Banner Space for Sale on This High Traffic Site

home - logo

Swing technique - beginners' step by step breakdown of swing mechanics

Home

Racquetball dictionary

Advertising


Home

Does it make much difference how you swing? It's unbelievable how much difference it makes, so it's certainly worth your while to get it right, from the beginning, so that you won't have to break any bad habits.

The best way to study correct swing technique is with an instructor. It's likely that they've seen all the major mistakes students make, and can quickly correct any bad mechanics. This instructional page on the other hand, can't stop you in the middle of your swing and point out what you're doing wrong. So a certified teacher is the surest way to get good. View this page as a check list.

Definitions: see the racquetball dictionary if you need definitions of backswing downswing and kinetic link

The analogy we're going to use is that of a buggy whip. buggy whip The cracking noise that a whip makes is caused by a large wave starting at the handle, carrying its energy into a smaller wave (which has to travel faster to maintain the energy from the slower, larger wave) as it travels down the whip, where the tip breaks the sound barrier at 700 miles per hour.

  • The tip of the whip represents your wrist
  • The cord represents your arm
  • The wooden handle represents your shoulders, and
  • The wrist flicking the wooden handle represents your hips

To pass the energy from the legs and hips to the wrist, there must be a series of links that pass that energy along, without dissipating it. These links in your body are called kinetic links. If any of one the links is not loaded correctly, then the energy is blocked, and your swing loses power. It's your job to make sure that each link correctly passes the energy on down the line to the next link.

You can see that some parts of your body need to be very supple: hips, arms and wrist. Your arms should be as loose and limp as rope. Imagine the whip's cord made up of a stiff garden hose. Would that whip very well? No! The cord should be very loose. Likewise, your arms and wrist should be relaxed as rope, or else the whip won't snap. Make sure that there's no tension in your arms.

Your shoulders on the other hand, should be straight and wide, like the long wooden handle of the buggy whip, to create a larger wave whose energy can be channeled to, and magnified by the next link in the sequence.

Don't Strain!

Throughout this lesson, keep in mind that the racquetball swing should be an easy, no-strain, unforced swing! Even for the hardest hitting shots. We're not using our muscles to create the swing that you'll be studying here. Instead, we're going to learn how to load and unload kinetic links located at various points in our body. So get used to thinking in terms of light, graceful, scientifically based moves instead of straining muscles. That's where the big power comes from.

Practice these instructions without a ball, at your house. Hold off on doing a fast swing until you've read the whole page. We're doing a forehand shot. First learn how to hold the racquet then come back here.

Wrist

Cock your wrist for the forehand swing. The wrist snap the last component in your swing, but we're starting from the end and moving backwards. Wrist should be lose and supple so that it can snap forward. When swinging at a ball, keep your wrist cocked during most of the arm's swing, until just before racquet hits the ball, then snap the wrist through the ball. Here's an example of Cliff Swain, courtesy of Ed Arias, snapping his wrist (Cliff is a lefty). The snap pretty much happens by its self. Just keep it cocked and at the end of the swing, the wrist snaps by itself. Kind of like the last person in the chain of the crack the whip game. (Don't cock your wrist for your backhand though. That's old school. New school is keeping it straight.)

Forearm

While keeping your wrist cocked, bend your forearm back until it forms the letter L in relation to the upper arm like Cliff does here. Now swing the forearm starting in an top down motion then pretty early on, turn the movement into a side arm motion like when you're skipping a stone over water. Snap your wrist at the end of the movement, or, as I said, it kind of snaps itself when the wave traveling through your arm reaches the end. Watch Cliff do this. The skipping-the-stone motion isn't all wrist though. It utilizes your whole arm starting at your shoulder. This makes a larger wave.

