There are many different muscles that contribute to the velocity and power of your Tennis Serve. And not only does each muscle deserve specific attention, but as a whole the muscles should be trained in a way that together they produce power that begins in your toes and is transferred up your body and out to the ball.
Below is an image that displays specific pivot points during your serving motion and is labeled as each of the main muscle groups are activated in Sequence.
As you can see there are 7 Major Muscle groups that must be activated to generate power for your serve:
1. Calves – Activated in the loading phase to explosively contract to generate power to your quads and hamstrings
2. Quads – Work with the hamstrings to generate and transfer power & explosiveness through to your core
3. Hamstrings – Work with the hamstrings to generate and transfer power & explosiveness through to your core
4. Abs – The abs are activated and produce stability throughout the entire motion while momentum is transferred from the ground through your racquet head. In the later stage of the service motion, the abs contract viciously & operate as a leverage point to help generate more racquet head speed.
5. Lats – This is often an overlooked muscle group when it comes to training for tennis. Check out any pro player that has a big serve, and their lats will stand out big time. This is the back muscle that sticks out behind your rib cage. The lats are activated in figure 3 and continue to explosively contract through the end point of the service motion. This is the muscle responsible for the beginning of the arm motion all the way through the follow through motion.
6. Triceps – The triceps aid in the whipping motion of your arm, not only do the triceps have a large role in racquet head speed, but the explosiveness of this muscle plays a major role in how much spin you can generate for topspin & kick serves. The more explosive your triceps, the more spin you can put on the ball.
7. Shoulders – The Shoulders are responsible for maintaining stability in the joints & aiding in generating forward moving force in your upper arm.
How to Train Your Serving Muscles
Naturally, one of the first things folks do when they want a big serve is they go out to the courts and practice more. This is not a bad approach, but it can and will only get you so far. In most cases, we must look for ways off the courts to improve not only our game, but also shot development. And one of these being training the muscles responsible for what we want to improve. In this case – we want to train the muscles responsible for our serving motion.
There are 2 ways to train your body for a more powerful serve (this applies to not only the serve, but all tennis strokes).
1. Universal Tennis Focus – Using training methodologies & program design that train each muscle group in tandem in a way that helps them work together for a specific end goal. The training program would be set up to encompass all muscle groups required for the serve & each muscle group would get the same amount of focus as the next.
This method is great, but what happens if we have a “weak link” in the serving chain? Using this method prematurely will improve your serve, but it would be better utilized if any weaknesses along the line are focused on FIRST to bring them up to speed so that we have better overall functioning.
2. Specific Foundational Tennis Focus – As you saw in the Tennis Serve Pivot Diagram, different muscle groups at specific points in the serving motion are activated to aid in generating power & explosion for our serves. And each pivot point is linked together like chinks in a chain. For most of us some chinks in this chain are stronger than others. This is where we either identify the “weak link” or decide to make an already strong link Stronger with muscular stroke specific training.
For example, we are discussing 7 main muscles:
Now, in this case, let’s say that we have advanced development in our legs, abs, and lats, but our triceps are our weak link. We would then break down each muscle group and focus our attention mainly on the “weak” components of our stroke while still giving attention to the other muscles - in this example, we’d focus mainly on exercises that target our triceps.
Often times it’s not that difficult to figure out what your weak link is. Heck, maybe you don’t really have a weak link, but strengthening one or more of the phases of your stroke would create a more blistering serve.
Either way, figuring out the weak link (if you have one) isn’t difficult. Most of the time, you can identify it during match play (if you haven’t already). Are your abs giving out? Do you find yourself not squeezing your abdominals during your serve as the match progresses? If so, this could be due to lack of abdominal strength endurance.
Do you find yourself not properly bending your legs during your serve towards the end of the match? Well, in this case your legs may be your weak link.
What about your triceps? This one is fairly easy to figure out especially if you have a topspin or kick serve, because generally you’ll notice as the match goes on that it takes a little more effort than normal to generate the amount of spin you want.
Whatever the weak link is, you can figure it out fairly quickly by playing a couple matches, because it will stick out like a sore thumb if you pay attention.
What If We Don’t Necessarily Feel We Have a Weak Link?
There is always some aspect of our physical fitness that we can improve upon. Now, if you don’t feel like you necessarily have a weak link, that’s good news. And if you don’t feel you have a weak link, but your serves aren’t exactly as powerful as you think they can be, focus on the aspects of the serve that can generate the most power or the aspects of the serve that you feel will give you an extra edge. If you feel like you need more spin, but your legs are strong, then focus on your abs, triceps, shoulders and/or lats. If you feel like you want to generate more power, then the focus point should be directed toward your legs, since this is where power and explosion is generated.
The Following Workout is Designed for you to use to develop strength to generate more power and more spin by focusing on the 2 main transfer points: Legs & Triceps.
Regardless as to whether these 2 pivot points are a weak link for you or not, by focusing on these 2 muscles in the proper way, you will generate more power off your serve, because these 2 points are critical for generating and delivering a bone crushing serve – legs because they are where the power & explosion originates & triceps because they are the last muscle in the chain to transfer this momentum directly to the ball.
Since the Workouts are a bit too much to type here, I've loaded them up in a PDF document for you to download (free), that way you can download them and save them to your computer for you to use any time.
To get the Bone Crushing Serve Workout Short Version use this Link:
To Get the Comprehensive Version including the Exact Sets and Reps of Each Workout plus pictures & descriptions for each exercise, use this Link
Hope you enjoy!
Training Advisor, Men's Fitness magazine
Creator - Advanced Tennis Conditioning program