Are you making this mistake on your backhand?

Now there is an attention grabber! I mean, how could you not read this article with a title like that? I hate to have to use such marketing wizardry to get you in here, but, darn it, you really should be reading this. Why? Because I’ve taught my fair share of tennis lessons over the years and well over 90% of those players are were completely unaware of this core principle of the backhand.

Who really should be reading this?

For all the one-handed backhand players out there, I’m sorry to have strung you along this far. Unfortunately, this post is only for our two-handed backhand brethren. But, don’t get too sad. I promise I’ll get a post out just for you in the near future. After all, I am myself a “one-hander”.

So, my fellow one-handers, this isn’t goodbye…

Cutting to the quick

Okay two-handers, I won’t leave you in any more suspense. Here is the core two-handed backhand principle that is unknown to most tennis players out there.

The two-handed backhand swing needs to be powered by your non-dominant hand

Take that in for a second and let it marinade. Kinda crazy huh?

But it is the truth. Your backhand is really just a forehand on the opposite side.

If you already know this about the backhand, give your tennis pro a big tip, proceed to “Go” and collect your gold stars.

If you are still with me (it’s okay, most of the others are too), let’s dig in a little deeper and get your backhand to the level it should be.

Technical backhand mumbo jumbo

I do my best to spare you the technical details behind the advice I give, but there are times when it can’t be avoided–and this is one of those times.

The problem is that this lesson is not quite as self-explanatory as the others and I don’t like you doing things just “because I said so.” It’s okay though, this will be quick and painless and I assure you it’s well worth it–just like the outtakes at the end of all the Pixar movies.

Push, don’t pull

To start with, pulling with your dominant hand on a backhand is much less powerful than pushing with your non-dominant hand. And pulling is exactly what happens if the backhand is powered by your dominant hand.

It’s obvious why you might initially want to let your dominant hand take over the backhand. You are more coordinated and comfortable with your dominant hand. Heck, it’s already doing all the work on your forehand! Yet, notice that on your forehand the dominant hand is actually pushing the shot–not pulling it.

When you let your non-dominant hand power the backhand, you free up your dominant (read: coordinated) hand to do what it does best.

On a two-handed backhand, the dominant hand is there to provide stability and control.

Makes sense right? You are more coordinated and in control of your dominant hand (I mean, that’s why it’s called your dominant hand silly). Your non-dominant hand typically lacks these fine motor skills, but it can still easily handle the more powerful and simple swinging motion.

So, by letting your non-dominant hand power the backhand you free up your dominant hand to control and stabilize. Your dominant hand is like Brad Pitt in Oceans Eleven. Yes, a star in his own right, but for that series to be magic he’s gotta let Clooney take the lead (and let me tell you, that series is magic!).

Now let’s take a look at the other reason the non-dominant hand should be powering your backhand.

A longer swing increases power

When you let your dominant hand (arm) power the backhand you end up with a much shorter and inconsistent swing.

The swing is shorter because the dominant arm wants to go back to the dominant side. Thus, the swing becomes an abrupt “pull” back to the dominant side. Heads jerk, elbows bend like crazy, and your backhand feels like a feeble swat instead of a powerful stroke.

By letting your non-dominant arm do the “heavy-lifting”, you enable the swing to extend as far out in front of you as possible. This maximum extension enables maximum power. Remember when Gandalf the Grey became Galdalf the White (classic storyline really–hero dies and is reborn a more perfect and powerful version of themself)? Well, that’s what happens on your backhand when you embrace the non-dominant hand.

What about consistency?

Not only does driving the backhand with your non-dominant arm unlock your potential for power, it also makes your shot more consistent. Here’s why…

Consistency is all about muscle memory and being able to do the same movement over and over again. Right? Right. So, the more complex the movement is, the harder it is to get that movement consistent. In letting your non-dominant arm do the swinging, you make the movement as simple as possible by limiting the movement to the shoulder.

Whew… I know that is a fair amount of technical detail to throw at you. But like I said, I want you to understand why, not just how.

One drill to rule them all

Sweet! So everything makes sense in your head and you are ready to put rubber to road and embrace this new-found backhand principle.Coincidentally, I just so happen to have the perfect drill to get you driving your backhand the right way in no time (though there’s still speculation on it’s ability to control Middle-Earth… LOTR reference, my bad).

The drill is easier done with someone tossing or hitting the ball to your backhand, but it can be done by yourself as well. All you have to do is take your dominant hand off the racquet and swing through the backhand with only your non-dominant arm. You essentially need to hit forehands with your non-dominant hand.

I don’t expect you to make any shots–that’s not the point. I want you to get used to the feel–the muscle memory–of swinging predominantly with your non-dominant arm. Get used to the feel of freely swinging from your shoulder. You may even start to get a feel for your body’s rotation and how that helps add momentum to the swing.

When you reintroduce your dominant hand after a few minutes, try to remember the feeling of swinging with just your non-dominant arm. You will notice a drastic difference immediately.

Quick summary

Just in case you got distracted on YouTube watching all the hilarious Pixar outtakes (I’m sorry, I know you’ll never get those 2hrs back… I’ve been there), here’s a quick summary of everything we touched on.

  • The two-handed backhand needs to be powered by the non-dominant hand and arm.
  • The non-dominant hands “pushing” motion is much stronger than the “pulling” of the dominant hand.
  • The non-dominant swing is longer, more powerful, and more consistent.
  • Great Pyrenees puppies are absolutely adorable*

*we just got a Great Pyrenees puppy so I know for a fact.

Go forth and hit ye better man!

I don’t make this stuff up. I’m not throwing proverbial noodles at the wall. This lesson is tried and true. I literally just gave this lesson a few weeks ago and you should have seen the shock and awe. It seems impossible to see such drastic improvement in both the outcome of the shot and confidence of the student, but I tell you it’s real life. It really does make a huge difference.

So get pumped! And then head out to your local tennis court and give this a try. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Thanks for reading and have fun out there!

Sam Miller signature

"olga backhand" is used courtesy of Charlie Cowins under the Creative Commons License. This image has been modified from it's original state.

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