Upper arm and shoulders

Make your shoulders square (like the straight, stiff wooden whip handle) by keeping the tops of your deltoids down, your shoulder blades pressed in, and pointing your elbows at an imaginary ball in front of you. Baseball coaches call this shoulder lock leverage. Pitchers lock their upper arms (humerus) with their thorax (rib cage). It should feel like your elbow is stretching out and away very slightly from your shoulder, but not so much that your shoulder blade isn't still pushed in. Now raise your right elbow up as high as your shoulder. To raise your elbow that high, you have to bend your knees, move your hips forward, and line up your trunk upright so that your head, chest and hips are directly over your ankles. If you have your shoulder locked correctly, your chest naturally rises/gets pulled up into correct position when you raise your elbow as high as your shoulder. You don't want to raise your arm so that it slips out of that locked position (with shoulder blades tucked in and elbows pointing at ball).

Now try your swing again in slow motion, but this time pull your upper arm out and around with your shoulder. Don't push it forward, pull it with your shoulder. Then pull your forearm with your upper arm. The elbow should be moving ahead of your forearm and wrist. Like Cliff is doing above. This is called leading with your elbow. You can see correct form for leading with the elbow when watching a pitcher in a baseball game. Watch for the pitcher's elbow leading his forearm. In baseball they use an overhand throw; in racquetball the same motion is used but early on in the swing, the forearm starts moving sideways. Leading with your elbow is one of the key ways to allow the energy to pass from the shoulders to the wrist. If you don't lead with your elbow, then the energy from your shoulders doesn't have a good mechanical path to to travel on, to pass its energy on down to the forearm and wrist.

Another approach to leading with your elbow and snapping your wrist at the right time in the right way, is to aim the bottom (butt) of the racquet handle towards the front wall as you swing. When your arm runs out of length at the end of your reach, the wrist will automatically snap.

Keep your shoulders square

Study the picture of Cliff above, that shows his shoulders turning around together, with his elbow leading, just like a base ball pitcher. The full gif is here: http://www.surfermall.com/rball/cliff.gif His shoulders are like top of the letter "T" torqueing to give maximum power to the tips of the cross bar. (The elbow must be bent though, for the forearm to create a whip effect.)

You will need to coil your shoulders so that they can uncoil during the swing and give your swing more power, but right now, your lower body is blocking your shoulders from turning, so we have to move on to the next section to fix this.

Why bend your knees?

Here's an experiment:

  • Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart
  • Lock your knees so they're totally straight (this is the wrong way to stand! Just do it only once here for illustrative purposes! Otherwise, never lock your knees.)
  • Twist your shoulders around lightly and slowly as though to wind up for a forehand swing, until you feel light resistance from your lower body. Notice that you can't turn your shoulders very far because your hips are blocking them. This is the dreaded hip lock!
  • While still trying to lightly turn/wind-up/coil your shoulders, bend your knees UNTIL YOU CAN NATURALLY TWIST YOUR SHOULDERS FURTHER. "Naturally" is the key word here. There shouldn't be any strain anywhere in your swing! Keep your head, chest and hips aligned over your ankles, like you're lifting a barbell off the ground and pivot your lead foot to avoid knee strain.
  • To summarize, bend your knees while trying to wind up your shoulders and notice that you can now turn your shoulders because bending your knees has allowed your hips to stop blocking your shoulders' turn.

Now you'll have more power because bending down has allowed your shoulders to coil correctly, much further. Knowing this, would you ever want to stand straight up again while swinging? You don't have to go overboard on how far you coil your shoulders, but most people lose out on some power when their shoulders get blocked from turning because they're standing with their legs straight when winding up and swinging. Get out of the habit of standing straight up when you swing!

How to turn your shoulders

If you've gotten into the bad habit of using only your arms to swing, you may not be used to the motion of turning your shoulders. Create a neural pathway for this new feeling by imagining that there's a miniature racquet on your shoulder, and you're using that to hit the ball with, instead of your arms. See how this forces you to twist around a little more for your wind up. This is to help you conceptualize your shoulders' wind up (backswing); how far to coil your shoulders (I'm not talking about the downswing yet). Bending your knees will help you coil your shoulders around further and easier.

