May 8, 2010

Finding the Right String Tension for You and Your Tennis Racquet

What tension is your racquet strung at? Do you know?

You may know how your racquet is strung and you may be very happy with that and any discussion of "optimal racquet string tension" may not be of much use to you. But I'm guessing many of you don't know anything at all about the tension of your strings. You just hand your racquet over to your stringer and say, "Just do whatever you did last time."

That means your racquet might possibly NOT be strung at the best tension for YOU and, if, like me, you need all the help you can get on the tennis court, then you need to learn about string tension. So let's learn a little about string tension.

You probably know that your racquet has a tension range - the optimal range within which your racquet should be strung.  You can usually find this range by looking inside the throat of your racquet or somewhere on the frame (where you'll find all of your racquet's specifications).  For my new racquet, for example, the range is "58 +/- 5 lbs."  Meaning, according to the manufacturer, the optimal tension range on my racquet is somewhere between 53 and 63 pounds.

So I've got a 10 pound range to work with.  How do I know how tightly or loosely to have my racquet strung?

Well, there's some physics involved here (what a surprise!) that you've got to understand in order to pick the tension that's right for you. In general,
  • lower string tensions provide more power, a larger sweet spot and are easier on the arm, and
  • higher string tensions provide more control and spin.
Why is this true? Looser strings have more of a "trampoline" effect on the ball, sending it back with more energy. Less of the ball's energy is absorbed by the strings and the strings sort of trampoline the ball back.  This also results in less vibration and shock being sent through the racquet to your arm.  But because the strings are "deformed" more when loose, any slight change in racquet position can result in a bigger change in the ball's direction on return.   So your return shot may be less accurate.

Tighter strings do not deform as much, absorbing more of the energy generated by the collision between the ball and the strings and thus decreasing the amount of energy traveling back with the ball. So a less powerful shot.  This collision also results in more vibration being transferred to the racquet and to your arm.  But because the strings do not change shape as much (they're not as "trampoline-y"), the direction of the ball is less apt to change. You get a more accurate shot.  Got it?

You may already know what tension your racquet is strung at and you may be very happy with that and all of this talk of string tension physics may not be of much use to.  Except for chatting up people around your tennis club.

But, if you don't know about your string tension, what you SHOULD do is spend a little time, and probably a little money, figuring it out.  You can do this by starting with having your racquet strung at the midpoint of its tension range. On my racquet, for example, that would be 58 pounds (and that is exactly where I had it strung for the first time). Play with that for awhile, see how it feels and then, based on the physics explained above, consider increasing or decreasing the tension a little to get your racquet to play in a way that is best for you. You know if you want to generate more power with looser strings. You know if you want more control on your shots with tighter strings. Your racquet stringer may not know anything at all about what you want.  (But don't be afraid to talk to him or her about that stuff - that discussion should be part of their job.)  Then play with this new tension and see what you think. It should only take you one or two string jobs to come up with the tension that works best for you.

And finally, if you're going to all of this trouble, write down somewhere what type of strings you're using (look at this post - Tennis Strings - What Kind Should You Use - to get an idea of the different kind of strings you can use) and what tension your racquet is at so that you'll know what to ask for the next time you take it in for restringing.


© Kim Selzman 2010 All Rights Reserved

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