How to Hit with the Proper Stance to Avoid Arm Strain

Q. "I am 56, a marginal 3.5 player, play with a Head LiquidMetal 4 and recently experimented in my weekly singles tennis game with an open-stance topspin forehand, using aggressive shoulder turn and finishing with the hitting arm across my body (rather than facing skyward). I was driving the forehand better with the open stance than with the (more traditional for club players) closed stance. However, I developed a strain in my forearm muscle that is now more than two weeks old.

I'd hate to think that this stroke is not for me in this lifetime, yet I'm wondering what factors have led to the strain. (It's the first time I've ever experienced pain in my arms or elbows -- I'm usually a lower-back stiffening kind of guy). Do I need to consider any particular conditioning exercises, or perhaps a head light racquet? (The LiquidMetal 4 is head heavy.)"

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:

It sounds like you are trying to hit the ball with all arm. Try going to a 3/4 stance and finish more across your body as opposed to hitting straight out. This should take pressure off your arm and get more of your total body into your follow through. Also check what grip you are hitting with. If you are still in the eastern grip you need to change into the semi or western grip for your shot. Also, when hitting the ball just practice hitting into the area between the service line and 3/4 court. Once you have perfected this hitting area then you can start hitting out with more racket speed.

From Sandy, Palm City, FL:

It sounds as if you are hitting with an open stance using only your arm. A topspin forehand should be hit by transferring your weight from the right foot to the left using more of your body. I hope you'll see your local pro and have him evaluate the problem because you will not play at all if you keep hurting your arm. Might I add, I did the same thing when I first tried the open stance.

From Bill W., Turlock, CA:

You probably learned to play in the 70's with a closed stance and a continental grip. Try using more of a semi-western grip and make contact farther out in front of you. You do not need to use your forearm to hit the ball anymore. Just hold the racquet tight enough to control the head and let your rotation hit the ball. I am just a few years younger than you and had the same problem. It's all about your contact point and rotation. Your arm is just along for the ride.

From Eric R., Santa Rosa, CA:

You mentioned 3.5 level, and 56 years old. Both of those would tell this amateur tennis sleuth that your sore arm cure will surely involve better technique on your new shot, and rehab exercises.

Get a lesson once you finish rehabbing your forearm strain. Dr Glick in San Francisco helped me with a series of very basic forearm exercises. Tennis Magazine archives had his suggestions from awhile back.

At 56 there should be care taken to avoid a chronic pain in the arm. The inside out forehand to study would be Federer`s but you are twice his age. It requires excellent footwork and balance. If you hit it too late you are asking for more pain. Google Federer videos.

From Terry H.:

I assume you chose to learn this shot to add power to your game. The very nature of the open stance topspin shot adds strain to the shoulder especially if you try to over hit the ball and on off center hits. Also, I have always found Head racquets to be extremely stiff. That stiffness will also produces shoulder and elbow strain. You may also be opening your stance too much.

You might try finding a more flexible racquet or using lower tension on the strings. Also, try a more semi-open stance and take some pace off the shot until you can consistently hit the ball in the racquet's sweet spot.

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

At 56 it is an interesting time to try the open stance forehand, or the Euro forehand. I learned the shot at 13 years of age from one of the first American coaches to teach the shot, Steve Wild. It sounds like you know what you are doing; using a large shoulder turn, don't forget to turn the midsection of your body, keeping your feet mostly open, but not totally. I think you are whipping across the ball to much, using your wrist to much and not your body turn enough. This shot still needs to be low to high, catching the ball on the bottom and coming up, through, then across. It sounds like you are not going through enough, just across. Using this forehand can also lead to people not using there body strength at all, or too little, and can cause your arm to hurt. One option is a little racquet; Wilson makes many different sizes and shapes of racquets that would be perfect for this type of shot. This is an advanced shot, and with your age and your 3.5 level it might not be the best of ideas. Your muscle memory is used to your old forehand. If you want to continue this shot, make sure you explode with your whole body turn into the shot, not just your shoulder turn, and go under the ball, through towards the net, and then across, not just under and across. Ice and heat your arm, stretch a lot, and consider a lighter Wilson racquet, and hitting the euro forehand the correct way. If you still are in pain, go back to your old forehand. There are probably 100's of things in your game that you can work on to become a better player. At 56 you can still improve greatly, think about all the mistakes you make and consider the easy ways to fix them.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Was that Steve or Superman? Steve first things first, adding unproven change of this magnitude to your game during match play would not be my first choice of moves. Second, sound like you are a weekend player, with that in mind considering your age, unless you are in top shade with core conditioning well in hand stop and give your body a chance to heal. Upper torso twisting requires a great deal of conditioning.

The forearm pain can be caused due the contact point required for open stance play. In general hitting late will lead to forearm pain.

There is a lot more to open stance than as you describe. After you heal find yourself a PTR or USPTA pro, take a few lesson with a few peers and you will be amazed at the outcome. You save money and have more fun. You can pay the Pro now or pay the doctors later.

From Roger:

I developed a forearm strain last season. I am 68 and also a 3.5 player. I have a better than average serve and it was while serving that I began to notice a discomfort and eventually pain. The strain is on the top of the forearm when my palm is up. It is a chronic and disabling injury which has the annoying habit of recurring after I think it's healed. A very good teaching pro watched me serve last spring and told me I was gripping the racquet to tightly when I "bore down" with a hard, fast serve. I have only a very slight discomfort this season but I'm doing two things that help.

FIRST: I frequently (3 times a week) do 2 exercises with a 3 lb dumbbell as follows: 1. Hold the dumbbell loosely in your hand and bend from the waist so your arm is "dangling" in front of you just above the floor. Then rotate your forearm completely from one extreme to the other. Do this easily, about 20 repetitions, and be sure to rotate your forearm completely from one extreme to the other. You'll feel it "pull" a little in the forearm. 2. Also using this 3 lb dumbbell, place your arm, supported under the elbow, on a padded surface like the roll pad on common exercise machines, and do this same rotating movement 20 reps. It is most effective if you grip the weight by the end rather than the hand grip.

SECOND: Before I play, I warm up my forearm using the tennis racquet, choking up on the racquet above the grip, and rotating my forearm using the same rotating action as I described with the weights, except I hold my arm straight out in front with the elbow straight and rotating the racquet from one extreme to the other. I do this warm-up about 20 repetitions. Also, be sure you are completely warmed up before you begin hitting "hard".

Remember what the pro told me about having too tight a grip on the racquet, as well!

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