstrate the shuffle – ideally on my inside outs, I would have less lateral body momentum, and be more ‘set’ to hit the ball with my feet solidly planted so I can exert force into the shot towards the court, rather that falling out of frame.

The Coneheads!

coneheads

Here’s a tennis drill for good balance. I must stress that it is just a drill, and like all drills, it is only meant to help you practice one aspect of your game.

Place three stacked cones on your head, or alternatively a folded towel, and do shadow strokes while trying to maintain perfect balance. You’ll find the only way you can hit multiple strokes while maintaining the cone position is to keep your legs nice and bent, and your head upright.

Any kind of jumping up and down before, during, or after the shot will cause them to fall immediately.

Of course this is not how you want to hit the ball in a rally – your movement will be more dynamic and you will change direction quickly. But the purpose of this drill is primarily to increase your awareness of your balance as you move, and as you hit.

Here’s a sample:

Core Tennis Drills

Very often people start out a lesson from the baseline. They might even scoff at the offer to warm up with mini-tennis – ‘I’m no beginner, I can hit from the baseline!’ they might think or say.

But playing mini-tennis can be done at a very high level, and there are many benefits from playing here that you cannot get from the baseline. At the start of every single practice I would warm up playing mini-tennis with high-intensity, working on racquet head acceleration to cut the ball so sharply the massive spin would keep it in. The key is not to have a slow racquet head, but a full swing, just imparting more spin and less drive.

The drills in the below video are fantastic and I highly recommend using them if you are a coach or student. Unfortunately I am just dropping the ball to myself in the demo video, but obviously in a lesson you would have a coach feeding you the various forehands and backhands from the service tee on the other side of the court.

Set up cones at a sharp angle inside the service box – not right on the corner, but inside the service line. The key here is you want your angled shots to bounce far off the court. On you down the line shots, set up cones deep in the court, and work on using both open stance and neutral stance. The pattern of hitting (1) sharp angle to pull your opponent off the court and (2) down the line drive to hurt them, is a common pattern and one that you should feel is your ‘meat and potatoes’ play. By practicing from the service line, you become more comfortable generating sharp angles from the baseline.

The approach shot drill gets you used to moving through the center of the court, and approaching the net. It drills into you the proper footwork. Keep your body low to the court as you hit through the ball.

Lesson Sample 1

How to Structure a High-Efficiency Tennis Lesson

Too many people go out onto the court and think that just by physically being present on the court, they will improve. This is not the case. When you go out there to practice, don’t “just rally” with your coach or training partner, as this is not similating matchplay and it’s teaching you bad habits (not attacking play). Instead, I would recommend having a high intensity lesson. Below I’ve laid out a typical lesson for me when I was training for championship tournaments.

  1. Warmup (15-20 Minutes)  – Can be done off the court
    1. Jog
    2. Shuffle Steps
    3. Karaoke Steps
    4. Circles with your arms/shoulders
    5. Skipping
    6. Open Stance Shadows 5+5
    7. Neutral Stance Shadows 5+5
    8. Low Volley Shadows
    9. Medicine Ball Throws
    10. Throw a Baseball
    11. Volley against a wall
    12. Dynamic Stretching, light stretching of forearms
  2. On-Court Warmup / Feel Development (10-15 minutes)
    1. Forehands (FH) Mini Tennis – 1 Crosscourt Angle, 1 Down The Line (DTL)
    2. Backhands Mini Tennis – 1 Crosscourt Angle, 1 DTL
    3. Forehand Mid-Court DTL Approach, volley volley, Overhead (OH)
    4. Backhand Mid-Court DTL Approach, volley volley, OH
  3. Baseline Practice (15-20 minutes)
    1. Set cones for Deep Quadrants – 10 FH crosscourt
    2. 10 Deep FH DTL
    3. 10 Deep BH Crosscourt
    4. 10 Deep BH DTL

Focus on: Good height over net, Good Depth in Court, Good Topspin

Alternate Focus: Driving balls, Step into every ball, full rotation, good balance

Constant Focus: Quick Feet, Splitstep, Legs Bent, Good Balance

  1. Serves (20 minutes)
    1. Warm up shoulder from service line
    2. 20 serves thinking about rhythm only, warming up
    3. 10 Second Serves to Backhand, each side
    4. 10 Slices, each side
    5. 5 first serves, each side

Focus on: Rhythm, One Technical Thing Only.

