The Biomechanics of Good Form, Part II
To quote Chet Murphy from "Tennis: Whose / What Form to Teach: A Biomechanical Approach" Good form is whatever sequence of movements enables a hitter to accomplish their purpose with the least expenditure of energy. Good form is obviously relevant to the task at hand.
So I have been thinking about this for the past two weeks, and it occurred to me that his analysis captured the elements of form as the game was played in the 1970's, and by review of those concepts we get some insight into how the game has changed. Meaning, obviously the professional game is quite different, but is the recreational game different as well, or could the 3.5 players of today be comparable to those of the 1970's (even though there was no NTRP ratings back then)?
Jimmy Connor's classical style forehand
Classical strokes in the good old days (talking about my generation) were long and smooth. Acceleration was generally not abrupt and a real dividend was paid when hitting the ball in the sweet spot of the older, heavier racquets. Because of the weight and relatively small sweet spot, most strokes were about maximizing the collision rather than imparting massive spin or pace.
Interestingly, about 5 years ago there was an exhibition in New York to raise money for the Tim Gullickson Brain Cancer Research Fund, and if memory serves me well, McEnroe, Courier, Sampras, and one other played a four man round robin exhibition using wood racquets. Service speeds remained relatively the same, but all the guys had difficulty returning serve, which I believe speaks to racquet weight and sweet spot.
So from the "Classical Stroking Good Old Days" (acronym CSGOD) Chet Murphy discussed the following biomechanical principles.
Motion is the result of muscular force applied to the body's lever system. Racquet momentum, developed through the body's muscular and lever system, is applied to the ball.
Wrist action used alone, separately, moves the racket in an arc. The arm used alone, separately, moves the racket in an arc. Two levers, such as the arm and wrist, can be coordinated to move the racket along a line rather than in an arc.
Now to apply the above material to the real world - to gain control of your shot, sequence multiple levers to move the racquet in a line rather than an arc at impact. And truly, we were advised to hit absolutely straight through the ball, sweeping the racquet forward as long as possible to the target. The follow-through was out to the target, never over the shoulder as is seen and taught today. Today the collision is all about racquet speed, and interestingly, the long deliberate linear follow-through actually diminishes racquet speed at impact.
The resistance offered by the racket depends on its distance from the turning center as well as on its weight.
Once a swing has begun, additional racket speed can be gained by extending the arm.
Applying the above to the real world - it is easier to get the swing started if the racquet is held relatively close to the body, and or it is easier to get the swing started if the arms are bent rather than straight. This would obviously have more import as regards 13 ounce wood frames than 7 ounce space age frames. As to gaining racquet speed by extending the arm, that holds true for racquets and styles old and new.
For maximum racket speed, the body segments that provide force should be applied cumulatively, each adding to the previous one - sequencing.
For maximum racket speed, some body segments may be slowed down to increase the speed of the racket - as in snapping a towel or cracking a bullwhip.
Now it gets interesting. Sequencing describes the relationship between the ankles to the knees to the hips to the trunk to the shoulder to the arm to the forearm to the wrist to the racquet. Players of all skill levels and of the classical and modern age rely on sequencing; perhaps another more descriptive term would be rhythm.
Certainly we can all see examples of flowing rhythm as well as the non-flowing counterparts. But in the modern game the emphasis is on loading, a term that describes how much flex and spring one can place in the relationship of the legs to the trunk. And in this modern model, much more emphasis and relevance is placed on balance and on the full if not overuse of the legs.
To generate the incredible racquet head speed in the modern professional game, the sequencing matters but of greater importance is how much loading can occur in the legs and hips before unleashing the arm and racquet.
And finally, the transition to the modern game is complete with the reference to slowing segments to create a whip. And whereas the heavy racquets could be whipped, though it was difficult, the modern racquets are truly much easier to use in that fashion. And whereas in the classical days players only tried to whip the serve, in the modern era there are whip forehands, whip backhands, someone has probably invented a whip volley, though I doubt it would be necessary.
As an aside, it may be that players in the classical age also whipped the racquet, but somehow the teachers and players did not notice and or adopt those techniques as they have today. For I do remember John Newcombe's "buggy whip forehand" as well as Tom Okker's massive whipping topspin drive.
So back to your game. If control is an issue, reexamine how the racquet is moving at impact and whether or not the arm and wrist can coordinate to move the racquet in a line rather than an arc at point of impact. If power is the issue, reexamine the rhythm of your legs and trunk as their moves precede the arm and racquet. And if massive power is your concern, note you risk injury on this one, but now find the whip at impact where all the energy built in the body that moves to the arm is totally released into the racquet.
Tennis: Whose / What Form to Teach: A Biomechanical Approach in Motor Skills: Theory into Practice,
1978, No. 3, No. 1, 21-34
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