How To Hit Forehands On The Run

Aug 09

When you’re attempting to hit a forehand on the run, it usually goes wrong in two ways: you either hit it too hard (over-hitting), or you hit it very short with almost no power.

You may think that all you need to solve this problem is one little tennis tip, but as you will see, there are many different reasons why you may be hitting such forehands incorrectly.

So, let’s first understand the problem in depth by looking at the forehand on the run from technical, mental and tactical perspectives. Then we’ll take a look at the drills that will help you master this challenging situation in the game of tennis.

Why We Tend To Over-hit Forehands On The Run

To really solve the problem of over-hitting on the run, we have to look at each element of the game of tennis and check if the problem applies to you.

1. Technical

You may not be aware of the connection in the brain between motor centers for legs and arms and how they affect each other.

When the region in the brain responsible for controlling the legs gets activated (because you have to run very fast), that activation also triggers the region of the brain responsible for moving the arms since they are very close together in the brain.

Hence, your arms are inadvertently also stimulated and tend to move very fast.

That’s why you find it so difficult to control the swing and therefore the ball when you’re on the run.

You would like to swing slower, but your arms just fire in a very fast manner, and you lose control.

That’s completely normal before one focuses on separating the movement speeds of the legs and of the arms.

In coaching terms, we need to learn to coordinate legs and arms.

legs and arms coordination on forehand

On most forehands legs and arms work in sequence / coordination to generate smooth movements…

 
arms and legs separation on forehand

… but legs and arms must also learn how to work independently while hitting a forehand on the run

Coordination typically means that body parts work in harmony.

In sports, training coordination also means the ability to move the arms independently from the legs and yet achieve smooth movements.

When we achieve that ability to separate the arm movement from the leg movement, then we also develop the ability to control the ball when in difficult situations.

Coordination in sports is a very broad term and includes many different types of coordination and abilities, all of which may be developed in many different ways.

 

Here’s a good overview just to give you some idea of the complexity of this topic: Training Coordination Abilities

 

To better understand how we develop that in the long term with juniors, take a look at some drills below:

 
 
This is a typical coordination drill where the player works on legs and arms ability to work independently. Basketball players are obviously very skilled in this type of coordination as are for example ice hockey players and even drummers.

So, what can you do as an adult playing recreational tennis to improve your ability to separate the intensity of the arm movement from the intensity of the leg movement?

The best way is to exaggerate the correction and break down your habit first.

If you have been over-hitting, which means you have been moving your arms too fast, you first need to move your arms too slow.

Only when you break the habit of swinging fast can you start building up a new movement pattern in your brain.

Have someone feed you balls to the corner while you’re always starting from the middle.

Step 1: Run for the ball, and don’t try to stop or slow down your legs while hitting. In other words, run through the shot by keeping your legs moving fast.

But, instead of hitting the ball over the net, try to hit it so gently that it won’t even cross the net. You will have to really slow down the movements of your arms to be able to do that.

forehand running drill

Learning to run fast and hit slow starts with exaggerating the point – don’t even play over the net

Make sure that you complete the whole forehand smoothly and that you don’t just touch the ball with a short, jerky movement.

The forehand movement with the arms has to be smooth and slow.

You can try a few shadow swings without the ball to remember the feel and then attempt to do that while you run through the shot.

Do not expect immediate results. You may not be able to do that well at first, so keep practicing.

I would suggest at least 20-30 repetitions before moving on to the next drill.

Step 2: In the next progression, keep running through the shot, but now attempt to play the ball just over the net into the service box.

Step 3: Do 20 repetitions again before moving on to the final progression where you try to play the ball with control deep down the middle while still running through the shot.

As you will see later, running through the shot at first is the key also for those that hit with too little power since they have trouble with the footwork.

I’ll address that below when we get to under-hitting when playing forehands on the run.

In summary of the technical part, the main reason you tend to over-hit may be that you are unable to separate the intensity of the arm movement from the intensity of the leg movement. In other words, you cannot coordinate the movements of the legs and arms well.

A good way to tackle that problem is to exaggerate at first and practice hitting the ball very gently while running fast – in fact so gently that the ball doesn’t even cross the net.

Eventually progress to hitting the ball gently over the net into the service box and finally deep down the middle, which should be your final goal.

Keep in mind that you will not be able to change year-long habits of movement patterns by doing this only once in one afternoon.

This drill has to be repeated a few times per week for 3-4 weeks before you will start to feel a good ability to control the movements of your arms even when running very fast.

Tennis is a sport, after all, and sports abilities improve through actual physical training and not through reading or watching videos online.

2. Mental

Another very likely reason why you may over-hit is because you get overexcited or even panicked when you’re on the run.

When you are pushed into defense and have to run fast, you may just panic. In that state, you’re unable to think clearly.

