Strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance are a few elements needed in order to become a high-level tennis player. Depending on your technique (one-handed backhand vs two-handed backhand) and game style (baseliner, serve and volleyer, counter-puncher, etc. …), the capacity requirements to tolerate certain physical demands may be different. With that being said, a proper training regimen and strength and conditioning program should take all of these factors into account.
When looking at a one-handed backhand, the posterior chain (Figure 1) is highly active. The posterior chains are recruited to execute, with proficiency, the backhand in tennis. During the preparation phase of the backhand, the stretch on the posterior chain stores energy necessary for racquet speed during the swing phase of the backhand. This line is responsible for maintaining posture and the required movement pattern. With a closed stance one-handed backhand for a right handed player (Figure 3), it can be said that there is more of an ipsilateral loading bias, right hip to right shoulder interaction (superficial back line). Whereas with an open stance or if the player is hitting off their back foot, there is more of a contralateral loading bias, left hip to right shoulder interaction (functional back line) (Figure 2 left image).
Figure 1. Posterior Chain – A. Superficial Back Line: Paraspinals (back muscles), hamstring, gastrocnemius (calves), plantar fascia. B. Functional Back Line: latissimus dorsi (lats) and contralateral gluteus maximus.
Figure 2. Open Stance Backhand Variations: Right Hander – emphasis left hip to right shoulder (left image) vs Left Hander – emphasis right hip to left shoulder (right image).
During the closed stance one-handed backhand in a right-handed player (Figure 3), there is an initiation of right hip extension leading up to the point of contact and carrying through and past that point of contact. This motion will be dependent upon where the point of contact is in relation to their body, i.e. below knee level or above hip level. During all of this, the right shoulder complex is essentially going from horizontal adduction into horizontal abduction (with other planes of motion as well). During the open stance or if the player is hitting off their back foot, there is an initiation of left hip extension with the right arm going from horizontal adduction to horizontal abduction (Figure 2 left image).
Figure 3. Closed Stance right one-handed backhand with emphasis on right hip to right shoulder.
Combining the knowledge of the backhand mechanics and functional patterns, it is the role of the strength and conditioning coach to prescribe exercises that challenge the various forms of the posterior chain with the emphasis on certain patterns: right hip to right shoulder, right hip to left shoulder, left hip to left shoulder, and left hip to right shoulder. Two exercise sequences that take all of this into consideration can be found here and here. Both exercises work on motor control and coordination while challenging the body’s spectrum of stability involving the posterior line. In addition, the core is challenged with anti-flexion and anti-rotation moments.
Proper technique of these exercises is key to enhance proficient use of the posterior chain during the backhand in tennis. These exercises require pre-requisite factors including lumbopelvic control and posterior chain tissue compliance. Certain athletes may require regression or lateralization before attempting these exercises. There is no one size fits all approach.