How to Use Legs for More Power and Spin

Jul 04

Unfortunately, tennis coaches’ and online instructions on how to use your legs correctly to help you generate more power and spin for your forehands and backhands often boil down to “bend your knees.”

However, bending your knees is just half the answer, and, in my experience, it’s much better to focus on what you’re doing on the way up from the bent-knees position, as it’s this move that helps you add more power and spin to your groundstrokes.

This article presents mental images that you can visualize as you’re executing your strokes. They have proven to be very effective for my students.

What Usually Goes Wrong with the Legs on Ground Strokes

One of the most common mistakes tennis players make when they’re about to hit the ball is completely extending their legs too early.

This results in a split-second pause between the legs extending (which adds power and lift to your stroke) and the actual moment of hitting the ball.

extended legs on a forehand

Extending your legs fully before contact robs you of power and control

The pause between the work of the legs and the work of the arm means that the energy provided by the legs is wasted as it does not get transferred well to the upper body and into the arm.

The lifting of the legs that helps you to lift the ball over the net and add topspin is also wasted.

Ideally, your legs should still be extending as you make contact, as that’s when they will actually help with power, lift and spin.

The 75/25 Percent Image for More Power

The first mental image you can use to correct this mistake is the 75/25 percent image.

Imagine using 75 percent of your leg drive from your lowest position (knee bend) up to the contact point and leaving 25 percent of your leg drive for after contact.

legs adding power to tennis strokes

Imagine the 75/25 ration while hitting a groundstroke

In other words, have something left in your legs after you make contact with the ball.

Don’t waste all the leg drive before contact!

The percentages 75/25 are just for a mental image and, of course, are not exact ratios, as these will depend on the type of incoming ball, how high it is, how much time you had to set up for the shot and so on.

However, try visualizing this combination of ratios and implementing it, and you will feel the benefit of your legs contributing to the power of your shots (this works for forehands and one- and two-handed backhands and backhand slices). You will also feel that your body is more connected as you’re hitting the ball and not as disjointed, as you may have felt before.

This adjusted leg drive move will also help you to lift the ball higher over the net and to improve your consistency.

The Spin-with-Your-Legs Image for More Topspin

The idea of the spin-with-your-legs image is very similar to the above, but you can do a little drill to help you to better visualize what you want to do when hitting a ground stroke.

This mental image will help you to add a bit more topspin to your shots, but mainly, it will help you to better coordinate the lower and upper parts of your body and, therefore, make your strokes more effortless.

Most players tend to imagine adding topspin to the ball with their wrist or forearm only, and when they are so focused on one part of the body, the other parts tend to disengage and not to contribute to the movement.

no leg drive in tennis

If you extend your legs too early they won’t contribute to spin

When this happens, the body, again, does not coordinate well, and you will be very inefficient in your movements and, therefore, play inconsistently.

The spin-with-your-legs image keeps you focused on the correct sequence of the necessary movements to hit a stroke and thus coordinates your body correctly.

Here’s a little drill that you can do to help you visualize what you need to do: Put your racquet at the contact point, drop feed the ball to yourself and then try to topspin the ball only by rising up with your legs and not moving your arms.

topspin forehand with leg drive

Spin the ball only by extending your legs

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but it will help you paint the picture of what to do when visualizing this move as you play.

Try spinning the ball a few times by using your legs only, as this will help you to feel the contribution that your legs should be making to your execution of your strokes.

Once you’ve done this a few times, go back to normal rallying, but imagine that you’re going to initiate the spin part of your stroke with your legs first. Then simply do the rest of your stroke as you’ve always done it.

You should “get it” very quickly and notice how this mental image of spinning with your legs helps you hit more consistent forehands and backhands.

Just one caveat: don’t try to apply this move literally as you play; if you try to play using this exaggerated drill, you’ll break down the fluidity of your stroke.

It’s just a visualization of the sequence of movements for your ground strokes, so it’s crucial that you maintain the fluidity of your stroke by applying this idea of spinning with your legs in a way that doesn’t break down your stroke.

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(9) comments

Susan July 5, 2016

Great instruction as usual Tomas.

    Tomaz July 5, 2016

    Thanks, these are really effective ideas but as they are not as fancy as an analysis of Federer’s forehand I am afraid most people will just overlook them.

    Any yet these two tips will do much more for the quality and the effortless feeling of hitting the ball than that fancy analysis…

Zac July 5, 2016

Hi Tomaz,

Great post as usual. It seems that these principals could be applied to the kick serve, too.

One thought about this and all advice related to creating more topspin: if you do something to create more topspin, you also have to adjust the height of the ball so that it lands where you want it to.

A lot of people seem to see topspin as an end in itself. They do things to get more topspin, but then they play low over the net and their balls land short.

Really, it comes down to always keeping in mind the idea in your post “#1 Thing In Tennis You Must Never Forget: Intention”. In this case, that means having a clear height and depth that matches the amount of topspin you’re hitting with.

In my own mind I put the intention idea in parentheses after the title of all of your posts, because with so much technical information, it’s so easy to forget. For example,

How to Use Legs for More Power and Spin (while not forgetting to always hit with a clear intention!)

Forehand Follow-Through Catching Technique And Why Use It (while hitting with a clear intention!)

I would encourage you to keep making more mentally-oriented videos like the intention one, because even on your site (the best there is!) the technical advice seems to outweigh the mental advice. This can give the impression that the technical stuff is more important than the mental stuff, even though the opposite is probably true!

    Tomaz July 6, 2016

    Good point, Zac, it’s exactly like you said; you must never forget the intention.

    As for more mentally-oriented topics, please jump over to:

    … where there’s tons of articles I’ve been posting since 2005.

    Hopefully you’ll get the right mixture of information by combining the ideas from both websites.

luiz July 6, 2016


Marcelo July 7, 2016

Thanks Master. You always get very useful tips. Regards.

Chris July 11, 2016

Hi Tomaz,
Excellent piece of advice on using the legs. I tried this, and the balls tended to go high and long quite easily. Should I make my swing have a less upward movement, and introduce more extension with my arm?

    Tomaz July 12, 2016

    Hey Chris,

    If balls go long easily then you’ve definitely added more power to your shots with your legs.

    But to keep the ball in the court don’t think ANYTHING about your arms – at least not consciously.

    That’s NOT how we play tennis. We just imagine where we want to hit the ball and we keep adjusting. Follow the link to see how natural this process is.

Carlo November 22, 2016

I read this article again after “sneakily peeking” the video from the effortless forehand course 😉
This is a great tip as it can be really applied by feeling it and not by overthinking. This tip along with the feeling you are lifting the ball with rhythm can be easily applied in a match because you can still be focused on strategy and don’t get paralyzed by analysis (i.e.fancy millisecond-long forearm inward rotations seen elsewhere). At least that’s what I found to be true for me.
Tomaz, thank you again. You made my tennis experience way much more enjoyable and fun and you know what it means for us, tennis addicted.
Keep it on!
Carlo, Rome (Italy)
PS don’t want to rush you but PLEASE keep up with your schedule for bringing out the whole forehand course 🙂

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