This panic mental state then affects your movements to reflect this panic – you simply hit too hard.

Therefore, this time, you must learn to separate the mind from the body.

When your body has to move frantically fast, you cannot allow your mind to also function frantically fast.

Your mind must function like a cool computer, calmly calculating the best shot in each situation.

In other words, you need to calm down.

Step one is awareness. If you’re not aware that you’re over-excited when running for the ball, then you can’t help yourself.

A good sign that you’re over-excited is your facial expression that shows this state of mind. Record yourself and see how you look like when running for the ball.

over-excited on a running forehand

Does your face look something like this when you’re in defense? πŸ˜‰

If you see tight lips and panic in your face, you’ll know there’s something to work on there.

What worked for me and my students is to calmly talk to yourself to calm down while you’re running for the ball.

Work on the separation of the mind and the body – cool and calm mind with an intense and dynamic body.

Only when you can achieve this calm mind while running fast for the ball will you be able to control your forehands on the run.

3. Tactical

The most common tactical mistake when hitting forehands on the run is the decision to hit a fast, risky shot close to the lines.

Players mistakenly feel that they need to hit a world class forehand from their defensive position to stay in the rally. Otherwise, they fear their opponent will hit a winner into the opposite corner.

That’s imagining the worst-case scenario and forgetting that you’re playing a recreational tennis player on the other side who is very unlikely that skilled.

tactics of forehand on the run

Aim with good margin above the net down the middle so that your shot lands in the last quarter of the court

So, realize that there is no need to go for risky shots that you will likely miss. You can play a much safer, loopier shot deep down the middle, and you’ll be fine.

Sure, you will have to recover quickly, but in most cases you’ll be able to handle your opponent’s next shot just fine.

Why down the middle?

Hitting down the middle is at first counter-intuitive because you are playing right back at your opponent and it seems like an easy ball for them.

Yes, it is if it’s too short.

But if it’s deep, then it gives your opponent quite a few challenges:

  • It doesn’t allow them to hit the next shot at a good angle. They need to hit an inside out shot and it usually doesn’t go close to the lines.
  • They have to move away from the ball and that robs them of power whereas if you played cross court they would move towards the ball and find it easier to transfer power into the ball.
  • Players are much more used to hitting down the line shots from an incoming cross court shot than they are backing off from the middle in order to play an inside out shot. That means their shots will not be very accurate.

In my analysis of the Roger Federer – Andre Agassi final of the US Open 2005 from the Tennis Strategy Encyclopedia ebook I found that they opted for a defensive shot down the middle 36% of the times and went for a defensive cross court shot only 17% of the times.

The deep down the middle defensive shot works well also in recreational tennis and I’ve used it a lot.

Of course, you always need to be able to adjust depending on your opponent’s skills if necessary and change your tactic.

Summary

Hitting consistent forehands on the run with good power requires you to:

  • develop good coordination/separation between the intensity of the leg movement and the intensity of the arm movement so that you can run fast and hit slow;
  • remain calm even though you are running frantically for the ball; and
  • have the right tactical idea of playing deep down the middle with good net clearance.

The above points apply especially to those who tend to over-hit from forehands on the run.

If you tend to hit very short with no power, you need to practice running through the shot and not looking to save yourself a few feet of recovery by trying to stop when you don’t really have the time.

You may be also playing too safe tactically. While you don’t ever make a mistake from defense, you also don’t win many points as your opponent can easily continue to dictate the point.

As always, hitting forehands on the run while keeping the technical, mental and tactical principles in mind needs to be practiced often, especially if you find yourself in most of the above situations mentioned.

(Just make sure first that your forehand fundamentals are in place in easy conditions before you go on practicing more challenging ones.)

While I appreciate the praise from many of you sharing how you like my clear and simple explanations, know that my explanations do not improve your tennis skills.

Only actual physical exercises improve skills.

My explanations only point you in the right direction. Now you clearly know what to work on.

So, hit the court and spend your time until the next article practicing these principles πŸ˜‰ (and feel free to continue even after that).

Leave a Comment:

(13) comments

Zac August 9, 2017

Great work as always Tomaz.

About the reasons for overhitting on the run, I think a lot of people can’t resist the temptation to try to do the kinds of things they see Nadal or Djokovic do when they’re in that situation.

At my level (intermediate recreational), often the best option in that situation is a deep lob that resets the point. This buys you time, and is often more difficult for your opponent to deal with than a nice, neutral ball with more pace.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) a lot people at my level never really want to play defense, even when they’re in defensive positions. The ones that do are much much harder to beat.

Reply
    Tomaz August 9, 2017

    Thanks for sharing, Zac, all good points and all very true.

    Yes, there’s way too many highlights on TV and Youtube and not enough real high percentage shots that should be singled out and explained as the foundation of good tennis.

