The role of the arm in tennis strokes

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by RJ.., Jul 26, 2009.

  1. RJ..

    RJ.. New User

    Jul 21, 2009
    Hi everyone,

    I'm new on the forum so apologies if this question has been answered already.

    What I would like to find out is your opinions regarding arm involvement in tennis strokes. Would most of you agree that the arm is moved into the contact by the momentum created by the body (i.e the kinetic chain) and the more relaxed the arm is kept, the better.


    Do you feel that there need to be arm involvement to drive the racket through the ball?

    When Serena talks about her backhand in the clip below, although she talks about leg involvement, she also talks about getting her left hand through the ball and the importance of the long follow through. Does she mean LET her left hand go though or does she mean drive it through?

    Many thanks in advance,

  2. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

    Dec 28, 2008
    East side of San Francisco Bay
    Problem is, as a beginner, you need to start the motion with your arm.
    As you get better, you employ more of the whole kinetic chain of ankles, knees, hips, torso, trunk, shoulder, and arm.
    So whether you or I can actually employ the whole kinetic chain depends how good we are, how good we can possibly be, and how often we can play to maintain enough looseness and relaxation to employ the whole chain.
    And of course, tough incoming balls require us to compensate, using maybe more arm only, to get early enough to hit effectively.
    Mostly, if we employ the whole body, our ability to handle both soft slow balls and hard fast balls is compromised. So we need to adjust for both slower than normal, and faster than normal balls. Adjustments means improvisations, so you do what you need to do to get solid early contact....and that might mean just arming thru the ball on really fast incoming shots.
  3. sn1974

    sn1974 Rookie

    Feb 3, 2008
    bangkok, thailand
    why is that? why would a beginner need to start with her arm instead of her legs?

    this is so confusing. if i don't have enough time, aren't i better off NOT really swinging at really fast incoming shots and just letting them sort of bounce back off my racquet?
  4. Blake0

    Blake0 Hall of Fame

    Feb 17, 2009
    A beginner doesn't have to start by swinging with his arms first..but that how they learn. They first start off using their arm, then add using there shoulders, then add using their hips, then their legs, then finally their wrist. They might be learned in different order but thats how it usually begins in my oppinion.

    Er no..thats considered a dink.. What he means that sometimes when someone's overpowering you with pace you have to compensate by having a shorter backswing, or preparing earlier, just using your arm, or whatever you have to do to make solid early contact. if you're not affected by the extra pace, then by all means keep hitting the way you do usually. if you are affected and aren't doing anything to change it, you'll see your shots going dtl, or inside out without trying to..

    Now back to your question..I think there should be arm movement, as in you're swinging your arm consciously. But the rest of the kinetic chain helps increase the speed of your swing. The momentum of your body sort of adds swing speed to your arm, and a relaxed/loose arm is benificial.

    Whats moves unconciosly into contact would be your wrist, the final part of the kinetic chain, and the most misused in my oppinion. The momentum of your swing releases the wrist from a layed back position to a relaxed position, unconsciously through contact.
  5. RJ..

    RJ.. New User

    Jul 21, 2009
    Thanks for you info so far.

    Sorry for another signature shot clip but I enjoy listening to pro's talking about their technique...this one is James Blake talking about is forehand, he says that one of the first things he learnt was "sit and lift" i.e leg drive

    Below is a quote from Allen Fox talking about "The forehand made easy."

    "The third way you get power is by moving the arm relative to the body. But here is where the problem begins. I'm now using my arm muscles to control the angle of the face of the racquethead and as I swing and it may become unstable. And remember, it only has to be off a quarter of an inch for you to lose control of the shot."

    "The arms should be relatively relaxed when you hit, they are moved by the shoulders. The stroke starts when you rotate the shoulders and step forward."

    When reading about pro forehands on they use words like "spaghetti" to describe Federer's arm and liken Monflis' arm to a rubber band. These suggest to me that there is no tension at all and it remains loose and whip like at all times.

    I know there are many different teaching methods out there. I played to county level and struggled with tennis elbow from choking the racket and arming the ball. Now I know more about technique, I have changed my stroke completely and haven't suffered since.

    I am coaching now and just don't want to allow people to get injured like I did.

  6. Bungalo Bill

    Bungalo Bill G.O.A.T.

    Feb 19, 2004

    Hi RJ,

    Welcome to coaching.

    You are right with analyzing the "sit and lift" from the Blake video. When I taught for Braden one of the exercises he has in his aresenal was the "sit in the chair" and then hit an incoming slowly fed ball. The idea was to feel the legs hit the ball.

    I teach the SW grip. I also have posted the "pat the dog on the head" sequence of positions for the swing. If you teach the twohanded backhand, you can use the same points for both sides.

    If you teach the onehanded backhand, then you can use the SMILE pattern to help your students learn.

    The way the arm swings and drops the racquet in the slot is very important for many reasons, efficiency, reducing bad habits, helping to prevent injury, and so on.