Imagine a five foot long, horizontal steel pole (like from a barbell set) on top of your shoulders (parallel to your chest, or your back, as though you have the barbell mounted on your shoulders for doing knee bends) keeping them straight and unified, so that when you turn your shoulders, the pole turns around too. Don't keep the pole stationary and just use your arms! Twist them like you're winding up to really spank that ball!

It feels like the mass of your chest muscles are used on the back swing and downswing, instead of just your arms. Shoulders are like a ceiling fan (with only two opposite blades forming a straight line) rotating a few feet above and parallel to the floor.

Preliminary power swing exercise - maintaining shoulder coiled state

Shoulders should move independently of the hips. This means that your trunk muscles, obliques, should be loose to allow the shoulders to turn independently of your hips. To get a feel for this, isolate your shoulders from your legs and hips, by sitting in a chair and twisting your shoulders to the right. You should be turning your collar bones (both of them uniformly). You'll see that you need to use the elasticity in your waist to have your collar bone turn. That's the new motion that you need to get used to. If you weren't sitting down, isolating your shoulders from your hips, it would be easy to fool yourself and think that you were turning your shoulders when it was really your hips turning your trunk around. While twisting them, you must keep them in good leading-with-the-elbow form (delts down, shoulder blades pushed in, elbows pointing at imaginary ball in front of you). Once you've twisted them, keep them wound up for a few seconds. Remember this feeling, as this is a memory cue for one of the steps that you will use for our full power swing. Now do the same thing to the left, and hold the pose for a few seconds. Later in this lesson, we will see that while you are holding this pose with your shoulders, your hips will be giving them a second rotational ride while the hips are coiling.

 

The main power source: hips

Most of your power comes from the hips. Your hips pull your shoulders around. You're not pushing off with your feet. Your feet pull your hips around and your hips pull your shoulders around. The hips should be loose, flexible and rotate freely. We're talking Elvis, Michael Jackson and Ricky Martin, but our hip movement is rotational like a gyroscope.

With your belly button and toes facing the right wall, stand with your feet a little bit wider than shoulder width apart, weight balanced evenly on both legs. Your left foot is ahead of your right foot (i.e., closer to the front wall, while your back foot is closer to the back wall). Both feet are the same distance from the right side wall (they're lined up with it/parallel to it). Do this in slow motion:

  • Get your upper body into position (cock your wrist, put forearm in the L shape, tuck shoulder blades in with elbows pointing at imaginary ball, elbow as high as shoulders). Because of the way that the skeletal system is designed, your hips can't whip your shoulders around, can't good a good hold of them, unless you're leading with your elbow and have your shoulders square.
  • Bend your knees and coil your shoulders and hips for a forehand swing. Rotate your shoulders (while they're in correct squared position) until they meet light resistance, then maintain the light resistance, so that the feeling of constant (light) resistance, snugness/wound-up-ness, is one of the physical reminders for you, that you're following the steps correctly for good form.
  • To avoid knee strain, pivot a bit on your left (leading) foot (on the ball of your foot). Belly button should be facing corner of back wall and right side wall. Slightly shift your weight to your back foot. When you start your down swing, first your hips start accelerating around while your shoulders are still coiled up, but the shoulders are being turned by the hips. After the hips have mostly finished uncoiling, the shoulders are now moving pretty fast but as previously stated, they haven't started uncoiling yet. When the shoulders uncoil, the speed greatly increases because of the energy passed on to them from the hips.
  • Uncoil your hips (that's right, hips coil last and uncoil first in the sequence) while slightly shifting your weight to the front foot, planting your front foot very solidly on the floor, and pivoting your back (right) foot. The right foot's pivoting motion, is like squishing a bug on the floor. This lets your hips swing freely around in a circular motion, which is critical for generating power. Look how Cliff pivots his back foot to let his hips rotate freely. No hip lock on Cliff! The goal is to have your hips turn around in a circular path so that they drag your shoulders around. This is the most important concept in the swing, so make sure that you get this part right. Don't move the shoulders around using the shoulder muscles! Make sure that you get the feel of the hips pulling them. The shoulders will not get grabbed/hooked by the hips unless (1) they've already been coiled/wound-up to the end of their rotational path, as far as they can turn and (2) you're in the leading-with-the elbow posture where delts are down, shoulder blades pushed in and elbows pointing at the ball. The shoulders unwind after the hips have mostly finished turning. Practice the timing of the weight shift and the hips uncoiling.
  • The shoulders are pulling the upper arm around so that the elbow is leading the forearm (elbow leading is made easier by pushing in shoulder blades and pointing elbow at imaginary ball)
  • The elbow doesn't straighten out until it reaches your right knee and finally the wrist automatically starts to snap just before it hits the ball, and snaps through the ball.
  • Let the follow-through motion carry the racquet around, without straining to stop it, so that the back of your knuckles are facing you, with racquet pointing towards back wall.
  • Keep knees bent throughout your swing until you hit the ball. Otherwise if you stand up in the middle of the swing, the ball angles up instead of level, and comes up too high for an easy setup for your opponent.
  • Most important point. Just as the weight shifts from your back leg to your front leg, pivot and drop your back knee so that it ends up only a couple of inches off the floor. Don't do this too early. Do it exactly when hitting the ball. Stay there for a second watching the ball with your back knee only a couple inches off the floor. This will keep you from rising in the middle of the swing. Look how Cliff pivots and drops his back knee.