  1. Optional Drills (10-15 minutes)
    1. Serve, splitstep, swinging volley (10 minutes)
    2. Serve and Volley
    3. Serve and Inside Out
    4. Stroke you are having difficulty with (15-20 minutes)
    5. 1 Deep crosscourt, 1 DTL Approach Shot, 1-2 Volleys (repeat 10-15 times) (10 minutes)
    6. 15 FH Slice DTL, 15 BH Slice DTL, Followed by 5 Fake Approach Dropshots each side
    7. Doubles Alley Control Drill
    8. Infinite volleys back and forth
  1. Wrap-Up and Cool Down (25 minutes)
    1. Skipping
    2. Put on Track Pants and Jumper
    3. Eat a bar / drink water
    4. Stretch for 20 minutes: ham strings, shoulders, quads, IT band, calves, abdominals, Triceps, Inner-Thigh, Glutes
    5. As soon as you get home, shower as early as possible so the cold sweat doesn’t make your muscles tighten up. Eat a good meal, maybe stretch a little more.

Total Time: Approx 1-2 Hours

This lesson structure can be tweaked depending on what you want to practice, but I heavily recommend with each practice that you start out with a warmup, structured mini-tennis, and baseline drills for depth and aggression. The Cool Down is necessary to not get injured and stay in good physical condition. Most people neglect their bodies and do not stretch, do not eat properly, and do not use ice or heat to heal. There are no immediate negative repurcussions for neglecting to stretch or cool down properly, but over time you will become very tight, scar tissue will build, your range of motion will be inhibited, and likelihood of injury will increase substantially. So make it a habit take care of yourself after practice.

Serves can be replaced with return-of-serves, by having your coach stand on the service line to simulate fast serves.

The Optional Drills can be done in any order you wish, and they would make the lesson go a bit longer.

What’s your favorite tennis drill to do during practice?

Conditioning Drill for Power in Tennis

In this post I wanted to show a great conditioning drill that will help you have a more technically efficient tennis motion, and get used to using large muscle groups to generate power for your tennis strokes.

First, get warmed up. Do some jumping jacks, twists, circles with your shoulders, stretch your lats, glutes, etc. Use light weight if you use any weight at all.

lunge

shoulder raises

Using a 5 lb medicine ball (I didn’t have one so am using a 5 lb plate), hold onto the ball and just shadow swing forehands and backhands. As your arms move through, the weight will force you to rotate your body.

Your arms should be bent. Your back posture should be good, and straight. Your legs should be bent. Your head should be up. Stay relaxed. Just warm up your core, and feel your muscles working together in your core, legs, and shoulders.

practice motion med ball throw

Once you are warmed up, using the light 5 lb weight, do the same motion but try and release the medicine ball / weight and try to launch it as far as you can. They key to generating maximum distance will be proper shoulder turn and leg bend.

5 lb toss

Practice tennis footwork to generate even more power. Here I’m taking a series of shuffle steps to get my momentum moving forward behind the “stroke”. This gives you extra distance on your throw, and it will get you used to the idea of getting your body weight behind your tennis shots. More distance here generally equates to more power on the court. If you try taking the weight behind you, it will be very difficult to throw it in a straight line. What you’re practicing here is getting as much force and power behind a single vector / direction as possible. You want to input all your force into a single point (at the ball).

forehand 10 lb toss

Use two hands for both forehands and backhands. Focus on using your legs, and maintaining good balance. It will be almost impossible to not rotate fully through this stroke, so hopefully you don’t have to think about it. If you don’t fully rotate your back foot around in front of your front foot, you’re likely going to hurt yourself. I wouldn’t recommend using any more than 10 lbs for this exercise. It’s more a body movement drill than a ‘strength training’ drill.

forehand 10 lb shuffle

This drill is good because bad technique here will not work. You will immediately feel if something is inefficient. Having straight arms or legs for example :

stiff arms

Please please don’t injure yourself doing this drill. Don’t use too much weight. 5 lbs is more than enough. Don’t hunch over your back, don’t hit yourself with the weight. Just be careful, especially when it’s something you’re not used to.

dont hunch

Ideally you’d have a partner to work with and practice throwing and catching the medicine ball back and forth. Since I don’t here, I was just chucking around weight on the beach. If you had a medicine ball you could do it basically anywhere. If you only have weight-plates, be careful not to damage anything.

Think this is a bad drill, or have some other good off-court training tools to develop power? Leave a comment below!

