Forehand POWER Checklist

There are two kinds of “forehand power.”

The first is effortless power.

Effortless power is the power we gain simply by using proper biomechanics. It’s gained while barely sacrificing any consistency or fault tolerance, and utilizing it only slightly raises the shot’s degree of difficulty. All players should strive to practice the mechanics that yield effortless power.

The second is effortful power.

Effortful power is volitional – you’ve decided you’re in a situation where hitting really, really hard is appropriate, and so you’re going to try to hit really, really hard. The most obvious example of an appropriate situation for effortful power is a short, high, floating forehand. I want to be clear that effortful power is a personal choice; even on a floater, not every player elects to crush it.

Some players hardly ever choose to hit really, really hard and play almost every shot with lots of margin and spin, while other players (Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock, for example) treat almost every high, slow, forehand as if it should break the sound barrier.

Almost every item on this list creates effortless power when applied, but can also be further focused on or exaggerated, to create additional effortful power. The decision as to whether or not to execute said exaggeration falls to you.

Before We Start…

Everything that follows is subordinate to a proper contact point. As you implement the tips below, it’s very easy to start messing up where you’re contacting the ball, relative to your body. In order for the modern swing to work as intended, the ball must be contacted away from the body – both laterally away from the body and out in front of it. That’s the only contact point that allows the racket to naturally flick through the ball and strike it in a topspin way.

If, in the course of implementing these checklist items, you start hitting the ball late, or start catching it too close to you, then any power gained from the implementing the change will be offset by the less efficient motion.

Also, you’ll notice that nothing we talk about here has anything to do with the arm itself. Power does not come from swinging harder with the arm; only tension, misses, and injury do. You can use your abs or your chest, you can drive forward with your legs, you can rotate your hips – there are many efficient ways to generate power, but pulling or twisting harder with your arm isn’t one of them.

Strong muscles create power, the arm muscles themselves merely stabilize and control.

1. Drive off of the back leg

This is a proprioceptive cue – to increase power, you should actually think about driving hard off your back leg and feel the hitting-leg butt muscle contracting. This drive will both push your whole body forward and cause your hips to rotate back towards the target. Both of those consequences – the hip rotation and the forward momentum – are essential for effortless power.

To increase power, you should actually think about driving hard off the back leg, and feel the hitting-leg butt muscle contracting.

Here’s an experiment you can do to teach yourself the movement:

  1. Set your feet in a semi-open stance.
  2. Turn to your upper body to your forehand side.
  3. Shift your weight onto your back leg, bending it.
  4. Forcibly straigthen your back leg.

This contraction will both straighten out your hips, and if you drive hard enough, send your whole body forward. It is the primary muscle contraction that starts the rotational kinetic chain.

The degree to which you drive of your back leg will vary from situation to situation. On a particularly easy ball, you can elect to inject effortful power, by actively focusing on maximizing the strength of that hitting leg contraction: loading it lower, and exploding off of it as hard as you can.

Ideally, we’d like to do this on every ball, but we won’t always have the necessary time, or be in the correct position to. That said, unless you’re hitting on the dead run, still initiate the swing with your back leg, even if it isn’t as foreful as it would be if you’d had longer to prepare. Doing so will always add effortless power.

2. Relax

Force production necessitates tension; driving really really hard off the back leg, requires a really really tight contraction of the muscles in that leg – specifically the quad, glute, and hamstring, and calf.

Hold the racket just tight enough to prevent it from flying out of your hand.

The strange part about tennis, though, is that while some of our body parts forcefully contract to generate force, other body parts need to stay completely relaxed to transfer that force into the racket.

The wrist and the hand are two of the body parts that stay relaxed. The more relaxed they are, the faster the racket goes. Hold the racket just tight enough to prevent it from flying out of your hand, and use just enough wrist tension to maintain the string angle through contact.

2.5 The Arm, The Chest, and Relaxation

The arm itself functions as a rope to transfer the force generated by your core into the racket. Three common volitional force applications that will impede the swing are:

  1. Trying to twist the racket harder with your forearm (Trying to point your butt cap at the net?)
  2. Volitionally supinating the arm
  3. Volitionally pronating through the shot

These things will happen, but they will happen as a natural consequence of the way the arm was thrown into the shot. If they don’t, there’s an upstream kinetic chain issue – it will very rarely be fixed by focusing on the arm itself.

Though the hand and wrist stay loose during the swing, other parts of the arm will contract for stability. The biceps, for example, tighten up to prevent the elbow from hyper-extending, which is good.

We don’t let the arm lag back, stretching the chest.

