When it comes to serving in tennis, we all want more power. While placement and consistency are just as important, power seems to be all that people talk about on the serve.
We marvel at watching Serena Williams and John Isner hit 120-140 mph serves. Yet most club players can’t even break the 100 mph mark. Is it because they lack power?
Well, yes and no. Some players have power and others don’t, but technique is also definitely a big factor when it comes to hitting fast serves.
But some players have solid technique and still lack the serve velocity they wish to achieve. You may be one of those people. So what can we do to increase serve power?
The solution can be found in doing certain gym exercises that will increase the fast twitch muscle fibers in our bodies. These serve exercises will improve our explosiveness, helping us achieve higher serve velocities.
It’s important to point out that serve velocity comes from three distinct phases of the serve motion. I’ve listed them below.
- Racket Drop
- Knee bend and explosion upwards of body
These three parts of the serve account for almost all the power. If you lack in one, you’ll never achieve your maximum potential for serve power. If you lack in two, you have your work cut out for you.
I could get into a long discussion of each one. But I’ll give a quick summary of each. My point is that we need to do gym exercises that will improve the ability to do each phase better.
Racket Drop – This is the part of the serve swing where the tip of the racket will drop near the server’s lower back. Generally, the deeper the racket drop, the more power is produced. Flexibility is key here in the shoulder.
Pronation – I’ve discussed pronation in many other blog posts and videos. It’s basically swiveling of the radius and ulna bones in the forearm. If you place your arm straight out in front of you with palm up, that’s called supination. Now turn your palm down by just swiveling your arm. When your palm is down, that’s called pronation. Pronation can produce tremendous racket head speed in a very short space.
Knee Bend And Explosion Of The Body Upward – This is the most crucial part of the serve motion and the one we can improve the most with gym exercises. This is also the phase that almost all club players struggle with. If you watch a professional tennis player’s serve motion compared with a club player, this part is the most glaring difference.
Why is that true? Because most club players don’t bend their knees enough and explode up into the air. They also don’t jump forward enough. Doing so requires strength, power, and explosion from the legs.
So why do club players suffer in this part of the serve? I believe there are several good reasons. One is that they weren’t trained to do so. Professional players are trained from an early age to explode into the serve.
The second reason is that club players don’t possess the energy and athleticism to consistently explode up into the ball. Many club players are older people with less-than-perfect knees. The upward explosion into the ball is an athletic move that many club players can’t perform.
I think we see pro players on TV so often that we take for granted how much they are actually jumping up to hit the ball. And that takes a lot of energy to do over 3-5 sets. Most club players barely get off the ground.
I’ve personally worked with older players (age 50-70) who had solid technique on their serve motion but could barely break 80-85 mph. Why? Because they had little knee bend and almost zero explosion in this third phase of the serve.
While players of all ages can benefit from these simple gym exercises for the serve (that I’m about to go into), those with the weakest legs may benefit the most.
I’m going to recommend the best gym exercises for the serve for each of the three phases. The third phase (upward explosion) is the most important so that one will have the most exercises for you to do.
Practice these exercises twice a week if possible. After 4-5 weeks, you should start to see and feel a difference in your serve. I believe it’s possible for everyone to achieve a 5 mph increase in their serve after 5-6 weeks of doing these exercises twice a day.
If you continue doing them and increase the resistance while working on your form, there’s no reason why a 10-15 mph increase can’t be made within three months.
Alright, let’s get into the serve exercises starting with the ones for the racket drop phase first.
Racket Drop Exercises
1. One Arm Cable Triceps Extension – This is a great exercise to build up the triceps muscle of the upper arm. The triceps is responsible gets worked when we bend the arm and then straighten it. For this exercise, a cable machine is needed. Work each arm with the same intensity, but of course, the hitting arm is where we’ll see results on the serve. If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can use a light dumbbell.
2. Over The Head Medicine Ball Throws – In this one you hold a medicine ball in back of your head and throw it as far as you can in front of you. It would be best if you have a wall you can throw it at. This works the fast-twitch muscle fibers of the arms and shoulders and simulates the action of the arm on the serve.