General and Functional Conditioning for Tennis

jackiechanhorsestance_thumb

On Conditioning:

Generally speaking, any conditioning (done properly) is better than none at all. So long slow jogs are strictly better for your tennis game than sitting on the couch. But if you are serious about your conditioning, and serious about improving your tennis game, there are certain functional exercises that you can do in order to improve, and there are some exercises you may want to avoid.

In tennis, the key to everything is having a solid foundation. This means having strong legs and a strong base from which to begin your hitting motion.

Probably the most important thing to remember when it comes to strength conditioning is that YOU DO NOT WANT TO GET INJURED. If you ever think that the weight might be too high, or you kind of egg yourself on to quit wimping out and just PUSH THROUGH IT, stop, and carefully consider the risks. If you injure yourself, you can be out of tennis for 6 months to a year, and have to rebuild your skillset from the ground up. So injuries are very counter-productive, and you should take maximum care to get stronger slowly and steadily with good technique. Make it a regular routine, and do not try to do too much too fast.

Legs

Running is good for your match endurance and overall fitness – I would recommend running a maximum of 5 miles, and when you get comfortable with that distance, then work on progressing to faster times rather than longer distances. It can be hard on your knees, so make sure you have high quality running shoes, and run on softer surfaces like grass or track whenever possible. Also try to avoid running on uneven surfaces as this can also lead to funky pronation of your foot, and knee issues.

Wall sits, or Jackie-Chan sits are great for getting used to staying low. It will condition your hips, quads, and full body to keep that position and remain balanced. It also helps to strengthen your shoulders. Try doing this for 40 seconds, then work your way up to a minute, then 1.5 minutes, etc. When you get comfortable holding for more than 2 minutes, take a break at the 2 minute mark, rest for 1 minute, and then do another 2 minutes.

Squat Lunges are good for tennis because it gets your body used to getting nice and low. You’ll be doing this motion on a lot of shots. The dynamic scissor kicking motion is good for activating your fast twitch muscles and explosive power from the lunge as well.

Squats are generally a good exercise as long as you have proper form. Unfortunately a lot of people injure themselves by trying to use too much weight and unknowingly using poor form. If you are going to squat more than half your own body weight, have a friend or fitness trainer watch you to make sure your form is correct. You do not want a lifelong injury, bulging disk, torn muscle, etc. from doing squats.

Skipping – great for your calves and will help you stay on your toes for the whole match.

Vertical Jumps for explosive power (helpful on serve).

Core

Don’t neglect your core – it’s the main power source and stabilizer for your body. All the usual workouts apply – crunches, leg raises, v sits, Russian twists, all are good.

Upper Body

The key here is to make sure that your muscles develop evenly. Work all muscle groups and don’t neglect a particular area. Vary your exercises to target different parts of each muscle group, and reduce the likelihood of a muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalances can cause injury, slowness, bad posture, and hindrances for fluid tennis technique.

Make sure to stretch after your workouts to maintain good flexibility. You will actually develop more tennis power from having long flexible muscles than tight lumped up muscles, as there will be more elasticity and energy buildup.

Chin-ups, push-up varieties, shoulder raises, curls, tricep extensions, dips, rowing, etc. are all good exercises that will help you in tennis.

One particularly useful exercise for tennis players is to work your rotator cuffs lightly. It is a tiny muscle so you do NOT want to over-work it with too much weight. It’s not a strength building exercise but rather just for injury prevention. Use small weight, and move slowly.

Cardio

This is probably the area where most people have to work at to substantially improve their tennis game. The average tennis point lasts only 15 seconds, and ranges generally from 1 second to perhaps 30. Between points you have 30 seconds rest, so you want to condition your body to getting used to 15-20 seconds of high energy dynamic work, followed by 20-30 seconds of rest. You need to be able to blast hard at each point, then recover quickly so you’re not winded when the next point begins.

Wind-sprints, or intervals on the bicycle are good for this. Sprint as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then jog until your heart-rate comes down. Try to get to keep reducing your recovery time and the number of sprints you do.

Skipping is a fantastic cardio workout and it works your legs and court movement.

Shadow boxing, or boxing classes are also good, as they teach you balance, movement, coordination, core strength, body rotation, and the kinetic chain. It’s also a great cardio workout – try shadowboxing for 3 minutes non-stop as hard as you can, then take a 1 minute break, and repeat.

10 Stutters and a sprawl – keep your body low, legs bent, and feet moving as fast as you can. When you’ve done 10 stutters, sprawl and get back up. Continue for a set of 5 sprawls and then take a break.