The chest contracts to force the arm out in front of the body. It’s important we do not allow arm lag, the way we allow (and encourage) wrist lag. As the body explodes around, the chest muscle forces the arm out away from the trunk. We don’t let the arm lag back, stretching the chest.

You might wonder, why not? Wouldn’t we benefit from a stretch reflex of the pectoral muscles? Yes… kind of. In the end, tennis is still primarily a sport of control, not power. It’s amazing just how much power the modern swing lets us generate while still maintaining control, but control is always our first goal. Using a stretch reflex at the chest is, generally, not worth it.

Occasionally, on the dead run, with no ability to recruit the legs or hips for power, if you want to go for it, go ahead. Guys like Medvedev and Lopez will sometimes do this, and rip 100 mph forehands from seemingly impossible positions. But only try this on defense. In a neutral or offensive situation, force your arm to travel around with your chest, and your contact will be far more consistent.

3. Breath in, then exhale through contact

Always breathe in, relax, and then exhale as you swing.

If possible, breath in through the nose, rather than the mouth. Nasal breathing oxygenates the body better than mouth breathing – you actually get more oxygen per ounce of air inhaled through the nose, than you do through the mouth.

Nitric oxide, a chemical produced by the sinuses during nasal breathing, is essential for many health markers; everything from being an anti-inflammatory agent to reducing blood clotting.

Of course, if your nose is congested, or if you’re so out of breath that the nasal pathway simply isn’t wide enough to get enough air, just inhale through the mouth and don’t worry about it. That said, during practice, and during any regularly strenuous rally, begin forming the habit of nasal breathing, and your conditioning will thank you.

As you swing, exhale.

The forceful contraction necessary to accelerate the racket happens at the beginning of the swing. Exhaling through this contraction is good. First, it functions as a rhythm cue, helping you execute your stroke the same way every time. Second, forceful exhalation or grunting will increase your force production, functioning similarly, but not identically, to the Valsalva maneuver (holding your breath through a contraction).

As the racket comes through the hitting zone, you should be nearing the end of your exhalation. The forceful contractions necessary to generate force are now mostly complete, and of critical importance now is to avoid impeding your relaxed racket whip through contact with tension.

4. Turn your shoulders

Roger Federer (left) turns his shoulders farther, relative to the hips, than Juan Martin Del Potro (right). Both still lead the swing with their hip rotation, and both hit exceptionally hard.

Let’s start with the effortless power version of the shoulder turn. A large amount of forehand power is generated when the player rotates their chest/shoulders forward towards the target as they swing.

This requires that their chest be turned away from the target during preparation, such that it can rotate back towards the target during the forward swing.

Ideally, you always want to turn your shoulders farther than you turn your hips. This creates something called “hip shoulder angle separation,” and this separation encourages the hips to unlock first, and then the chest/shoulders to follow, creating a rotational whip through contact.

The angle separation isn’t necessary for effortless power, though. As long as the hips unlock first, even if the shoulders and hips turn away by the same amount, the rotational kinetic chain will still accelerate the racket as expected.

4.5. Turn your shoulders a lot

Robin Soderling was famous for taking a massive shoulder turn – turning his shoulders almost 90 degrees farther than his hips – and crushing forehands because of it.

All players initiate the swing with their hips, whipping them around before the shoulders, but not all decide to implement this by drastically turning their shoulders farther than their hips to begin with. Each player has a different preference for their personal balance between power and control. Every player needs to experiment with their own preparation.

That said, a huge shoulder turn is very helpful in generating power – it’s just hard to control. Next time you have a high, slow, short forehand, try turning your shoulders away more than usual. Just your shoulders, not your hips. You should feel the muscles in your core pre-stretch as you do this.

It might take some practice to get the timing down, but unlock all that loaded power correctly, and you’ll absolutely crush the ball. Just remember to relax, extend through contact, and watch the ball all the way in, otherwise you’re more likely to hit the back fence than a winner.

5. Pull your non-hitting elbow away

Both hip rotation and chest rotation create power. The easiest way to ensure your chest whips around towards the target is to consciously yank your non-hitting arm away from your body, thereby initiating that chest rotation.

Forget this part, and you may under-rotate, leaving significant power on the table.

Rafael Nadal prepares with his non-hitting elbow well on the hitting side of his body, then pulls it out to the right (he’s lefty) as he initiates his forward swing, thereby whipping his hips and chest back towards the net and violently accelerating the racket.

6. Don’t over-rotate the hips

Optimal power is achieved when 100% of the force generated by hip rotation is transferred into the racket. This is really hard to do (although doing it with less than perfect efficiency will still result in blistering forehands).

