ETI 011 | The Non Dominant Arm

  • ETI 011 The Non Dominant Arm
    ETI 011 The Non Dominant Arm

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Whether pitching, throwing footballs, unleashing your forehand, or unwinding on the overhead or the serve – your non dominant arm plays a very, very important role.

I have a daughter, and have never liked the term, “throwing like a girl.”

That said, inexperienced as well as inexpert throwers let their non dominant arm hang at their side when throwing. And in that manner the throw is one sided.

But take a look at any throwing skill and you will see the non dominant arm coil with the wind up and uncoil prior to the throw/pitch/forehand/overhead or serve.


  • glllllll

    Reply Reply August 9, 2017

    I agree with you that the use of the non-dominant arm is very important. I do however feel that the non-dominant arm is more important in the following ways:
    1) I use the non dominant arm to carry the racket and bring the racket back of a forehand stroke. It offset the work done by my dominant arm and it forces me to keep my elbows away from my truck of my body. Don Budge’s brother always force Don the keep his elbow away from his body to develop a strong backhand. Agassi hold the racket with his non dominant hand, elbow out, and bring the racket back with his non dominant arm. It forces him to turn his shoulder into the hitting zone, maintain balance like a ballet dancer, maximum control of the face of the racket, minimize the chance of bring the racket too far back preventing bring the racket behind of the plane of the chest.
    2)One thing the non arm use by pitchers is the stretch the chest muscle to store elastic energy. By bring the non dominant arm slowly after the ball is release during the serve, it helps maintain balance (Gonalez was so beautiful in bring his arm down), stretches the chest muscles, forces the head and chest to be directed upward (the body follows where the head goes; if the head goes down the body goes down; that is why Venus Williams screws up her serve when she looks down and away from the ball). Keeping the chest aim at the ball provides a stable platform, increases the racket drop as you bring your elbow upward to meet the ball. That is one thing I notice on your serve motion lack is the stretching of your chest muscle upward.

    I suck at serving that is why I made it my life mission to improve. I have studied the serves of Laver, Sampras, Tanner, Gonzales, Hoad, and Federer. And with the internet as my only source of information, I am beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel after 40 years of mis information and countless hours alone on court.

    Overall, I agree with you with the importance of the non dominant arm, but I feel most people still underestimate it.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply August 15, 2017

      Hi – your comments on the forehand take back as well as Don Budge and elbows bent I agree with entirely – also about “stretching the chest” as that gives the body more leverage – as to your thoughts on your own serve – it could be your underlying overhand throwing mechanics – why not upload me something of your serve as well as your throwing

  • dufus

    Reply Reply January 1, 2013

    Anyone who wants some confirmation about the power of the non-dominant arm, head into the weight room for the cable weight machine. Put about 25 or 30 pounds on the cable, with the pivot at your feet. Try doing a couple simple open stance topspin forehands with your opposite arm at your belly, doing pretty much nothing. You’ll find it doable, but difficult. Add another 5 lbs and it might seem impossible. But it’s not. Include proper opposite arm movement in your stroke. Start your stroke with the opposite arm next to the dominant arm and have it finished tucked around the opposite side. You’ll quickly find the ‘impossible’ weight very doable, and repeatable over and over again…

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply January 1, 2013

      Dufus – this is a good exercise, thanks for the idea

  • hans brink

    Reply Reply November 7, 2012

    I like it very much because you tell it always very simple but very instructive!

  • Michael

    Reply Reply March 10, 2012

    Great, simple instructions to follow even with someone who has been playing the game for sometimes. Thank you much.

  • Paul Appleby

    Reply Reply January 1, 2012

    Interesting that JM counts Federer in the tossing into the swing camp
    May be true but he does elevate and finish in the air on every serve
    Its such a beautiful rythmic motion Id be interested to know how he thought about it as he developed ie hitting toss vs tossing into swing

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply January 2, 2012

      Paul – I have noticed even more that at impact Fed is more than in the air, he is actually ascending at impact

  • Fred

    Reply Reply December 30, 2011

    Excellent point about the magic of using the opposite arm to power up the forehand, or even serve.

