For many tennis players, the backhand stroke is one of the most troublesome aspects of their game. Generally speaking, players tend to practice their forehand strokes far more than their backhand, which leads to an imbalance in their game that can limit them from being a capable all-court player. The following exercises for improving your backhand stroke will help you eliminate this all-too-common weakness from your game.
There's simply no way around it--weak muscles equal a weak backhand shot. If you're serious about wanting to improve your backhand, you're going to have to spend some time performing strength training exercises. Here are some of the most effective ones:
Seated Row (Wide-Grip) - This exercise targets nearly all of the muscles in your back, with a particular emphasis on your rhomboids (the muscles that extend from your spine to your shoulder blades), latissimus dorsi (the large muscles that surround your ribcage on the back side) and your rear deltoid (shoulder) muscles, all of which are used to perform a strong backhand shot. Use a cable machine for this one, and be sure to grip the bar near the very ends, a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and pull the bar toward you, with your hands staying level with your chest area.
Reverse Fly - You'll need dumbbells for this one. Lie prone (stomach down) on a bench, and allow your arms to hang down on each side. The dumbbells should be positioned on the floor near your hands so that all you have to do is reach down and grab them to begin the exercise. Keeping your elbows only slightly bent, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side until they're roughly level with the bench. Hold for a quick second and smoothly lower them back down. Do about 8-10 reps per set, using a manageable weight on the dumbbells--you don't want to go too heavy for this one. This exercise will target your rear deltoids, a key muscle group responsible for putting the power behind your backhand stroke.
Close-Grip Push-Ups - This exercise is basically a traditional push-up, but with your hands much closer together. Some fitness experts recommend trying to form a "diamond" with the thumb and forefinger of each hand.
Grip Squeezes - You can use a hand gripper--i.e., the small device with two handles connected by a tension spring--for this exercise. Squeeze the hand gripper and hold it in a closed position for as long as you can. Make a note of how many seconds you're able to hold it, and then try to achieve the same time with your other hand. Not only is this exercise great for boosting your general grip strength, but it will also make a noticeable difference in the amount of control you're able to maintain with your backhand strokes.
On-Court Backhand Exercises
Using a partner or a ball feeder, just practice hitting balls that are fed to your backhand side, over and over again. Work on sharpening your accuracy by trying to hit balls down the line, and also cross-court. Do half of your backhand strokes using the single-handed grip, and half using a double-handed grip. While the double-handed backhand is increasingly becoming the more prominent stroke, there are times when being able to stretch and nail a single-handed backhand can save the point in a game.
Perform footwork drills by starting at the center of the baseline and then side-skipping over to your backhand side. You can perform shadow swings or hit an actual ball being fed to you, and then return back to the center of the baseline after every shot. The important thing for this drill is to focus on improving your movement and footwork, as this is an often-overlooked factor that sabotages good backhand strokes.
While playing with a partner, try hitting every shot possible using nothing but backhand strokes. Try negotiating different trajectories, distances, speeds, and spins. Even if some of the shots end up looking awkward, this is a great way to improve your versatility with your backhand.
Improving your backhand shot is an important strategic move, because it allows you to control rallies efficiently without having to run all over the place just to position yourself for the best shot. Use the tips outlined above to transform your backhand stroke from a weakness to a weapon!