Attempt to have your hip rotation stop right as they’re pointed at the target, or slightly past it. Rotational power is great, but a rotational whip is better. A whip isn’t just thrown hard at the target, it’s momentum is violently halted mid-flight in order to transfer all of its kinetic energy into its tip.

Your rotational whip doesn’t have to be perfect – many tour players often hit winners with their hips over-rotated a bit – but for that maximum biomechanical power, stop the rotation at precisely the correct time, and all of the trunk’s rotational energy will transform into racket head speed through the ball.

Andy Murray (left) hitting a 124mph winner inside-out, and Fernando Verdasco (right) hitting a 103mph winner down-the-line. Each player’s hips are still pointed only slightly farther than their target deep into their follow-through, indicating an efficient transfer of hip rotation into racket acceleration.

There are many players on the tour who routinely hit winners by throwing their hips through contact, and follow-through by bringing their back foot around. This is fine – if it suits your game, do it. However, if you want to slap 124mph forehands like Andy Murray, you’ll have to over-rotate less.

7. Are you still relaxed?

As you start focusing on other things, you’ll forget to relax. First you’re holding the racket too tightly. Next you’re forgetting to exhale through contact. Now you’re over-rotating your hips, now you’re under-rotating your hips.

Relaxation is the key that unlocks power, topspin, and consistency in the forehand. No matter what else you’re thinking about, no matter what technical improvement you’re currently working on, breathe in, relax, then exhale as you swing.


  1. Poida
    July 21, 2021

    “No matter what else you’re thinking about, no matter what technical improvement you’re currently working on, breathe in, relax, then exhale as you swing.”

    Absolutely essential! I was watching a video DelPo posted on his Instagram account. He was absolutely crushing hand fed balls off both wings, but especially the forehand. He appears to have a continuous loop and hits a lot from a neutral stance. He seems to be hitting off his front foot, am I misreading that?

    1. Johnny (FTF)
      July 23, 2021

      Nope, you’re not misreading that. Forehands can be hit off of the front or the back foot effectively. Further, power on the forehand is generated from both rotation and forward body weight transfer. When hit off the back foot, nearly all of the power comes from rotation, whereas when hit off the front foot, a significant amount of power comes from the traditional “leaning into” the shot.

      As for Del Potro’s large looping swing: it is possible to use a dynamic racket drop like that to generate extra racket head speed, as he so effortlessly does, and I’d never correct a student for doing that if they were good at it. That said, I don’t personally teach that style, because I think an abbreviated swing is far more useful for 90% of players.

  2. Rodrigo
    September 3, 2021

    Hi John, hope all is well. First, congrats on the website and on the book. I bought the book and pretty much read it non-stop. Awesome material! I’m 46 years old, started playing tennis at 43 and fell in love with the sport. I try to play 3x/4x per week and have been trying very hard to improve my game. I have two questions on the forehand that I was hoping you could point me in the right direction.

    1- I have a tough time fully relaxing my arm/wrist during the acceleration phase of the forehand. I guess I feel like I need to guide/control the racket head in the middle of the acceleration phase so that I hit a clean shot (or dont miss the shot…) and I end up tightening up and “arming” the forehand too much. What do you usually have your athletes/students work on when relaxation (or lack thereof) is the main issue?

    2- I’ve been trying to start the acceleration phase by leading with the hips/turning the shoulders etc as you recommend above and on the book. I try to relax the arm but, as I mentioned, the arm unconsciously takes over. Should my intention be just to forget about the arm? Should the intention be to “throw/swing” a dead arm through the body rotation? I’m asking this because I think that if I figure out the right intention a lot of my problems will go away.

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Johnny (FTF)
      September 5, 2021

      A few things. First, have you read one of our newer articles about the hand dipping during the forward swing: https://faulttoleranttennis.com/the-forehand-c-myths-vs-reality/ . This is something that, in retrospect, I wish I’d put in the book as well, but it is what it is. Allowing the hand to dip and flick back up may help release some of the tension you’re feeling.

      I stress mini-tennis in the book, because I strongly believe in it. Rotate your body at maybe 10-20% speed during mini tennis, and relax your hand as the racket comes around. When you’re moving so slowly, typically your brain will allow you to relax, because it isn’t worried about controlling the ball or hurting itself (both cause you to tighten up without your conscious control). I’ve found that working at <50% speed, usually starting at around 25% allows players to find the loose feeling where the core is doing most of the work, and then, as we increase the speed, I just stop them and we go back down if they lose that looseness.