    I’ve been working on adding this into my game for a couple months, after picking up on how aggressive Djoker uses this technique. My son has even commented on the increase in power of my ground strokes as I’m not beating him, where previously he’d mop me all over the court with my decent, but relatively weak, top spin forehand game. I’ve still got the spin, but now it’s got huge power.

    The real key to me figuring out the power of the opposite arm came when I switched from a single heavy duty resistant tube stuck in a door mimicking my forehand motion to a triple band attempting to do the same motion. I quickly discovered that the only way I had enough power to reach full forward extension in the forehand motion was to aggressively use my opposite arm motion to power up my core rotation so I could reach full forehand extension. I also quickly discovered after a week or so of 25 reps a couple times a day, plus a couple ball machine session, I’d was starting to be able to incorporate the opposite arm into my forehand game on the court. Initially, I discovered that I had to adjust my timing as I’d get to the ball too early, then I had add a couple pounds to the strings to tone tone down the power, then I even added some weight to the 10 & 2 rim on the racket to give me more lateral and head stability — I still had plenty of power to spare.

    The real pudding about opposite arm use is found hanging out at the club and observing how virtually all of the better players have more opposite arm motion in their strokes. It’s like magic — folks tend to look at the hand with the racket to see what is going on, but the real key to success is found in the magic movement of the opposite arm.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 31, 2011

      Fred – great drills you describe but even more is how you see it with the better players but most observers only notice the hitting hand and not the non dominant hand

  • Ron Moos

    Reply Reply December 19, 2011

    Great tip. Would like to see left arm on a serve. Thanks Ron

  • Noushin

    Reply Reply December 18, 2011

    Dear Jim

    Many thanks for your professional explanations about the details of Tennis. It’s really appreciated.

    Wish to see you soon.

    Kind regards


  • John

    Reply Reply December 14, 2011

    pleased to have heard you. It’ s very important to mention the significance role of the nondominant arm. Swing, and keep balance etc…. Thanks you have done.
    Best regards, John.

  • dan treat

    Reply Reply December 14, 2011

    Sometimes I find it helpful to hold the racquet head in my left hand as I take the racquet back with my right hand. This helps me make sure I get a full shoulder turn. The forward swing is preceded by letting go of the racquet head and moving the left arm forward. Good advice about the left arm, I’d never really given it much thought.

  • emil

    Reply Reply December 14, 2011

    The rule of nondominant arm is very important, I agree. But the problem can be the co-ordination between legs and the body. Tennis players quite often forget to that element of all strokes. The tennis is very hard to understand because you need to activate your mind, your body, your tactic skills and technique. A lot of recreational players try to learn tennis game only 5 of 10 hours. We have to learn 100 hours every year. No money, no funny! If we don’t have enough time for improving technique of all strokes, we can only dream about big success.

  • Bill

    Reply Reply December 14, 2011

    Great observation, and one I hadn’t heard or thought about before. I’ll definitely start watching players with this in mind.

  • Robert A

    Reply Reply December 14, 2011

    I like so much that you focus on the feel of the stroke in your instruction. The way you present the 1 – 2, Left – Right timing sequence with the racket lagging in the prep position before coming through makes this clear and practicable.
    Federer kind of points to the right fence as he coils, and Nadal actually takes the racket back for the forehand with his ND hand. Both approaches get them into the position to do what you are talking about.
    What I take away from this is that it is a feel, not a step.

  • Joannis Roidis

    Reply Reply December 14, 2011

    I ‘ve always thougt about moving the non dominant arm as a natural movemente, and never paied any attention to that. But it is a very interesting tip.

  • al hill

    Reply Reply December 14, 2011

    It may seem obvious but you always find the little things that are very important to the whole.

