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For many players, tennis string tension is an often overlooked aspect of their tennis racquet. However, the tension in which a player strings their racquet can have a significant impact on the overall performance and feel of their tennis racquet.
As a result, it can be helpful to gain an understanding of the basics so that you can adjust the tension of your strings with confidence to help identify a tension that not only feels right but enhances your game.
The Basics of Tennis String Tension
If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend you check out our article on the different types of tennis strings. It will provide you with a deeper understanding of tennis strings and help you narrow down and select a tennis string that meets your needs as a player.
Tennis String Tension Measurements
In the tennis community, tennis string tension is a measure of pounds or the amount of pressure that is being applied to the string when pulled by a stringing machine. Therefore, when people talk about string tension, you’ll hear them refer to tension in that measurement, such as 55 pounds or 60 pounds.
When you’re first getting started, it can be difficult to recognize the difference in string tension simply by referencing the tension because you won’t have any real point of reference. Only until you have the opportunity to play with a racquet strung at a one or more tensions will you begin to appreciate and understand the feel of a particular tension.
Low String Tension vs. High String Tension
When you string a tennis racquet, you have one of two options with regards to tension. You can string your racquet loose, which will result in a lower tension or you can string your racquet tight, which would lead to a higher tension.
Low String Tension
Generally speaking, a lower string tension will provide a player with more power and a higher tension will provide a player with more control.
With a lower tension, or softer string bed, your strings will tend to act like a trampoline. Therefore, when a tennis ball comes in contact with your strings, the rebound effect will be greater, providing you with the ability to generate more speed or power on your shots.
In addition, the sweep spot of a tennis racquet becomes slightly larger as you decrease the tension of your strings.
High String Tension
On the other hand, a higher tension will reduce this rebound effect, providing you with a more stable hitting surface and a smaller sweet spot, which ultimately results in greater control.
However, if you take the above statement at face value, it can be a bit misleading. For example, if a player is looking for increased power they should not simply string their racquet 20 lbs lower to gain more power.
In fact, that large of a drop in tension would be a mistake. In this case, a player would get more benefit from focusing on their technique and fitness to increase their ability to generate power.
As a result, this statement is only really true within a specific weight range. For example, a player who typically strings their racquet at 58 lbs might drop their string tension 2-3 lbs to help increase their potential for power.
It can also be helpful to consider your level of play when evaluating string tension. While most players accept that a higher string tension helps produce more control, it won’t do a beginner justice to string their racquet as tight as possible to gain more control. In other words, the impact of reducing or increasing string tension is relative to a player’s skill level.
Rather, new players can often benefit from a lower tension as it will be more forgiving especially as they hit many off-center shots.
How to Determine Appropriate String Tension
The easiest place to start with string tension is to stay within the tension range recommended by your racquet manufacturer. Wondering where to find these numbers?
Just check on the inside of your tennis racquet’s throat, and you should see their recommendation. When developing tennis racquets, all manufacturers will test their racquets with real players to determine an appropriate stringing range for players.
While this range is a recommendation, some players may benefit from stringing their racquet slightly above or below the recommended tension.
The best thing you can do the first time around when stringing a new racquet is to split the difference and start with a tension that is right in the middle of the manufacturer’s recommendation.
For example, if your racquet says the recommended string tension is 55 lbs – 60 lbs start with 58 lbs and see how it feels. Based on the performance of the racquet and overall feel, you can adjust the tension higher or lower based on your preference.
It may take a few times to dial in your favorite tension, but if you start in the middle, you should be able to find a tension you like pretty quickly.
When just starting out with a new racquet and working to find the right string tension, it’s highly recommended that you stick with the same type of string as you make adjustments.
Different types of strings will have dramatically different feel and performance at various tensions, therefore, to help minimize variables, try to stick with a single string until you find a tension you’re comfortable with.
If you do eventually move to a new string you may need to be flexible and make adjustments to your tension based on the difference in the type of string your using. Of course, if you’re moving to a very similar string you may not need to make any adjustments at all.
Additional Considerations for String Tension
When you’re just getting started with string tension, it can be helpful to consider the following.
Stringing Different Racquets
Every racquet is going to have a different feel and performance when you string it. Therefore, it’s important to consider this fact when stringing tennis racquets.
