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Tennis Forehand WRIST – Lag and Snap Explained7 min read

by | Aug 23, 2018

What is the role of the wrist in the modern ATP forehand? How do I achieve the lag position? How relaxed should my wrist be?
The short answer is it depends. Depending on your grip, where you’re trying to hit to, and a bunch of other factors, your wrist will do something different.

Wrist Anatomy 101

To start off, the wrist is a gliding joint which allow the bones to glide past one another in any direction.
The 4 main motions in the wrist are:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Radial Deviation
  • Ulnar Deviation

Then, there are 2 main motions in the forearm:

  • Pronation
  • Supination

Preparation and Backswing

The wrist is relaxed.

This means that you have just enough grip tension required for you to keep your racket in your hand, without actively manipulating the racket with your forearm muscles. If the wrist isn’t relaxed at the start of the backswing, it most likely won’t be relaxed in later stages of the forehand.

The wrist must be in proper positioning.

The wrist positioning at the end of your backswing should be the same orientation that it was it when you completed your unit turn. One key here is to use your non-hitting arm to keep the hitting arm wrist stable until it releases of the racket.

Acceleration

Again, the primary role of the wrist and forearm in the acceleration phase is to stay relaxed. Except here, the wrist will not remain static, and there will be more or less extension, ulnar deviation, and supination in this phase. This will pretty much depend on factors like your grip, backswing shape, the amount of rotational force you used.

If the forearm is tense here, you will hinder your racket head acceleration and you might injure your forearm and wrist

Here is the step by step process of what gets the wrist and forearm to extend and rotate back:

  1. The forward swing is initiated by the hip and trunk rotation.
  2. Depending on the player, there can be some external shoulder rotation occurring in the hitting arm and for most elite forehands, there will be horizontal adduction.
  3. If your wrist is in proper position and you performed a proper ATP backswing where your hitting arm hand stays on the hitting arm side of your body, and your forearm muscles are relaxed, the wrist should naturally rotate back due to the weight of your racket head.

Control Factors

Generally speaking, the more Eastern your grip is, the more wrist extension or lag you’ll have in your forehand. If you are using some version of the semi-western grip, the angle of your maximum extension will get smaller and smaller.

Also, depending on the shot and how much force you need to put behind the shot, you’ll have more or less wrist extension.

Transition Point & Follow Through

By the time you reach the contact zone, the hand and arm have accelerated the point where you can’t observe it with the naked eye

This phase of the forward swing is what Brian Gordon coined the transition point. It’s where the wrist is in the full lag position and the racket switches from the linear forward trajectory to a rotational trajectory.

There are 3 functions of the wrist in the transition point and follow through:

1. Passive Flexion
The wrist should be relaxed and released by the force of the racket head. The racket is turned over by something called inertial force.
Basically, if the hand was the axis point and the racket was the object, when the hand/arm is pulling out toward the ball, the racket’s inertia, or resistance to change it’s state of motion, is the reason that it “lags” behind the hand.
2. Resist Flexion
When players are hitting down the line or inside out, they will actively resist the racket’s forward momentum, in order to angle the racket face toward their desired target.  In other words, forearm supination and pronation play the role of allowing the racket the necessary rotational force to create topspin. And now we know that the wrist flexion and extension control can control the direction of the shot.
3. Active Radial Deviation
There are 2 circumstances where the wrist will actively do a radial deviation in order to get more spin on the ball.
The first scenario is where you’re on the run, the ball is at waist height or lower, and you trying to get side spin on the ball. You have to actively and viciously brush up the side and back of the ball, and in order to do this, you must change up your forward swing by adding in the wrist’s radial deviation. However, this shot is considered advanced – you have to be able to execute your regular stroke but add in a completely new element in the wrist while hitting on the run.
The second scenario is for getting out of bad situations when the ball is at your feet. If the ball is too close to you, you will be forced to make contact in a zone where you can’t utilize the internal shoulder rotation as much for topspin. So, in order to pick the ball up, they will use their wrist’s radial deviation to brush up the back of the ball.

Drills

Grip Tension Test
Here’s an exercise by John Craig from Performance Plus Tennis that can help you find the optimal grip tension.

  1. First, hold your racket up right in your hitting hand.
  2. Now, try to feel the weight of the racket head.
  3. If you can’t feel it, that means you’re gripping to tightly.
  4. Gradually loosen your grip until you find the medium between where you can feel the weight of the racket head but also keep your racket upright.

I want to note that different circumstances will call for different grip and forearm tension levels so the purpose of this exercise is just to get an understanding of what it means to be relaxed.

Figure 8’s
This next one here is a more modified drill to an existing exercise.

  1. To start, hold your racket out from your body with just your fingers.
  2. Rotate your hips and trunk lightly from side to front.
  3. If you are doing this properly, your racket should be performing a figure 8 motion like this
  4. After a few repetitions, hold the racket in your forehand grip and do the same motion.
  5. Now I want you to focus on the relaxed and free motion that you are allowing your wrist joint to move in.
  6. Step into a neutral stance and hit a closed stance forehand doing the motion you just ingrained.
  7. Once you follow-through, pivot back into a closed stance like this and repeat the motion.

This is basically incorporating the final elements of the stroke, including the legs, off-arm, etc.

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