    Well done. Everyday I am always learning something new.

  • Victor Joe

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Excellent observation! For years I had that non dominant right arm (being a lefty). I saw pictures taken of me and I noticed right off that my right arm was hanging by my side. Bad habits seem to come back when you least expect it. I tried to remind myself to keep my right arm active by wearing a wrist sweat band. But I didn’t realize how more dominant my bad habits were than my awareness of my inactive right arm. When I video taped a drill with my partner I saw my right arm hanging at my side. Here’s the drift. I may think I am using my right arm as a part of my ground strokes, but what I perceive and what I am actually doing are often misleading. A good hitting partner can help remind me to use my right arm. When I remember to use it my ground strokes are hit with confidence and pace. I think the key to the non dominant arm begins with breaking bad habits. I was talking to a friend who coaches and gives tennis lessons one day when I noticed his pupil was stroking the ball with a non dominant arm. He told me it was not important for her to learn too many things at once. I felt he was allowing her to learn a bad habit unconsciously which would affect the outcome of her ground strokes. I know my bad habit came back to haunt me even today. A lot is said about muscle memory! Could this be an example of teaching your muscles a bad habit simply by not including it with your proper ground stroke?
    muscles a wrong habit that will be difficult to break later on?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 14, 2011

      Victor – I am not sure but think that the coach having the student use their non dominant arm was a way to introduce a two handed backhand – probably had little to do with the forehand – thanks for the note

  • Janet Cassabon

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    I liked the non dominant arm podcast. It was helpful to reinforce why sometimes you can hit the ball better than other times. I try to use both arms and it really does help..

  • Ellen Nims

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Sorry about my earlier message. I downloaded the video and audio was fine!

  • Shawn

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Hi Jim — last time out I tried focusing on trying to lead with the elbow in my service motion. I was surprised how it did seem to generate “effortless power”. Allowing this lag to happen is tricky. I can’t say that I’ve mastered the mechanics, but I did get an inkling of what you’re talking about.

  • Jeff Edmondson

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Great tip- when I ask players what they do with their left hand, most of the time they have no clue!
    Proper left arm is also important to a player’s balance. Can’t be consistent without balance

  • John Danise

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Very good, the only suggestion I have,(and have had for the last twenty years) is that you use the term “preparation hand” rather than “non dominate”. How important could be the off hand or non dominate hand?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 13, 2011

      John – agreed – anything to get the player to turn hips and shoulders to “wind up” with no words or material about “racquet back”

  • chris

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    how about backhand?( one-handed)

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 13, 2011

      Chris – this is an entirely different story – I will do a subsequent podcast on this – but essentially this is not the same type of throwing motion and for the one handed backhand the non dominant arm stays back and does not rotate with the swing

  • Rene Rivera

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Thanks much for the great subtle nuances of tennis . In my view, using the ND arm allows you to do things more efficiently and assist with your balance . I think using your ND arm when volleying is also helpful .

    Thanks again, much appreciated !

    rene rivera

  • Ted Bristol

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    What about the back hand?
    Examine the importants of the hips being square to the point impack.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 13, 2011

      Ted – on the backhand the one hander has a ND arm that stays back, and on a two hander the arms are together rather than working in a 1-2

  • ray henze

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Thanks Jim. Are you not really saying that you need to rotate your upper body and trunk/hips as you take back the racket and then uncoil all of them as you hit through. if you do this properly, your non dominant arm moves back and then through as you demonstrated.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 13, 2011

      Ray – yes but look closely – when the ND arm moves back the shoulders and hips turn but the racquet delays at this moment of the preparation

  • A.J.

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Jim: The nondominant arm is critical. You showed the early set up and the concept of getting that arm “back” (and in some instances using that nondominant shoulder to point) and then moving it into the integrated swing movement so that the dominant arm functions something like a trailing whip with the nondomiant arm pulling the body and creating power and torque-like movement.

