Women often rely on their arms, more than their core and lower body, to hit tennis serves and groundstrokes, according to Dr. Ben Kibler, a sport science adviser to the U.S. Tennis Association. Most women also use a two-handed backhand, opting for the extra power and control it gives them. Performing dumbbell exercises that target your arms, chest and shoulders, as well as core and lower-body exercises, will help you improve your racket-head speed.
Triceps Extensions and Kickbacks
An optimal serves requires a loop motion, ending with your forearm turning outward, similar to a high five. Mimic this motion with triceps extensions. Start with the dumbbell behind your head with your palm facing your back and your elbow pointing upward. Raise the weight straight up, turning your arm outward so your palm ends up facing forward. Perform this exercise with one dumbbell at a time, using two dumbbells at once or alternating the repetitions. You can also target your triceps with kickbacks. Kneeling on a chair or bench with one knee and one hand to steady you, hold the dumbbell in the other hand straight down at your side with your palm facing your body. Raise the dumbbell to your chest, then begin performing reps by straightening your arm backward. Continue repetitions until you fatigue, then switch arms.
Many women hit their two-handed backhand with the trailing arm pushing the racket forward, making it similar to an opposite-hand forehand. Flyes will help you work your biceps, pectorals and deltoids, which contribute most of the upper-body muscular effort to forehands and trailing-hand dominant backhands. Start by holding two dumbbells in front of you at arms’ length, with your palms facing each other and hands almost meeting in front of your chest. Slowly move the dumbbells backward, bending your elbows slightly as you start to feel stress in them. Bring the dumbbells back until you form a "T" with your body. Pause, then bring them forward again. You can perform flyes standing, sitting or lying on your back.
When your tennis pro tells you to bend your knees, he’s only telling you half the story. The reason you should bend your knees when serving or hitting groundstrokes is that you generate maximum power from the upward leg drive during strokes. Squats will help you increase your leg strength during upward movements. Stand with your dumbbells at your sides, palms facing your legs. Slowly lower yourself, keeping your knees over your toes. Move your buttocks backward and lower yourself as far as you can comfortably go, keeping your eyes straight ahead and your torso straight. Pause for one or two seconds, then raise yourself. If you have heavy dumbbells, practice reactive squats. Lower yourself with a quick drop, rather than muscular effort, then slowly raise yourself.
Turning your core is critical in tennis, especially during serves and groundstrokes. To work your obliques, located on the sides of your stomach, add the Russian twist to your routines. Sit on the floor with your knees bent upward, holding one or two dumbbells at arms’ length. Slowly bring the weight to one side of your body using your core muscles to turn you. Avoid turning with your shoulders. Pause, return to the center using your core, then perform a rep on the other side. If you are using one dumbbell, place it on the ground near your hip each time after you move the weight to one side. Experiment performing this exercise leaning slightly back, with your feet off the floor. Practice each variation without weights to learn the proper technique and to avoid lower-back stress.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.