The US Open has started and it is absolutely beautiful to watch the male and female tennis players move around the court with grace, power, prowess and precision. How motivating it is for us to try to be at least a little bit like them. If you watch carefully, you will notice smooth and quick footwork, strong lower body and core, and many big forehands. The players try to hit each ball with their forehands as much as possible. Rafael Nadal is often hitting his forehands from the doubles alley on his backhand side. This requires tremendous footwork and belief in your forehand. If you don’t have a big forehand, you will get in trouble hitting weak shots from that position.
Any shot you hit, always make sure that you are on balance — before your shot, during your shot and after the shot… this can be easy to do if the opponent hits the balls back to you at a comfortable pace, spin and depth. Nevertheless, as you know, such a “nice” opponent does not happen that often. His or her goal is to make it very uncomfortable for you, and if your strokes have some problems, they will when you have to move around the court in a hurry, such as on the wide ball, deep ball or short ball.
In your off-court training, you want to focus on the leg and core strength, explosiveness and good balance during the dynamic movement. The more you practice it off the court, the easier it will get on the court. You will move fast to the ball and with a good dynamic balance, and the strong legs and core will help you to ground yourself and hit powerful shots from any position on the court. A good balance is absolutely necessary.
Strong Lower Body
To improve your lower body strength and explosiveness, include squats and jump squats into your training regimen. During squat, make sure that you engage the glutes by sticking it out behind you (like there is a chair far back and you want to sit on it) and keeping your lower back neutral or slightly arched. Always keep your chest up, imagining a wire connected from the sky to your chest in any stage of the movement. During jumping squats, lower your glutes as low as your body’s flexibility allows (ultimately, you want get really deep without any strains or aches) and with a powerful muscle contraction explode and jump as high as possible. Land smoothly and slow down the movement with your leg muscles rather than “stomp” hard on the surface. You want to feel and sound quiet like a big cat.
Jump squats variations:
- Jumping forward, aka “froggie” jumps.
- Jumping from side to side with both feet together (like a downhill skier).
- Jump high up, open the legs at the peak, and close them before you land on the ground again.
- Jump high up and rotate 180 degrees at the peak. Land smoothly. Rotate opposite direction the next jump so you don’t get dizzy.
- Jump up on the bench or box. Land smoothly. You can step down, or if you feel are well conditioned, you can jump down as well.
- Split squat jump — one leg is forward, one is back. The landing looks like a lunge position. Explode into the air off both legs, switch them in the air before you land.
- Split squat jump from side to side.
Perform 30 to 40 seconds of each jump exercise. As you get fitter and stronger, work yourself up to 1 minute. Repeat for 2 to 3 sets for each exercise. As a variation, you can do each exercise just once, and then repeat the entire circle 2 to 3 times.
The plank and its variations are one of the better exercises for your core. They strengthen the abs, obliques and lower back, in addition to the shoulders and hips, and other stabilizing muscles. When performing plank, always make sure that your shoulders are directly above your hands (or elbows if you choose to support yourself on the elbows), the body is straight like a plank with your hips not sinking or pushing up too high. Keep your core always engaged, and breathe deeply during the entire exercise. One-minute plank is a good start, but eventually you want to work yourself up to 2 minutes or more.
- Plank with arm lifts. Lift the arm straight and forward, hold for a moment, and then gently place it down again. Alternate the sides.
- Plank with alternating leg lifts.
- Plank with arm and leg lift. Lift opposite arm and leg at the same time. Hold the top position for a second and gently place your limbs down. Alternate the sides. Make sure to make the movement slow and control, or you will lose your balance.
- Plank with hip twists. Twist your hips from side to side; gently touch the ground.
- Side plank. Support yourself on one hand (elbow) only and keep your body straight. Lift the upper leg slowly up and down to add difficulty.
- Plank with knee-to-elbow touch. You can touch across, or the same side.
- Plank with elevated feet. This will add more difficulty. You can elevate your feet on any of the above planks.
Perform 1 minute for each plank. Repeat the entire cycle 2 to 3 times, depending how much time you have to spend on your core routine. You can combine the leg and core routine into a full body workout. Do one lower body exercise, followed by one core exercise, and go through all exercises. Repeat the entire cycle.
As you do your off-court training to create a strong, powerful and flexible body that will make you a great athlete, you also have to take care of your stroke technique — especially the forehand, if you want to dominate your opponent. Make sure that you have a good grip and good finish when you hit your forehands. If you are always on balance at the finish, the chance is that you are on balance during the entire shot as well. Keep your hand relaxed and you will be surprised how much more effortless power you will have.
If you have done all the physical training and yet, your forehand is not where you want it to be, I would recommend to look at the Tennis Forehand Solution program, created by Jeff Salzenstein — one of the best high-performance tennis coaches in the country. Top-100 player once, Jeff practiced with Sampras, Chang, Courier, Rios, Federer, Roddick, Blake, Fish, and many more. He realized how important it is to have a powerful and dominating forehand, and now he teaches students around the world, how to get great forehand. His Tennis Forehand Solutions is full of excellent information, broken down into easy steps, focusing on targets, technique, and footwork in such manner, that it is almost impossible not to improve your forehand. Check out Jeff’s program, learn about the critical mistakes that you may do on your forehand and correct them to get an unstoppable forehand.
If you want to know more about Jeff, you can watch this YouTube interview by Cosmin Miholka at www.webtennis24.com. Jeff talks about his struggle through the junior and college years, gives good advice to parents, talks about the difference between the top 10 and top 100 pro player, and more insights on how a great forehand ground stroke should be developed and what Jeff learned from different coaches in his past.
Because I really like Jeff’s Tennis Forehand Solution, I am confident that you will like it too, and that you will benefit from his videos and advice. Therefore, I would like to offer you a gift of “Tennis Fitness for the Love of it” book if you purchase Jeff’s program, so you can become strong and injury-free athlete with an unstoppable forehand. Just send me an email with a receipt of your purchase, and I will email you the digital version of “Tennis Fitness for the Love of it.”
Feel free to forward this newsletter on your friends and tennis partners… you never know, they may be in need of a great forehand or fitness.