    I do not mean to make this more complicated than you presented it — which was clear and direct — but, while all other things are moving and unloading from the nondominat to the dominant — the head remains still and the eyes are fixed.

    Sometimes that Cheetah aspect of things (stillness of head and fixed gaze at any pace) is worth mentioning — as it seems that when it is not mentioned the head goes up as the swing opens too much and too soon … and things like the ball go a bit upward or late-ish, and everything gets pearshaped in general.

    Thanks for the demonstration.


  • Scott Adams

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Unfortunatly for girls,
    the term “throw like a girl” is really talking about them throwing a ball while steping with the same foot as they threw with.
    Doesn’t make for a good forehand, serve, throw etc.
    Or any foot movement for that hand with the same side movement of the upper body.
    The term “walking through” should bring light to this

  • Peter

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    I believe you are completely right! More than that: with using your left arm you open up the upper muscles, for example while serving, so it is part from the coiling movement. – Thanks for your thoughts – I learned a lot …


  • Bart

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    thx jim,
    i use my left arm to balance up, especially against opponents that like to take pace off the ball …… i will be cognizant in the future as to what my “other arm” is doing during your key points highlighted in the lesson…… i like details …..thx again.

  • Chris

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Yes, here is a good example of an overlooked subject and yet so important, the role of the non-dominant arm but ” dominant ” in any stroke production. The ” main ” role of the non-dominant arm in the forehand stroke production is to keep the upper body coiled (to use the elastic energy of the back muscles) and then to uncoil and unleash the power towards the ball. On the serve I think the main role of the off arm or non-dominant hand is to prevent colapsing your body during the elevation of the right shoulder ( for right handed players ) or the hitting shoulder.
    To be aware of your non-dominant arm, I simply said to my students to execute the forehand by holding a ball on his left (non-dominant hand for right handed players) during the rally. The same can happen to the serve (always serve with 2 balls on your tossing hand/non-dominant hand.)
    Great work Jim

  • Wally

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Hey, Jim, you’re correct. Long ago Vic Braden made an interesting comment on the non-dominant arm on the serve. Not only was the serve a type of throwing motion, but the non-dominant arm was tucked inside the chest/stomach area to stop the left shoulder for a RH server. Another point Vic made was the stopped left shoulder causes a whipping effect in the dominant arm thus making racquet accelerate.
    Professional baseball pitchers and pro football quarterbacks are arguably the best throwers in the world. Yes, I agree they throw out, but their non-dominant arms tuck in similar to an ice skater’s spin. That bringing the mass in causes their shoulders to turn faster.
    Unlike your video demonstration of the forehand and like your demonstration of the serve, the non-dominant arm tucks in. Can’t help but notice that on Federer’s forehand and serve, his non-dominant arm tucks in on both. Roddick’s pauses tucked on the serve until after the ball is gone and his tossing arm kinda shoots back, which I feel is a flaw as he appears to be be continuing his rotation. Roger appears also to be in much better balance and certainly prepared earlier for the next shot than Andy.

  • Rodger Schuester

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    I need to spend some time on the serve regarding using the ND arm and the timing of the opening of the shoulders. For example, my understanding is that over on the deuce service side one error is a premature opening up of the shoulders, so I’m assuming that can be controlled by the non-dominant arm. Anyway, I’m a kind of curious here and will have to look at some pro serve videos to see what is happening there, ad vs deuce court.

  • Steve Hlusak

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Thank you for showing us the Podcast on arm movement of the non dominant arm.
    The forehand stroke caught my attention because I have not taken my left arm back as far as you showed in the video and I now realize that the corresponding shoulder turn will be used to add power to the stroke.


  • Dolores Beck

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Thanks, Jim.
    Choosing to demonstrate how important the non dominant hand
    is when moving into position to hit the ball should be very helpful to players who are trying to gain consistency in their ground strokes. You demonstrated movement very well. I
    Would never go anywhere without my non dominant
    hand. 🙂
    New York

  • julian

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    thanks. hope my students take it from you easier than they take it from me!!!!!!!!!