The body's hinges, kinetic links, don't all swing around at the same time. The hips uncoil first, then they stop, passing their kinetic energy to the shoulders, then the shoulders pass the energy to the arms and wrist. The forearm doesn't straighten out until it reaches your right knee, and the wrist snaps through the ball. At this point, your upper arm, forearm and wrist should be at what's called full extension. This is a light, strain-free, fluid motion. It should feel good, not painful!

Your legs start the process

The swing begins with your legs. The energy from these large muscles eventually ends up passing through your wrist. You must learn the knack for creating a pulling motion to power your kinetic links, starting with your legs. The leg pulling your shoulders feeling is what should be preceding your arm swing. Don't forget it and start swinging your arm around without any legs powering them! This is a common mistake many people make.

You must step forward each time you swing. The swing itself is not a forward motion, it's rotational; what the stepping forward does is lower your center of gravity and makes your swing more consistent. To step forward, you must start off behind the ball. So if you're running backwards to receive a lob, for example, you must run back one step further than necessary, wait for it, and then step forward to hit it.

Surf the wave

To summarize, overall feel for your swing is to have your legs and hips pulling your shoulders to create a giant power wave. Then while sensing the wave travel up your body to your arms, time your arm snap so that it surfs on the big wave which came from your legs. This gives a big boost to your arm snap; like the motion of skipping a stone over water but with hips driving it. Timing is important. Feeling this double power in your swing is euphoric.

So a great swing is really about wave management. Make sure that the wave doesn't miss any connections as it travels through your body. Key areas to watch are legs pulling hips, hips rotating freely, shoulders kept square, and leading with the elbow. This is why skinny guys like Cliff Swain can hit harder than muscle bound body builders. Cliff is simply a better wave manager. He lets the energy grow while going through him, by creating kinetic links which build the energy highway that his body becomes. It's more of a timing thing than strength. Cliff's drive serve has been clocked at 191 mph.

Backhand

The backhand is almost the same as the forehand but keep the wrist straight when starting the swing. Though it's easier to visualize as leading with the shoulder instead of the elbow.

You still raise elbow to shoulder height, and shoulders stay wide (keep them in good leading-with-the-elbow form while you're winding up: delts down, shoulder blades pushed in, elbows pointing at imaginary ball on your left side), but now bring elbow and forearm closer to to your stomach and racquet tip past your left ear when winding up. Lead with your right shoulder when swinging and still use your legs and hips to create most of the power. Unless your hips are able to rotate freely and drag your shoulders around, your swing will be weak or you'll end up relying on your arm muscles only, which will eventually become injured.

One other difference, don't stand parallel to the left wall, step at 45 degree angle, not straight ahead. This is to lessen knee strain.

