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Forehand Loop, Non-Loop, and Paused-Loop Backswings

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The amount of loop to use in a forehand backswing is the subject of much debate among tennis teaching pros.

Those who favor more loop argue that:

  • A loop generates greater racquet-head speed.
  • A loop produces a smoother motion.
  • The dropping motion at the back of the loop helps guarantee that the racquet gets below the ball so that it can produce topspin.
  • The majority of pros use a significant loop.
Those who advocate less loop argue that:
  • Larger loops take longer to prepare, which can complicate timing and cause players to fail to get the racquet below the ball soon enough to swing low-to-high properly.
  • The idea of a loop backswing contributing to racquet-head speed ignores the importance of inertial lag in creating the stretch-shortening cycle that produces the most explosive forehands.
  • Most of the pros who use a loop pause the backswing before they whip the racquet forward for their most powerful forehands.
In the contemporary pro game, forehand backswings run the full range, from large, continuous loops to semi- and non-continuous loops to no loops at all. Most players vary forehand loop size and/or continuity depending on height of contact with the ball; time for preparation; intended trajectory, speed, and spin; and court position. If you watch the pros carefully, you'll see that while all but a few use some kind of loop, when they have time to set up for their most aggressive forehands, most of them usually pause or slow the racquet to a near stop for an instant before they swing.

The explosiveness of contemporary forehands comes largely from better use of the stretch-shortening cycle in the player's muscles. A muscle can contract more powerfully when it has just been stretched. If the racquet is paused or moving very slowly at the back of the forehand backswing, its inertia stretches the arm muscles as the player begins the rapid forward acceleration of the swing. No player can or should hit explosively on every forehand, but when one wants to hit explosively, different types of backswings have the following effects:

  • Larger, more circular, continuous loop backswings reduce the racquet's inertia at the beginning of the forward swing and thus reduce or eliminate the benefits of the stretch-shortening cycle.
  • A loop backswing that includes a pause or near pause at its farthest-back point allows inertial lag to stretch the arm muscles before they contract.
  • A relatively low loop backswing with an oblong oval shape can create a sudden reversal from backward to forward motion that, if timed well, creates even more stretching than a pause would.
In addition to creating inertial lag, a pause in the backswing can help the player establish the relative positions of racquet and ball more accurately; however, when the ball lands quite deep, the player often doesn't have time to pause the racquet, so the loop must be continuous.

If you're happy with a large, continuous loop, you shouldn't feel compelled to change, but for most players, a smaller loop that is paused or greatly slowed when loading up for your more aggressive forehands will probably prove best. A loop that takes a more oblong oval shape should provide the benefits of helping to get the racquet below the ball for topspin and a smooth motion on deeper balls where you don't have time to load up for a more aggressive shot. Such a loop shouldn't take significantly longer to prepare than a straight backswing, and if you like the feeling of having the racquet prepared early, you can just lengthen the pause when the situation allows it.

Tennis Forehands Central

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