Muscular Analysis of The Tennis Backhand
Category : Sports Physiology
Muscular Analysis of the Tennis Backhand
Tennis is one of the most played sports internationally, and the sport where many players become known around the world. Aside from basketball, baseball, and football, a number of tennis players become internationally famous because of having exceptional skills in playing tennis. In addition, tennis is not only the sport that develops international champions, but a playing field for individuals who would like to enjoy while losing weight. Playing tennis not only promote fitness, endurance and stamina on those who play it, but also promotes and develops quality time with one’s self and with one’s family. It also develops a healthy lifestyle, which is anyone’s primary goal in order to function effectively and efficiently in the community and society. In fact, a recent study at Johns Hopkins University regarded tennis is as a ‘heart-healthy’ sport, such that middle-aged men who are active in tennis had significant lower incidences of cardiovascular diseases, thus, referring to the tennis sport as ‘an ideal sport for a healthy heart’ (‘’ 2006). Moreover, because the tennis sport has contributed a lot to the society, it has become one of the most studied sports where scientific research has been applied for developing better performance of its players. In this regard, this paper aims to discuss and analyze the muscles involved in executing the tennis backhand particularly, including the muscles that assist and initiate in the motion. This also includes the leg muscles involved, the actual action of the tennis backhand, and the rest of the body parts.
Tennis Backhand Motion
The backhand motion is the opposite motion of the tennis forehand. In the backhand motion, the forearm is said to flex laterally around the biceps and the elbow, and where the word flex means the folding and unfolding of the arm. A good backhand stroke is a combination of two movements, namely, the external rotation or the action of the bent arm, and the horizontal abduction or the swinging of the arm away from the body. The photos below show the position of the right arm during the backhand motion (‘’ 2007).
Fig. 1 Hand Movements of Backhand Motion
The photo illustrating the first action of the backhand motion shows that the arms is bent or folded across the stomach. The second, third and fourth photos show that the arm flexes laterally around the elbow or the biceps, and the arm is folded across the body of the player or under the chest muscles in the backswing and then unfolds for the forward swing. The photo below shows the actual handling of the racket in the backhand motion (‘’ 2007).
Fig. 2 Backhand Motion with Racket
The photo shows that in doing the backhand motion, the arm is bent when the racket is back, and unbends when the player swings the racket forward. From this, it can be seen that the upper, medial, and lower arm are the crucial in performing the backhand motion, thus, help to extend the force and the power in hitting the ball (‘’ 2007). In addition, in doing the backhand motion, the action of the arm and the shoulder muscles is not the only source of the force in hitting the ball. The power of the backhand motion also comes from the support of the feet and the rest of the body. In this regard, symmetrical footwork is needed to empower and strengthen the backhand. Movement to the right side means stepping the right foot first and vice versa. Primarily, the back foot is moved first and forward because it keeps the player moving in a forward direction, gets the player close to the ball, holds the player’s balance, prevents sidesteps, and directs the body’s momentum into the ball for power (‘’ 2007). In simple terms, the back foot becomes the dominant foot in executing the backhand motion. In comparison to executing the forehand motion where the feet are positioned in parallel, the feet in executing the backhand motion is positioned such that the other foot is moved backwards than the other, thus, becoming the source of the power.
Aside from the power of the arm and the foot, executing the backhand also involves power from the torso, which involves balance, shifting of weight, and the right angle of turn for a more powerful force. The shift of the body’s weight to empower the backhand stroke means shifting the weight to the ball, where the shift is linear. Aside from shifting weights, rotation of the hips and the body is also another source of power and support for executing the backhand shot. Body rotation is tolerated when the back leg swings around to embrace the contact spot and not when it swings around to the net. An example of a tennis player who does this perfectly is Gustavo Kuerten or Guga who excellently changes the position or angle of his torso over his lower body. His photo below illustrates that his back leg is in the process of coming around during the forward swing to help align his body center or power with the hit, such that it does not wind up farther ahead of the front leg into the court after the hit (‘’ 2007).