    Reply
Richard August 9, 2017

Hi Tomaz

I tend to over angle the ball on my return as well, hitting it too much cross court and out. Now I realise that I get myself in an over panicked state, swinging at the ball too early and mis-hitting it. My mental image is wrong, I’m trying to hit a winning return to ‘outdo’ my opponent’s shot with an even better one. I Will work on this!

Reply
    Tomaz August 9, 2017

    Glad that the article helped, Richard.

    When you’re in the defense, defend! πŸ˜‰

    You don’t have to defend passively by playing a dead ball in the middle of the court but do play a good deep ball down the middle or cross in order to get back to neutral.

    The goal is to get from defense to neutral and possibly later to attack and NOT from defense to attack immediately.

    We call that counter-attack and in recreational tennis it shouldn’t be played much, perhaps 1 in 10 defensive shots.

    Reply
Herold Prins August 9, 2017

Hi Tomaz,

thank you for your great instruction. Love it!!

When you are on the run for a hit you are probably in a defensive situation. That will mean that you better play a high percentage ball cross-court over the lower middle section of the net.

I your video you did play most of the time down the line. Was that to avoid hitting your partner? Or do you have reasons to hit down the line?

Cheers from Down Under

Reply
    Tomaz August 9, 2017

    Hi Herold,

    When I played down the line I wasn’t even aiming. I was simply demonstrating the drill especially the footwork – meaning how to run through the ball and hit a forehand.

    When you see the clips of me playing a real rally I go down the middle.

    The lowest part of the net is not important at all because you should play a defensive or a neutralizing shot so high that it can EASILY cross the net (3-5 feet above) at any section of it.

    We don’t play cross court in defense because the net is the lowest, we play because we challenge the opponent to hit an accurate down the line shot off a diagonally incoming ball which is very challenging and because we are much closer to our ideal recovery position for the next shot.

    Reply
Elen August 9, 2017

Thanks Tomaz for your coverage on this important topic.

Can you also please address the scenario where a baseline rally has turned into a short shot and the defending player must quickly travel towards the net, hitting on the run while moving forward with lots of forward momentum?

In addition for adjusting for the running and hitting, adjustments must be made for compensating the forward momentum and now you have less distance to hit to reach the baseline when you return the short ball. If I receive one of these balls that are wide, I try to hit an angle but sometimes overshoot hitting the alley if I’m playing singles. If I receive one of these balls and hit down the line or to the middle, I can still overshoot because this is still less distance available and I’ve not compensated correctly to shorten the distance the ball will travel.

Offensively and for opponents that don’t move well or those who prefer to hit deep and hard from the baseline, I like to give these short balls down the middle around the service line after having engaged them in a baseline cross court rally because they often hit a “home run” when coming up suddenly to return a shorter ball.

Your tips and some drills for how to handle running up on a ball and not overhitting would be a great help. Many thanks!

Reply
    Tomaz August 10, 2017

    Hi Elen,

    Sure, I’ll try but for most of your questions my first answer is to practice more.

    If the ball is too long when you hit it, hit it less next time.

    If you have too much momentum, try to slow down.

    They are all very logical and there are no secrets to share.

    Sometimes I also overhit into the alley and so does Federer.

    There is no instruction that will teach you how to NEVER overhit too long or NEVER hit too wide.

    That’s tennis, it’s a challenging sport and there is no certainty and no perfection.

    You already pointed out the answers above so in my opinion you just have to practice this.

    Reply
Marcelo August 9, 2017

Very usefull tip !!!
One of the cue, it is the followthrough above the head, “the normal Nadal style”.
For people that play tennis for a long time it is no normal, because old racquets made impossible this hit. But, it is a great tipo for this time.

Thanks Tomaz !!!

Reply
    Tomaz August 10, 2017

    Hi Marcelo,

    The high up follow-through just happened because I hit the ball slightly late.

    There is no need to think or change your follow-throughs, they just happen.

    Old technique, new technique, it doesn’t matter.

    What matters is that you imagine the trajectory correctly before hitting the ball.

    One can hit a slightly higher ball with any grip and any technique – the ball only understands racket angle and swing path angle.

    Reply
Patrick August 10, 2017

Excellent presentation. Also I note: separation between upper and lower body and calm. Thank you for all you do to elevate sport.

Reply
Randy Beerman August 12, 2017

I watch a lot of training videos. I was a 6.0-6.5 player in late 70s and early 80s. I left the game for 25 yrs and when I started playing again it was a different game.

I changed from a continental on most things to a semi western forehand. You video on the running forehand is one of the most helpful I have watched. Thank you very much.

Randy

Reply
    Tomaz August 13, 2017

    Thanks for the feedback, Randy!

    Keep in touch…

    Reply
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