Frequently players will get comfortable with a particular string tension that has worked well for them in the past and stick to that tension when switching racquets. In many cases, that can be a mistake because the tension may not transition well.
As you move from one racquet to another, there’s a high likelihood that the recommended string range will be different, so the tension you’re used to will feel significantly different than with your old racquet.
Therefore, when moving to a new racquet consider testing out a few different tensions. You may be pleasantly surprised at how a slight change in tension can have a significant impact on the overall performance and feel of your racquet.
Stringing With Different Types of Strings
Similarly, various types of strings will have a dramatically different feel at the same tension. For example, if you were to string your racquet at 55 lbs with a nylon string, and then switch to a kevlar string and use the same tension, you’ll quickly realize these two strings play and feel very different.
Kevlar string has a very stiff feel. As a result, you may want to this type of string at a tension that is approximately 5-10% lower than what you usually string nylon strings. The lower tension will help offset the added stiffness of a kevlar string.
On the other hand, if you were to move from a nylon string to a polyester string you may want to string your racquet 5-20% lower because most polyester strings will tend to perform better at lower tensions. Just keep in mind that polyester strings are known for stretching and losing some of their tension when first being strung so you may want to compensate for that slightly too.
The four different types of strings include natural gut, multifilament, polyester, and synthetic gut. Here are some of the most popular for each of these string types:
|Natural Gut||Babolat VS Touch||$$$$$|
|Polyester (poly)||Luxilon ALU Power||$$$|
|Synthetic Gut||Prince Synthetic Gut||$|
Check out our article on the best tennis strings for a list of the top 10 across all string types.
Best String Tension For Arm Injuries
As with most things in tennis, what’s best is unique to any individual player. If you are suffering from an arm injury, it’s no different as the severity of each players injury is going to vary widely.
However, as a general principle, most players with arm injuries will benefit from reducing the tension of their strings, which will help create a softer more forgiving string bed. The result will help reduce the stiffness associated with higher tensions, which will ultimately be more forgiving for a player’s arm.
If you are suffering from an arm injury such as tennis elbow, it can also be worth evaluating the type of string as well as the type of racquet you’re using to achieve the highest level of comfort, while still being able to enjoy the game and compete at a high level.
Some of the top strings for comfort are natural gut like Babolat VS Touch mentioned in the section above. However, the higher price and lack of durability tend to price most players out using them.
The good news is that multifilaments offer comparable and in some cases better comfort as is the case with Prince Premier Touch. Here are four popular strings for arm injuries from four different tennis brands:
|Prince Premier Touch||$$$$$|
|Wilson NXT Power||$$$|
|Head Reflex MLT||$|
Multiple Racquets Strung at Different Tensions
Recognizing the difference in performance and feel associated with various string tensions, many players will opt to carry multiple racquets strung at different tensions.
In some cases professional players will carry five or six tennis racquets, however, it’s also extremely common for players who compete to carry three racquets with the following logic.
You would string the first two racquets at a familiar and comfortable tension. This way if you break a string you have another racquet ready play with at the same tension. However, you might string the third racquet a few pounds tighter than the other racquets to provide yourself with some extra control.
In highly competitive situations, one of the most common scenarios players will encounter is over hitting. The excitement of the match, nerves, and determination to win can make a player tighten up, which ultimately causes them to hit the ball slightly farther than they typically would.
In this case, it can be beneficial to have a racquet strung 2-5 pounds tighter to help the player regain control by limiting the power potential of the strings and racquet. When you’re only hitting a few feet long, or a few feet wide, a minor change in tension can be the difference a player needs to make sure the ball stays within the court.
While often overlooked tennis string tension can be a powerful tool for the savvy tennis player, but it can also wreak havoc on the game of players who aren’t paying attention to their strings.
Taking control of string tension as one of the many variables in tennis can help give you an edge over another player who isn’t as prepared.
Have questions about string tension? Feel free to add your comments below. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have!
Want to learn more about strings? Check out some of our other articles:
- Tennis String Gauge and It’s Impact on Performance
- Natural Gut Strings: An In-depth Look at The Oldest String In Tennis
Serve EssentialsA step-by-step course to develop and improve your serve
- Part 1: Technique
A step-by-step guide to building your serve from the ground up.
- Part 2: Fundamentals
Learn the core principles that are common among all great servers.
- Part 3: Drills
Practice essential drills to help bring your serve to life with ease.