Fig. 3 Backhand Motion of Guga
Theoretically, during the backhand motion of the tennis shot, the actions of the right hand described and discussed earlier are being executed, along with the footwork described, and the movements of the torso. In simple terms, doing the backhand motion involves the combination of all the actions described earlier. In this sense, the muscles of the right arm and hand are flexed, the back foot, or the left foot supports the forward foot or the right foot, and the torso or body center is tilted or rotated. With such actions, the tennis player would be able to execute a powerful backhand shot.
Muscles involved in the Backhand Motion
The muscle involved in the execution of the tennis backhand motion is the lateral epicondyle, which is located on the outside or lateral aspect of the upper arm bone or the humerus at the level of the elbow. The lateral epicondyle is a bony prominence that is easily seen and felt. It is the origin of other several muscles that serves to move the wrists and the forearm. The primary function of the lateral epicondyle is to extend the wrist and fingers, and for supination, or turning the palm facing up. In tennis, the lateral epicondyle is crucial in the stabilization and rotation of the racket, and for backhand stroke ( 2007). Specifically, the other muscles attached to the lateral epicondyle are the extensor carpi radialis brevis, the extensor carpi ulnaris, the extensor digiti minimi, the extensor digitorum, and the supinator muscle (‘’ 2007). In addition, the forearm extensor muscles composed of the muscled mentioned above are in action during wrist extension and in executing the backhand stroke. This involves repeated gripping and twisting movements that work the extensor muscles ( 2007).
Below is the illustration of the lateral epicondyle during the backhand motion. From the illustration, it can be seen that the lateral epicondyle is being stretched during the backhand motion, as the arm is flexed and extended. This causes the motion of the upper and lower arm, thus, producing the power of the backhand shot. In this action, all the other muscles attached to the lateral epicondyle serve to extend and abduct the muscles of the hand and wrist joint (‘’ 2007). As stated earlier, the backhand stroke is a combination of two movements, the external rotation of the bent arm and the horizontal abduction of the swinging arm away from the body (‘’ 2007). From this, the lateral epicondyle serves to extend and abduct the bent and the swinging arm to make an effective shot. Moreover, the muscles of the lateral epicondyle are attached to the muscles of the shoulder, thus, helping to facilitate strong movements during the powerful backhand shot.
Fig. 4 Lateral Epicondyle
Along with the action of the lateral epicondyle in the arm of the player, the calf muscles or the gastrocnemius, the Achilles tendon, the plantaris muscle, and the hamstring muscle. The calf muscle or the gastrocnemius is responsible for knee flexion, for plantarflexing the ankle, and for the stabilization of the ankle and the knee when standing. During the backhand motion, the calf muscle is stretched and flexed continuously, as the tennis player runs and exerts effort in hitting the ball. The plantaris muscle is a thin muscle beginning at the lower end of the femur, stretches across the knee joint, and attaches to the back of the heel along with the Achilles tendon. Because it is attached to the Achilles tendon, during backhand motion, the plantaris muscle may be stretched, thus, helping the whole leg and thigh of the tennis player to move. The hamstring muscles are long muscles that extend down the back of the thigh, and work to pull the leg back and bend the knee. These muscles help the athlete run and jump during tennis, while during the backhand shot; these muscles help the back foot extend to maintain balance (‘’ 2006). With the use of such leg and thigh muscles, the tennis athlete would be able to effectively and efficiently execute his powerful backhand shot. Thigh and leg muscles are illustrated below.
Fig. 5 Thigh and Leg Muscles
Aside from the leg and thigh muscles to support the arm muscles in executing the backhand shot, the torso muscles are also needed, as the tennis player uses them for rotation. The torso muscles involved include the abdominal muscles, composed of the rectus abdominis and the external and internal oblique muscles. During backhand motion, the tennis player slightly rotates, thus, flexing and extending his external oblique muscles in order to make a powerful backhand shot. The continuous execution of a backhand shot stretches the player’s abdominal muscles, thus, helping the player with the rotation of his torso in order to obtain power from the hips and transfer it to the ball.
The mechanism of the tennis backhand shot is not as simple as it seems. A proper and effective execution of the backhand shot involves not only the major muscles in the arm, but involves the muscles in the thigh, legs, and in the abdomen. In simple terms, the simple execution of a hand movement in tennis still involves the movement of the muscles of the rest of the body. With this, in order for one to excel in tennis, proper care and exercise must be maintained.