Who doesn't love the thrill of watching the powerful serves and blazing forehands of the pros? While the blistering speed and pinpoint accuracy of their strokes may seem beyond the reach of us mere mortals, there are some things that can be done to improve the power and speed of your serve and forehand strokes, no matter what your current skill level may be.
The golden key that often goes overlooked by many tennis players is that it takes more than arm and wrist mechanics or any other on-court technique to deliver powerful shots; you have to develop the muscles that drive those shots as well. This means that you must begin incorporating strength training exercises into your training regimen if you want to execute more powerful shots on the court. Below are four key exercises that will help you develop a stronger serve and forehand.
1. Dumbbell Pullover
Thought to be one of the most fundamental exercises in bodybuilding (Arnold Schwarzenegger used to swear by them), dumbbell pullovers are also highly useful for tennis players as well, because the exercise targets certain muscles in the shoulders, triceps and back that play a vital role in the mechanics of a tennis serve.
To perform the dumbbell pullover, lie perpendicular on a flat weight bench (forming a cross) with only your shoulders and upper back resting on the bench, and your knees bent with feet planted on the floor. If this position is too difficult, you can lie parallel (in line with the bench) with your legs straddling the bench. With your arms extended, hold a single dumbbell (preferably a light one) over your face, and slowly lower the weight behind your head in an arc-like fashion, keeping your arms straight. You should feel a good stretch and pull on your chest muscles and rib cage area when you're doing this movement. Now slowly bring the weight back up to where it is over your face again to complete the movement.
Perform about 6-10 of these repetitions for a full set. You can also try this exercise with one dumbbell in each hand, and palms facing each other. Remember to be slow and deliberate with your motions, especially when the dumbbell is over your face!
2. Lat Pulldown
Lat pulldowns strengthen your latissimus dorsi muscles, which comprise the broad area of the back underneath your shoulder blades, a key muscle group involved in delivering strong serves and forehands.
This exercise will require access to a lat pulldown machine. Sit on the seat facing the weight stack, and position your body so that you can reach up and grab the bar directly overhead (not too far in front of or behind your head). Your grip should be slightly wider than shoulder width. Now slowly pull the bar down to your upper chest (right at collarbone area), and with a controlled movement, allow the bar to rise back up to its starting point.
Make sure not to let the weights slam down when you complete the rep, but rather keep the tension on your muscles the entire time by only allowing the weights to lightly touch the stack before starting another rep. Perform 10-12 reps per set for this one.
3. Pronation and Supination Exercises
Pronating the wrist is one of the power techniques that many pros use to deliver scorching serves. Your forearm muscles are the main force behind wrist pronation, so performing pronation and supination exercises will definitely help to strengthen those forearms, as well as reinforce your wrist strength.
One popular pronation exercise is wrist curls. Sit in a chair or on a bench, and holding a light dumbbell in each hand, rest your forearms on your thighs in a parallel manner. Your wrists should be sticking out slightly past your knees. Gripping the dumbbells, bend your wrists downward (i.e., pronating them), and then slowly bring the dumbbells back up to where the top of your hand is level with your forearm again.
To perform the supination exercises, simply turn your arms over to where your palms are facing the ceiling, and perform that same wrist bending movement with the dumbbells.
4. Seated Row
Your upper back muscles (e.g., trapezius and rhomboids) are a key muscle group involved in delivering strong forehand shots. The seated row is one of the best exercises to strengthen this specific area.
You can perform seated rows on a rowing machine, or using a two-handled resistance band wrapped around a stationary object. To target different areas, try different grip styles, such as an overhand grip (palms facing down), or with palms facing each other. Just be sure to keep your movements slow and deliberate, and try not to arch your back too much at the peak of the movement.
Honorable Mention: Core Exercises
A strong core is vital to your upper body stability, a key component in both serving and forehand strokes. You can perform planks, crunches, side crunches (for the obliques), standing medicine ball twists and medicine ball tosses to strengthen your core and help you produce more powerful movements.
Once you've regularly incorporated these exercises for a stronger serve and forehand into your training routine, you'll begin to feel a difference in your upper body strength and stability. This will translate into stronger and more powerful shots, which will help make you a force to be reckoned with on the tennis court.