    The legs are important to teach but when I first take beginner, I first teach the upper body. I get the student to bend their knees and rise but dont go much farther. I then work on the upper body and their rotation. I work on the arm shape through the swing, the non-dominant arm, and shoulder rotation. When I start sensing and seeing that the stroke is starting to look smooth, I incorporate the legs. Don't neglect the legs as they are very important for a player to master.

    When the student understands what to do in each area, I then begin to incorporate them and tax the stroke and movement a little.
  7. RJ..

    RJ.. New User

    Jul 21, 2009
    Hi Bungalow Bill!

    Thanks for your input- now I have had more time to search the forum, I can see that you have answered this question many times before!

    Do/have you ever used coaching aids such as the 8 board or forehand rotator, which is basically rubber tubing that locks arms into place to help with rotation?

    Also, have you written any books yet? If not, and you had to recommend just one, which one would it be? I've read a load already- now have my eye on Tennis Mastery by David Smith.

    Thanks again

  8. Bungalo Bill

    Bungalo Bill G.O.A.T.

    Feb 19, 2004
    Yes, I have the 8-board. I like it but some students are a little apprehensive in using it. There are already a bunch of things to master so I don't use it for beginners. High intermediate and advance players are not intimidated in using it. So the 8-board is used sparingly and for certain players.

    The forehand rotator I have never used and really don't need to. If you teach the 4 positions in the forehand, teach the player to get the front shoulder on the chin, in my book there really is little else to teach but much to engrain.

    Main points in the upper body for players to get down are:

    1. 4 positions of the arm as it swings the racquet.

    2. Shoulder under the chin (Ike to Mike). Front shoulder is named Ike and the back shoulder is named Mike. If you can get the player to go from one shoulder to the other during the swing that is good rotation.

    3. Non-dominant arm use and movement in the stroke.

    4. Backswing: Tip of the racquet does not go passed an imaginary line that runs from the net to the back fence with your toes on the line as you are parallel to the net.

    Not yet, my information has been written here. I have wrote an article for John Yandell on the onehanded backhand. I know I should do more.

    I don't know. There are many good books out there. I might be a bit different but my advice comes from many different coaches of the past and present coaches.

    For instance, the other day on tennis channel I was listening to Lansdorp talk about the backswing. He favors a big backswing. I currently don't. I don't always encourage a short backswing but I tend to like a good backswing that is managable. He offered his advice and then told about the cons in having a big backswing which is very important to pay attention too. I am sure many players ran out there and just started to swing with big bacskwings ignoring the "Warnings" that were placed around it.

    I like the following:

    1. Serious Tennis

    2. The Mastery series from Dave

    3. Braden Tennis 2000 (a bit outdated in some areas but it has some gold nuggets in there for players)

    4. Videos: High-performance tennis, Louis Cayer Doubles Tennis Tactics, Bolletierri videos (bollistic backhand, sonic serve, etc...)

    5. Yandell's Visual Tennis

    In all of these you can glean information that can help become a better coach because you get to read and see different angles to the same strokes.

    Also, my biggest advice is don't teach something that you haven't done yourself. I am not just saying go out their once and try. I mean really practice to see what is recommended can be taught and what the player might be feeling when you are telling them to do something. This will save a lot of embarrassment later because you have to back out of your suggestions.
  9. RJ..

    RJ.. New User

    Jul 21, 2009
    You have been very helpful Bungalow Bill- many thanks for your time!

  10. GuyClinch

    GuyClinch Legend

    Aug 12, 2004
    This is an interesting topic. I think the role of the arm (but i think of it more as shoulder) seems to depend on the different strokes.

    Everyone describes the open stance forehand - here yes it looks to me that you use very little arm (shoulder) relative to other shots.

    But for most normal shots it looks like your using your arm quite a bit more. A running forehand - where you run through the ball a bit (don't have the time or the rythm to set up) you use almost all arm. You can caught in a real 'closed' stance - and its an armed shot. Thats why some pros use a squash shot on this..

    That's the extreme though. I think an neutral stanced forehand is second though. It looks to me more like an armed shot then the open stance one.

    You turn your shoulders but just not as much as with an open stance forehand. Your using more linear power (from stepping through the ball) and your arm - not your whole torso and upward leg drive like in the open stance..

    Also something like a top spin lob - I think you can hit with all arm as well. that's my take on it anyway.

    I am trying to learn to hit a proper open stanced forehand - and its actually pretty hard. I never really thought about it before but I hit more old school Tom Avery style - neutral stanced forehands..and used alot more arm.

    As for the learning order - I think it does go from arm (shoulder) to adding more of the body parts in. For example if you watch the Dave Sammel videos.. In his basic forehand video he talks alot about the "pendulum swing" but in his more advanced mechanics video he talks alot more about using the kinetic chain in the various stances..

    Last edited: Aug 4, 2009

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