Swing Easy, Hit Hard for More “Power”
Julius Boros made this saying a golf mantra decades ago, but the reasons for its effectiveness apply to any sport requiring a swing, including tennis, hockey and baseball. Following is information which explains why using less effort actually allows players to hit the ball harder.
Getting More Power
The word “power,” as it applies to tennis strokes, is actually an incorrect reference to what players really want on their groundstrokes, which is “force.” Rather than serving with more power, or hitting more powerful groundstrokes, players actually use power to generate more force. This is not a simple case of semantics, because if we look at what “force” actually means, we can begin to see how players can hit the ball harder when they use less effort.
What is “Force?”
Force = Mass X Acceleration.
Most coaches and players understand acceleration, which in laymen’s terms, refers to the speed of the racquet swing. We know that if your racquet is moving at 60 mph when it makes contact with the ball, you will hit the ball with more “pace” than if your racquet is only moving at 40 miles per hour.
In order to hit the ball harder, players often tighten their grip on the handle, tense their arm muscles and swing as hard as they can. Unfortunately, trying to hit “hard” actually results in the opposite happening. When a player puts a death grip on the racquet handle and tenses her arm muscles, this causes a deceleration in the swing, and therefore, produces less pace on the ball. Of course, the player still feels like she hit the snot out of the ball, and so continues to use this mechanic.
Relaxing your grip decreases muscle tension and allows you to produce a higher swing speed. Recommend to your players that they grip the racquet as if it were a bird – tight enough so that it can’t fly away, but so tight that it crushes it. Tell your players to swing fast, rather than hard, and they will immediately see the benefits of relaxing.
While most coaches and players may understand what acceleration is, many do not understand the role of mass in the swing. If your player wants to hit the ball with force, and if Force = Mass X Acceleration, then the more mass you use, the more force you’ll generate.
Where is there more mass in your body – your arm and hand, or your legs, hips and trunk?
You may be surprised to learn that a tennis serve requires approximately 4,000 watts of energy, of which only 300-600 watts is generated by the arm depending on the size of the athlete, according to noted researcher, Richard Schoenborn. Therefore, the majority of velocity on the serve must be generated where the body has the most mass – – from the knees to the trunk.
By using the larger parts of your body (more mass), you’ll get produce more force in your tennis shots.
Players who hit the ball hard use their lower body, including the legs and hips to generate more force.
I. The Legs
While players are often told to bend their knees, they are usually not told to then push back up off the ground to use their powerful legs to generate more force into their shots. Have your players practice getting down low on groundstrokes, but then springing back up into their shots. This will take some experimentation as this will require the development of new timing, but they should immediately begin to see a dramatic difference in how much harder they can hit the ball, and with less effort.
II. The Hips
The hips should actually open up just before the upper body, not with the upper, in order to properly transfer more mass into the shot. Instead of using a “unit turn” that keeps the entire motion in a continuous motion, break the chain of events at the last link, “throwing” your hips forward, which accelerates your arm on the serve and groundstrokes. Practice this at half speed to avoid injury and learn control. Don’t come to a full stop with your swing before you move your hips forward; just drive your arm forward with the hip movement, rather than vice versa.
Your players will initially experience a loss of control, with balls flying over the fence as they begin to hit with much more force, but as they begin to develop this timing, they will discover yet another way to use the larger parts of their bodies to hit harder with less effort.
Using the hips to get more power is recommended for the serve, as well. Just as with groundstrokes, many players put a death grip on the racquet, tense their arm muscles, and try to kill their serves. Since most power on the serve is generated from internal shoulder rotation, and not forearm pronation (also improperly referred to as the “wrist snap”) “throwing” the hips into the shot prior to uncoiling the upper body increases the speed internal shoulder rotation.
Relaxing your grip on the racquet decreases tension in the arm muscles and allows for greater acceleration. Using more body mass to hit the ball increases the force a player is able to generate with less overall effort. Accelerating your hips early is another key to swinging easy and hitting hard.
Even if we had to learn it from a golfer, it’s important to know that if you want to hit hard, you need to swing easy.