1. Forearm Pronates – Hold a light weight in your hand with arm outstretched in front of you and palm up. Your arm should be straight. If you don’t have a light weight, you can use your racket. Now turn your palm down. Repeat over and over until you feel the burn in your forearm. This exercise will build the muscles in your forearm required for faster pronation on the serve.
2. Motorcycle Revs – Hold a barbell or dumbbell in your hands. Your arms can hang down in front of your thighs. Now flex your wrists so that your palms move towards you as if you were revving a motorcycle. Hold for a second and return to the neutral position you started in. Then repeat and continue until you feel a burn in your forearm. This exercise really built up the underside of my forearms and grip strength, which is ideal for really hitting any shot in tennis.
3. Reverse Motorcycle Revs – Start in the same place, with you holding weights with arms hanging straight down your body. Your palms should be facing you. Now instead of using flexion, move your wrists the opposite way, which is called extension. This exercise works the top side of your forearm. Do as many reps as you can until your forearm burns. These forearm exercises will really help you to pronate quicker.
Knee Bend and Explosion (Jumping) Exercises
This segment will have the most exercises, since this is the most important phase of the serve, as already mentioned. These exercises will take more out of you physically but are necessary to build the explosion you need for a powerful serve.
1. Squat and Jumps – Grab two light dumbbells (10-20 lbs) and hold one in each hand. Stand on a padded or soft floor with both hands holding the weights by your sides. Now squat down as far as you can go. Once your knees are fully bent and you can’t go down anymore, explode upwards as hard as you can. The point is to jump into the air as high as you can go. When you land, quickly drop down and repeat the process. I recommend doing no more than 10 reps per set and 2-3 sets max. This exercise is great for creating an explosion on the jump phase of the serve.
2. One Legged Box Step Ups – Stand in front of a platform or stable box. The height should be around 12-20 inches, depending on your height. Place one foot on the box with knee slightly bent; the other foot should be on the ground. Now, spring upwards by pushing off with the foot on the box – the other foot will leave the floor. The foot on the box will be on the toes when you spring up. Once you do this, return the foot (that’s in the air) to the floor and repeat. Do 10-15 reps and then alternate your feet so you push off with the opposite foot. This exercise is especially good because it trains each leg at a time. On the tennis serve, you push off with more force on your front leg (the left leg for righties), so make sure you train the left leg especially hard.
3. Frog Jumps – For this exercise, no gym or equipment is needed. You’re basically going to be jumping forward as far as you can and keep repeating until your legs are tired. To do this exercise, squat down half way to the floor. Put your hands to the sides and slightly behind you. Now jump upwards and outwards as far as possible. Your arms should cast forward in sequence with the jump. This builds plyometric strength in your legs and simulates the forward jump of the serve. My recommendation would be to do 6-8 jumps in one set and 2-3 sets per session.
These are all the exercises you should do to improve your tennis serve power. As an option, you can do squats, leg press, deadlifts, and calf raises. I would recommend doing them as fast as you can with weights that are 40-50% of your max.
By doing that, you train your body to be more explosive. If you do heavy, slow lifts with near max weight at low reps, that’s not bad, but explosive movements is more of what you want.
If you look at the most powerful servers on tour, they’re mostly guys and girls with wire-like frames. More muscle does not always equate to more power.
You can probably do all of the exercises featured in this post (with the exception of the four leg exercises I just mentioned) in one session. If you can, do two sessions per week, spacing them three days apart.
If I didn’t mention the rep range for a specific exercise, just do it until you are tired, or your muscles burn. You can then stop and that’s the rep range you should shoot for on each set – at least initially.
If you can complete two sessions per week, I think you’ll see a difference in your serve in just a few weeks. These exercises are designed to hit all the muscles that play into the key phases of the serve.
Let me know how these gym exercises for the serve help you. If you have any questions about them, let me know in the comment section below.