      One of the most important skills, not just for learning the forehand, but also for executing it in a match situation, is being able to vary your speed without fundamentally altering your arm swing. In a match, some shots will desire an extremely quick, explosive core rotation, while for others, if you attempted that, you'd almost certainly miss. So this isn't just a means to an end - learning to rotate at all different speeds while having the arm perform roughly the same relaxed flick is an end in and of itself.

      As a last point of instruction, the relaxation is something you need to teach yourself using your own experience of what it feels like to swing. Don't forbid anything as you experiment with mini tennis. Don't try to make your arm movement look like anything. Just hold the three goals in your mind: 1. turn to accelerate the racket, 2. be roughly square to the net as you contact the ball, 3. relax the hand and wrist. These will manifest as very different motions depending on things like contact location, the ball coming at you, even your initial body position. I think a reason many people don't ever find their own natural motion is that they're to busy trying to force it into some specific ideal, rather than just experimenting from first principles, which is how we really want to learn.

      In summary: slow down (the core rotation), and then experiment until the motion feels natural. As you speed back up, slow down again if you feel like you lost whatever epiphany you just had at the slower speed.

  3. Phil
    May 30, 2022

    1. Regarding volitional effort: once the racket flip starts is it OK to consciously Perform the windshield wiper motion To add top spin?

    2. When you exhale during the stroke, you mention “contraction”. Does that mean a) holding your breath momentarily as you tense the core muscles and then releasing your breath as the racket travels through the hitting zone? Or, b) you blow out your breath like snuffing out a huge number of, let’s say, birthday candles like Aaron Krickstein used to do?

    1. Johnny (FTF)
      May 31, 2022

      1. I’m going to say “no.”

      The caveat here is that everyone’s brain interprets “do X volitionally” a little differently, so, by coincidence, some players will attempt the windshield wiper volitionally, and their upstream swing will properly coordinate itself.

      For most, though, it won’t. The racket should be flung in such a way that it naturally wants to rotate through the hitting zone. It’s almost always upstream volitional actions that create any insufficiency of windshield wiper rotation. Critically, the racket needs to be thrown out away from the body – much of the whip happens because the racket gets yanked around by the arm once it can’t move any farther away.

      2. I teach the prior. Ab contraction simultaneous with air release through the hitting zone. Unlike in the windshield-wiper situation, I’ve found that volitionally focusing on the abs helps my students unlock that link in their kinetic chain, and the body is best at that contraction while exhaling through it.

      A tennis forehand is short and explosive, so a full Valsalva is inappropriate. It’s far more similar to what sprinters do off the blocks – forcibly exhale all their air as they explode into the race – than it is to something like a barebell squat, for which a Valsalva is ideal.

      1. Phil
        June 3, 2022

        So you teach a forceful exhalation initiated by a Valsalva maneuver that lasts a fraction of a second.

        1. Johnny (FTF)
          June 4, 2022

          I’m not sure that’s the best way to put it. I teach students who seem to be missing the abdominal link in the kinetic chain to focus on using their abs to twist towards their target. I encourage them to exhale through that contraction for a few reasons. First is as you mentioned; the forceful exhalation increases stability in the core. Second is as a rhythm cue – adding the exhale can help the player execute with the same kinetic chain timing every time. Third is actually to prevent a full Valsalva, which makes it very difficult to loosen up the later links in the chain – specifically the hand.

          I also just want to make clear that the timing window is bigger than a fraction of a second (well, on most shots, not all). The idea behind the modern, fault tolerant swing is that as you explosively fling your racket forward, there’s a solid amount of the swing during which, if you make contact, your stroke will be decent.

          1. Phil
            June 12, 2022

            To clarify, in the article on late acceleration, in the photo of Sinner, the plane of the hip is parallel to the plane of the net, assuming he is hitting a ball down the middle of the court, and located at his right iliac crest. Right?

          2. Johnny (FTF)
            June 14, 2022

            Yep, that’s right.

            I find it very common for players to be so focused on their low to high swing and the looping action that they forget to actually drive the racket out past their body. I really want them to feel that space between the plane you described, and their elbow, through contact, and as they begin their follow-through.

  4. Juan
    March 1, 2023

    What is the ideal shoulder position at contact?

    E.g. Should the shoulders/chest be square to the target? Should the dominant shoulder be slightly in front?

    1. Johnny (FTF)
      March 11, 2023

      It depends on the exact shot you’re playing, but, ideally, the dominant shoulder slightly in front. It’s not necessary, though – you can create an effective strike with the dominant shoulder stuck behind, or with it well out in front as well. Experiment on different shots, and to different targets, and figure out what works best for you. Ideally, you rotate enough that your hitting shoulder ends up slightly in front.


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