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5 Exercises to Improve Your Grip Strength for a Better Tennis Swing

Posted by Aaron Laurence on Apr 1st 2022

A female athlete performs wrist flexion exercises with a YBell Arc in a center grip
YBell Arcs are the perfect free weights for tennis grip strength exercises.

Different Ways to Increase Grip Strength & Improve Your Tennis Swing

Athletes looking to improve their tennis game often primarily focus on speed, mobility training, and endurance. While these are essential athletic skills, you’ll find that top tennis players focus on improving their tennis swing. How? By improving their grip strength and forearm strength.

In this blog, we’ll cover the benefits of grip strength, how grip strength helps your tennis swing, and how to improve grip strength through various exercises. Let’s dive in!

4 Benefits of Grip Strength for Tennis Players

Tennis grip strength gives you the ability to absorb force, which allows you to better control your swing, and ultimately, control the ball. Your racket grip relies on a crush grip, where your hand is closing around the racket handle. Elite players win by swinging harder, hitting with more force, and serving the ball with speed and control.

Benefit 1: A Strong Grip Absorbs Force Better

When a tennis ball makes contact with your racket (especially when you’re returning a powerful serve or volleying), it causes the racket strings to vibrate. The vibration carries from the strings and outward along the racket’s frame into the handle. It ultimately transfers to your hand and wrist. Upon impact with the ball, your wrist extensor muscles will activate your forearm muscles to stabilize your wrist.

According to a study published in Sports Medicine and Health Science in Dec. 2019, “players can modulate vibration transfer to their hand/arm by adjusting the location of ball impact or their grip force.” With a firmer grip force, you can absorb the ball’s energy better to slow down the fatigue of your wrist and elbow joints, as well as your forearm muscles.

Benefit 2: Grip Strength Helps You Control Your Swing

The point where your hand grips your tennis racket is the last point in the kinetic chain of grip in a tennis swing. So a weak tennis grip means a weak, uncontrolled swing. Maximizing your racket control gives you more advantages on the court with each serve or swing you take.

In a tennis swing, you squeeze the racket's grip just as you're about to make contact with the ball and carry that through as you hit the ball. Then your grip loosens in your follow-through of the swing. Between the force absorption and the tighter squeeze on the racket handle, you'll need a great deal of forearm strength and grip strength to control the force and direction of your shot. A firm tennis grip offers more control over your hand, wrist, and forearm muscles and affects how firm or flexible your hold is on the racket throughout the swing.

Benefit 3: An Improved Grip Lets You Serve With More Force

Experienced tennis players know that using the continental tennis serve grip is the best way to generate speed and force when serving. Using this grip allows you to add topspin and control to your serve. It also allows your wrist to flex freely, creating a more fluid-like motion.

The mechanics of a tennis serve with a continental grip isn't much different from the movement of throwing a ball. However, the combined length of your serving arm and racket means the most significant acceleration in the service comes when you whip your arm and racket the way you'd snap a whip. That snap is vital to flexing your wrist for topspin. You generate incredible speed through the whip-like motion and pronation (outward rotation) of your hand, which is instrumental for serving the ball with tremendous force.

Benefit 4: Grip Strength Lowers Your Risk of Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an overuse injury that occurs when tendons in your elbow are overloaded and become strained or inflamed, which can cause severe pain. The strain is usually caused by repeated motions of the forearm muscles that straighten and lift your hand and wrist — such as the motion of swinging a tennis racket.

While the name implies an athletic injury, anyone who performs this repetitive motion — painters, handypersons, cooks, dentists — can develop tennis elbow. Aside from muscle pain and inflammation, the most common side effect of tennis elbow is weakened grip strength. Many athletes (and nonathletes) don't think about strengthening the forearm muscles and tendons until after an injury occurs and rehab is required. However, by working to improve your grip strength, you'll be supporting your forearm muscles and tendons to withstand stress and fatigue.

One way to increase grip strength and stave off muscle injuries is to add grip strength exercises into your fitness routine.

5 Tennis Grip Exercises to Improve Your Swing

Forearm and wrist exercises are the best way to improve your tennis grip techniques and can also be helpful grip exercises to forearm muscle recovery. As always, if you're suffering from a muscle strain or injury, speak to your doctor to ensure these exercises are right for you.

Let's start with these tennis grip strength exercises that you can perform in your home gym with or without load (YBells, dumbbells, or kettlebells):

1. Resisted Forearm Supination With YBell Arc

Practicing wrist supination with a YBell Arc will work the supinator muscle. The supinator is a broad muscle in your forearm's superior and posterior compartment that consists of two layers of fibers. The supinator is attached to your elbow and is the muscle that makes it possible for you to turn your palm upward, making it vital to your grip strength.

Equipment Needed:

  • A flat surface (weight bench, plyo box, etc.)
  • A light free weight (YBell Arc or YBell Arc Lite)

How To Do a Resisted Forearm Supination With YBell Arc:

  1. Hold a 5.5 lb YBell Arc or 2.4 lb Arc Lite in your right hand with your palm facing down using a center grip.
  2. Lay your right arm on a flat surface with your arm against your body and elbow bent. Your hand and wrist (and the YBell) should hang over the surface. This is your starting position.
  3. Rotate your arm outward, turning your palm up. Keep the movement isolated to your wrist and forearm, keeping your elbow motionless. Hold here for 5 seconds.
  4. Rotate your arm inward, back to the starting position. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Adjustments: You may need to wait for your muscle inflammation to subside if holding a weight is painful during this movement. However, you can perform forearm supination without weights by simply laying your hand flat.

