If you are unfamiliar with a sport like tennis, you might think it is important to strengthen the upper body to be able to hit the ball harder. While upper body strength is important, most of the power in a tennis swing is generated from the ground up. Young tennis athletes are taught the importance of using their legs when they swing, and proper loading is often highlighted and broken down in their training. Let’s use a basic forehand groundstroke as an example. As the ball comes into the athlete, they need to load their lead leg and get into triple flexion, which means their hip, knee, and ankle of that leg are bent. As they are about to make contact with the ball, the athlete should push the ground away and explode into triple extension. This explosive movement will assist the upper body with the swing and increase racket speed. When tennis athletes try to “muscle” a shot by just using their upper bodies, they are not able to generate as much power and often they are at a risk for injuring their shoulder.
While on court movement drills assist with the fundamentals of loading, these athletes should also learn how to generate power from the ground up in the weight room. Exercises such as single and double leg squat jumps and broad jumps, lateral bounds, forward and lateral depth drops, and medicine ball throw and slam variations will build lower body strength and power by forcing the athletes to use their legs and learning to load and explode to generate power from the ground up. These same mechanics are useful in other overhead and racket sports such as baseball, hockey, lacrosse, and golf.
Tim Kilpatrick is a strength and conditioning coach at Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Lake Forest, CA. Tim is also a strength and conditioning coach for United States Tennis Association at their National Training Center in Carson, CA.