  • bill

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Jim: It’s my belief that the average club player is fundamentally ‘one armed’ when ti comes to the forehand and the serve. It’s truely amazing when the light goes off and one realizes the importance of the non-dominant arm and and correctly uses it in his strokes to meet the ball in a consistent strike zone and generate more spin and power. Just this week, I found myself spraying my forehand, seemingly without any rhythum. I thought about the non-dominant arm and found I was opening my shoulders too quickly (flying open) instead of letting the stroke dictate the movement of the non-dominant arm.

    It seems that many club players just don’t see the importance of the non-dominant ard it great importance in generating smooth, consistent and powerful strokes. Thanks Jim for your fine insight into key to better strokes.

  • Jaro

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011


    In my view, this is excellent video for everybody who is looking for the key to improve his skill to hit the ball so that he can almost immediately start to play on different level..


  • Jim Fox

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    As usual, Jim, right on. I’ve found that inexperienced throwers both drop their off arm, and tend to keep their elbow low on their throwing arm. As a result, their throwing motion is kind of a shot putting motion. As soon as we teach them to get their elbow up, they are working with gravity when they extend their arm on the throw (or serve), rather than against gravity, and the serve becomes a way more natural throwing motion.

  • Harry Bogorad

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Hello Jim,
    I appreciate the many helpful lessons I have received from you. My game is greatly improved. However, I agree with the reply just before mine (Gordon Graham), when he says “on the serve (and in pitching) the left arm should finish by stopping abruptly across the body.” This seems to contradict this lesson.


    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 13, 2011

      Harry – this is tricky to answer – in the main the non dominant arm leads the action – there are aspects where it can and indeed does tuck against the body – in others it keeps moving – depends a little on the player’s style – but I am not able to say which is better

  • gordon graham

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Hi Jim– I love your thoughtful insights! Keep them coming!! I signed up for the program where you analyze my kick serve and give feedback. Someday i hope to follow through.

    Regarding the left arm, something I learned from Braden (at least I think it was Vic)…on the serve (and in pitching) the left arm should finish by stopping abruptly across the body. As he explained it, when that side decelerates, it causes the other side to accelerate, thus giving more racket head speed to the serve, or velocity to the pitch.

    THANKS for all you are doing!!

  • Armand

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Again, excellent point. Great analysis and explanation. Demonstrates how many subtleties of the game are missed, yet are inherently important for improving timing, speed and accuracy. Well done Jim. Thanks!!!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 13, 2011

      Armand – thanks – makes me feel good about my efforts

  • Ann Sayer

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    I love this point.

    I personally “throw like a girl”. And I know I do and I’m not super happy about it but hey I grew up many decades ago when girls did not play sports like they do now and throwing skills just never happened. I wish I had a nickel for every tennis pro who has said to me in a serving lesson, “well it’s just like throwing” to which I have replied, every single time, literally: “That analogy does not work for me because I throw like a girl.”

    I have, after picking up tennis as a middle-aged “girl”, kind of discovered for myself the role of my left arm. My serve stilll sucks but I really get how to use my left arm in groundstrokes–and when I’m tight in a match and things are falling apart a bit, my coaching thought to myself is always “left arm”. I coach a high school JV girls team and that’s also a key tip I use with them.

    So I really resonate with this and it’s completely ok to use the “throw like a girl” analogy–cuz it is what it is!

    (Altho I too have a daughter who grew up in more fortunate times and she is lucky–she does not “throw like a girl.” Too late for me….:)

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply December 13, 2011

      Ann – keep me posted -this throwing stuff is so darn important

  • fran saldutti

    Reply Reply December 13, 2011

    Important point, but probably as overlooked as any instruction. I often lose sight of where my off-arm is, particularly on the serve. Point well made.

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