2. Resisted Wrist Extension With YBell

Resisted wrist extensions work the wrist extensors — a group of nine muscles on the back of your forearm that connect to your elbow. The primary function of the wrist extensors is to extend and bend your wrist, but they also support other movements in the wrist and fingers. Strengthening your grip with extensor exercises can make the extensor muscles more resistant to sprains that tend to occur when swinging a tennis racket.

Equipment Needed:

How To Do a Resisted Wrist Extension With YBell:

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Hold YBell in your right hand with your palm facing down using a center grip.
  2. Rest your right forearm on your right thigh, with your hand and wrist hanging over your knee. This is your starting position.
  3. Keeping your forearm still, bend your wrist upward as high as you can without causing pain. Hold here for 5 seconds.
  4. Slowly bend your wrist back down to the starting position. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Adjustments: If holding a weight is too painful, you can also try this move with resistance bands by wrapping one end of the band around your hand and placing the other end under your foot for light resistance. You can also perform wrist extensions without weights, which will still provide a nice warm-up to your extensors before getting on the court.

3. Resisted Wrist Flexion With YBell

Your wrist flexors are a group of muscles in your forearm that connect to your elbow. They're responsible for wrist flexion and movement of your finger and wrist joints. The wrist flexor muscles work opposite your wrist extensor muscles. Combined, they are part of your wrist joint's normal range of motion.

Since wrist flexion — when your hand bends down at the wrist and your palm faces in toward your forearm — is the opposite of wrist extension, this exercise will be very similar to wrist extension.

Equipment Needed:

How To Do a Resisted Wrist Flexion With YBell:

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Hold a YBell in your right hand with your palm facing up using a center grip.
  2. Rest your right forearm on your right thigh, with your hand and wrist hanging over your knee. This is your starting position.
  3. Keeping your forearm still, isolate your wrist and flex it upward toward your body as high as you can without causing pain. Hold here for 5 seconds.
  4. Slowly control your wrist back down to the starting position. This is one rep.
  5. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Adjustments: If holding a weight is too painful, you can also perform resisted wrist flexion with resistance bands by wrapping one end of the band around your hand and placing the other end under your foot for light resistance. You can also perform wrist flexion without weights, which will still provide a nice stretch to your flexors.

4. Towel Twists

The towel twist exercise works your wrist flexors and extensors simultaneously. These muscle groups are vital to your grip strength. They're easily inflamed from overuse in your tennis swing, making the towel twist an excellent exercise for treating and preventing tennis elbow.  

Equipment Needed:

  • A medium hand towel

How To Do a Towel Twist:

  1. Loosely roll up a towel and hold it lengthwise in front of you, with one hand at each end of the towel.
  2. Relax your shoulders and twist the towel by moving your hands in opposite directions (ex: your right hand will flex forward while your left hand extends backward), as if you were wringing water out of a towel. Twist each hand as far as you can go without causing pain.
  3. Now reverse the movement in both wrists, wringing the towel in the opposite direction. This is one rep.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Adjustments: To add more tension/resistance to the movement, you can wet the towel and wring water out of it. If you add water, it's best to do this exercise over a sink or outside in the grass to avoid slipping on water that comes out of the towel.

5. Farmer’s Walks

The farmer's walk is a popular strength training exercise where you hold a heavy weight in each hand while walking. It's a whole-body compound movement that targets your biceps, triceps, quadriceps, and hamstrings and strengthens your core while adding a bit of cardio work to your strength training regimen. Farmer's walk exercises (also called the farmer's carry) improve your grip by working the muscles in your hands, wrists, forearms, and shoulders — all the forces that impact your grip strength.

Equipment Needed:

How To Do a Farmer’s Walk:

  1. Hinge at your hips, then bend your knees to pick your YBell(s) off the ground. You can work with just one weight or two weights to keep the load even.
  2. Bend your legs to lift the YBells using an outer grip and return to your standing position. Hold the weights to your sides with your arms straight.
  3. Pay attention to your posture — stand tall with your shoulders back and chest pulled down slightly.
  4. Keeping measured breathing, slowly walk forward for whatever distance feels comfortable to you, using a pace that allows you to maintain good posture.

Adjustments: For an added challenge, you could also try an offset farmer's walk, where you hold one weight in a front rack position while keeping the other to your side. Start this move with two equal weights. Try increasing the weight for the arm in the carry position as you progress. This offset places a greater demand on your core, and proper form is vital.

Whether your goal is to improve your tennis swing, serve a ball with more force, or prevent a muscle injury like tennis elbow, enhancing your grip strength is the best way to accomplish your goals. If you're looking for more functional fitness exercises that'll improve your grip strength, download the YBell Fitness App to learn about the YBell grip transitions and try our free workouts.

Aaron "Az" Laurence, Co-Founder, YBell Fitness

As a certified personal trainer and the inventor of the YBell, Aaron "Az" Laurence loves motivating people to become better versions of themselves. He enjoys designing challenging workouts for himself that he can use with his clients.
 
Az developed the YBell to replace the multiple pieces of equipment he was using in his group training sessions. He enjoys seeing his clients' reactions when they realize they only have to change grips on their YBells to change equipment. And he loves being able to dial up the intensity of their workouts with just one training tool.
 
Seeing clients progress both physically and mentally as a result of training fuels his passion for the fitness industry.