Otherwise, the backhand is exactly the same as the forehand. Your weight should be shifted to your back leg as usual, but of course this will be the opposite leg than in the forehand swing. So for rightys, shift your weight to your left foot a bit when winding up, then transfer your weight to your lead (right) foot to initiate your forward swing.

If you find yourself slicing the ball, that means that you're dropping/taking the ball too close to your body and too far back behind you; the ball should be hit when it's away from you and even with your lead foot. The easiest way to stop the slicing problem, for both adults and kids, is to have the hitter straighten their elbow when their arm reaches their knee. This forces them to back away from the ball so that it's not too close to them. Otherwise, the ball is so close that they need to keep their arm bent when it contacts the ball, which is wrong.

Don't forget to end the swing with your back knee a couple inches off the floor.

Don'ts

  • Don't scoop the ball
  • Don't move backwards while swinging; instead step forward to lower your center of gravity, then use your legs to pull your hips, rotating them around. Even if the ball is moving backwards, get so far behind it that you have time and room to step forward into it your setup position.
  • Don't initiate the forward swing with only the hands and arms
  • When bending your knees, don't keep one knee straight; instead bend them both, otherwise you're just leaning over
  • Don't move your hips and shoulders in a straight line, instead, they both should rotate in a circular path (at different times: hips first, then shoulders. Think out and around for your arms.
  • Don't have any tension in your arms, instead they should be limp as rope
  • If you're not hitting the ball hard, don't force it by using more muscles. Instead, analyze your swing to see which kinetic link is failing to work correctly. You will have to do some work on your own find out what feels right.
  • You shouldn't be unbalanced after the swing or have a wild swing. If this is the case, go back to the top and check the sequence of moves.
  • Don't rise up too soon during your swing. This will make the ball come up too high for an easy setup for your opponent. Instead, keep knees bent throughout your swing until you hit the ball. This is often an unconscious move, so pay attention if your shots aren't staying low.
  • Don't face the front wall when swinging. For forehand, stand parallel to the right side wall. For backhand, stand 45 degrees to the side wall (if the floor was a clock with 12:00 at the back wall and 6:00 at the front wall, then your back foot would be at 11:00 and your front foot would be at 5:00)
  • Don't forget to raise your elbow to shoulder height. This is one of the most common omissions.
  • Don't move your non-hitting arm in the opposite direction as your hitting arm. They should both move in the same direction.
  • Don't raise your racquet to swing at the last minute. That's too late. Instead, use ERP, early racquet preparation.
  • Don't pivot both feet at same time of course; the front foot pivot is for coiling hips and back foot pivot is for uncoiling the hips.
  • Don't stand too close to the ball, which makes you slice the ball.
  • Don't hit the ball when it's behind you. It should be even with your lead foot.
  • Don't uncoil your shoulders uncoil before hips! This causes reverse energy and sucks the ball in backwards instead of powering it forward!
  • Don't chop down at the ball. Swing parallel to the floor.

 

How to avoid shoulder and elbow injury

Elbows

The most common reason for elbow pain is fully extending your elbow too soon. As we've said above, think of your body as a chain of kinetic links that unload one link at a time; not at the same time. This energy travels like a wave over time through your body. So your hips, then your shoulders, and then where your upper arm connects with your shoulder should finish swinging first in that order before your elbow swings. The elbow shouldn't straighten out until it reaches your knee (right knee, for both back and forehand, if you're right handed).

If you extend your elbow too soon, snapping it out, before the upper arm has passed on the kinetic energy to it (like crashing into a wave at the beach instead of riding it) it jars your elbow, and your elbow absorbs the power of the wave instead of passing it on to the ball. Repeat this over and over again and you've got elbow pain.

To fix this, you must learn to lead with your elbow and have your hips and shoulders do all the work by pulling your relaxed, limp arms around.

Practice feeling the upper arm get pulled by the shoulder at home without a racquet in your hand. Notice that you can pull the upper arm around with the shoulder better when the the back is locked straight by tucking your shoulder blades in and aiming your elbows at an imaginary ball. Remember this feeling when practicing in the court. Re-read the leg pull exercise using the doorway. Arms don't do much work, the legs do!

If your elbow hurts, you might notice that there's some slack between where your upper arm connects with your shoulder and your elbow when swinging. I think that that slack is wrong. I call it "dead slack". But the slack will get tightened up if you raise your elbow above your shoulder during the backswing.

Dead slack example: hold your racquet by the safety chord. Think of your hand that is holding the cord as your shoulder, the safety cord as your upper arm, the point where the safety chord is attached to the racquet as your elbow, and the racquet as your forearm. How would you propel these components to give the racquet maximum speed? First lay the racquet on the ground with some slack in the safety cord and swing your hand around quickly forward. That jarring painful stress where the cord connects to the racquet is what happens to your elbow because your wave skipped the part where it was supposed to pass its energy to the upper arm (safety cord) and self destructed at the next link (the racquet/your elbow). Now, try this: take up the slack from the safety cord so that it's taut and swing the racquet out and around (by the safety cord). No harsh impact now on the point where the safety cord is attached to the handle and the speed is much greater. This illustrates the point of how to pass the accelerating energy from the shoulders to the upper arm and avoid dead slack.

The series of kinetic links unloading (legs to hips, to shoulders, to arms, to wrist) should feel as smooth as a yo-yo unwinding. Otherwise, it's like throwing a yo-yo with too much slack in it, and when it reaches the end of the string, it gets yanked back, straining the string and your hand without passing the energy into the spinning action of the yo-yo. Once you get this right, it seems to take longer to finish your swing, while the racquet is waiting for the energy to travel through all of the new kinetic links that you've added. This is fine because your swing will look more graceful, and you will easily get good at timing the swing to connect with the ball within varying time frames.

Shoulders

All of the above goes for shoulder soreness. In addition, what protects your shoulders is keeping them, stiff, wide and unified as explained above.

Pull with the legs, and shoulders. Don't push with your shoulder muscles. To have the shoulders pulled by the hips correctly, there can't be any dead slack between the hips and the shoulders. They should be lightly connected. The dead slack can be symbolized by the hand holding the buggy whip handle too loose, and as the hand snaps forward, the wooden handle doesn't get pulled along. This dead slack can be converted to the correct tautness by raising your elbow as as high as your shoulder and coiling your shoulders. Now when the hips turn, they're connected they can pull the shoulders around. Make sure that you get the feel for that.

In conclusion, your body has the capability of becoming a large, powerful whip, much more powerful than the muscles that move your arms. We have seen that your wrist is the tip of the whip, your arms the cord, your shoulders the wooden handle and your hips, the hand flicking the whip. We've learned that he way to transform your body into a whip is to first get into the correct form, then let your arms be so lose, limp and relaxed, that they don't interfere with your lower body. This will allow you to learn to feel the body's centrifugal force created by the hips rotating while the weight shifts to the front foot, which creates a whipping motion, snapping your arm out and around.

Here's a couple of ways to help you remember good form. (1) During serving: already have your knees bent and elbow at shoulder level before you even drop the ball (2) If you're hitting a set up to yourself, approach the ball for the last two steps with your knees already bent and your elbow at shoulder height. Don't approach the ball with your racquet hanging down, then have to raise it at that last moment!

Now go to the club and only practice hitting with good form. Start off just dropping the ball and hitting. Don't hit more complicated shots until you've mastered good form with the drop and hit shot. Then work up to having to take a few steps to get to the ball. Have your elbow already up to shoulder height while your walking towards the ball, before you get to the ball.

How do you know if you've mastered good swing technique? Easy, if you're hitting the ball very hard without forcing your arm muscles to do all the work. If you can hit a forehand and backhand splat shot without straining your arm muscles, but instead fluidly using your whole body, you've got it.

After you've got it to work, practice it on every conceivable type of shot.

It just feels good to hit the ball so hard without any effort. Also, good mechanics will give you more time to decide which shot to select. Many times this last second decision will make the difference in winning the point.