There are several ways that you can use your tennis strings to adjust the overall feel and performance of your racket.
This can be through the string material, gauze, pattern, and tension.
Today, we’re going to be taking a closer look at tennis string tension, what effect this has on the racket, and how you can choose a string tension that will complement your preferred style of play.
Let’s get to it.
What is String Tension?
If you’ve ever re-strung your racket, you’ll know that you’ll need to decide on the string tension. This is usually a number displayed in pounds and is used to show how tightly stretched each string is.
Each racket will have a tension range, which will typically be printed somewhere on the frame. For your racket to perform optimally, your string tension should fall within this range – however, this isn’t necessarily something you have to stick to. This is usually around 50lb-60lb of tension.
When deciding on tension, it’s best to look at tension as a spectrum between low and high. The art is finding where your preferences fall within this spectrum. This can take time as you try out different rackets and strings, but after a while, you should find a tension that you’re comfortable with.
Let’s take a quick look at the difference between low and high tension rackets.
Having a racket strung to lower tension is going to give you more power and comfort. This is because the strings have more flexibility, allowing the ball to spring off of the racket with more speed (known as the trampoline effect). This flexibility also allows the strings to absorb more of the impact with the ball.
The downside of using a racket strung to a low tension is a loss of control. The shots will often land deep in the court and if you’re not used to using a low tension racket, can often land too deep.
Lower tension = more power and comfort.
- More power
- More comfort
- More feel
- Less control
Having a racket strung to a higher tension is going to provide more control, but at the cost of power, comfort and feel. So, what’s the point in losing all of those benefits for the sake of a bit more control?
Well, if you’re already able to play big power shots without the help from the strings, then having a racket strung to a higher tension will provide you with the control needed to keep your shots in play.
High tension = more control.
- More control
- Less power
- Less comfort
- Less feel
Hopefully, now you’re able to see the relationship between the string tension and the effect it has on your shots.
How to Choose a String Tension for Your Tennis Racket?
First things first, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to string tension. Choosing tension is a matter of preference, so it’s good to experiment with different options until you find something that fits your style.
That said there are a few considerations to make that can help you with your decision.
Generally speaking, if you’re a beginner, I’d recommend going for a tension that’s bang in the middle of your tennis racket’s tension range. From here, you can assess which type of tension you think you’ll need.
Need a bit more power? Drop your tension.
Need a bit more control? Increase your tension.
Over time you’ll get to know the feeling of various tensions and find one that you feel most comfortable with.
How you like to play tennis can also determine what sort of tension will be best suited for you.
If you’re already using a racket built for power and have the athletic ability to generate power in your shots, then going for a higher tension will likely be your best option. This will give a bit of extra control over your big power shots.
If you’re lacking in the power department, and need a bit of a helping hand to land your shots deep in the court, a lower tension will be more suitable.
Of course, you don’t need to go for one extreme or the other. Most players will find a middle ground that they’re happy with that compliments their ability.
The material of the strings is arguably the most important factor to take into consideration.
Again there is no right or wrong, but we’ll list out some example tensions below that you can use for reference.
Multifilament/ Synthetic/ Natural Gut
Multifilament and gut strings, whether natural or synthetic tend to be fairly soft. With that in mind, they tend to be strung at higher tensions.
- Low Tension/ Power: 50-55lbs (22.5-25kg)
- High Tension/ Control: 56-60lbs (25.5-27kg)
Polyester strings on the other hand are much stiffer and as such, tend to be strung at lower tensions.
- Low Tension/ Power: 44-49lbs (20-22kg)
- High Tension/ Control: 50-54lbs (22.5-24.5kg)
With a hybrid setup, it comes down to which materials you’re using for your mains and crosses.
That said, usually, you’d want your softer (i.e. multifilament/ synthetic/ natural) strings to be strung at a higher tension than the looser (polyester) strings. This should then provide equivalent stiffness and a more uniform feel.
Believe it or not, the weather you’re playing in can also affect your strings.
If you’re playing in cold weather, the strings themselves can become stiffer. Likewise, the ball is going to have much less bounce, meaning you’re going to lose power there as well. With that in mind, dropping your tension by a few lb if you’re playing outside in winter is usually a good idea.
If you’re playing indoors like most of us do over the winter months, the pace of the ball tends to be a lot faster. Tightening your tension a few lb will help to give you a bit more control over the faster-paced ball.
Clay courts, however, tend to make the ball heavier and slower. Most pros will usually loosen their tension when transitioning to clay courts to compensate for this.
String Tension and Tennis Elbow
When it comes to tennis elbow, there are a few things you can do to make playing a bit more comfortable.
One, of course, is the racket itself. We’ve got a whole article on the best tennis rackets for tennis elbow you can check out for some specific rackets.
Aside from the racket, another change we can make is to lower our string tension. The lower string tension results in less shock traveling through the racket into the arm and provides a bit more comfort.
It’s worth mentioning that rackets lose their tension over time, even if you don’t play a single match of tennis. While the effects of this are minimal, pros will often have their racket strung as close to the match as they can. They do this so that the racket loses as little tension as possible.
While that’s pretty extreme, it is something worth remembering. Plus, the more you use your racket, the faster the tension will decrease.
Generally speaking, you should re-string your racket as many times per year as you play per week. So if you play three times a week, then the general rule of thumb is to re-string your racket three times a year.
A method used to prevent tension loss is by pre-stretching the strings. Some tennis stringing machines have this ability (the super expensive electric ones). You’ll probably need to go to a store to get this done, as doing this at home can be difficult and expensive.
Of course, you can always have your racket strung approximately 10% tighter than your preferred tension, as this should account for the loosening of the strings.
Make Gradual Changes
When it comes to trying out different tensions, I find it’s best to make gradual changes. Going from one extreme to the other can often leave you feeling lost and as though there isn’t a right tension for you.
Knowing what’s wrong with your tension and making gradual changes (either higher or lower tension) based on your needs will allow you to systematically and efficiently find the best tension for your style.
How to Check String Tension?
If you’re feeling that your strings aren’t delivering the performance you’re used to, one of the reasons could be due to the fact they’ve lost their tension.
There are a few tools out there that you can get that measures your string tension. There are even phone apps out there you can use. To be honest, I’m not too sure how accurate they are and would recommend something like the Tourna String Meter instead.
This works by placing the prongs between the strings in the center of the racket, so the center string is in between the two prongs. You then twist the face of the string meter so that the “V” is lined up with the center string and take your reading. Simple, easy, and pretty accurate.
What Tension Do the Pros Use?
Ok, let’s take a look at a few pros, what racket they use, their strings, and their tension. It’s worth mentioning that the pros will use various tensions given the environment they play in, however, this is a general guide to what they typically use.
- Racket: Wilson Pro Staff FR97 Autograph
- Main Strings: Wilson Natural Gut
- Cross Strings: Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power Rough
- Tension (Mains): 48.5lbs
- Tension (Crosses): 45lbs
- Racket: Babolat Pure Aero
- Main Strings: Babolat RPM Blast 130
- Cross Strings: Babolat RPM Blast 130
- Tension (Mains): 55lbs
- Tension (Crosses): 55lbs
- Racket: Head Graphene 360 Speed Pro
- Main Strings: Babolat VS Team Natural Gut
- Cross Strings: Luxilon ALU Power Rough
- Tension (Mains): 59lbs
- Tension (Crosses): 56lbs
Although it can seem confusing at first, knowing how to choose a string tension for your tennis racket is a case of micro-adjustments.
Either increasing or decreasing the tension by small amounts until you’re satisfied with the results is the best way to go.
Again, string tension is a matter of personal preference. If your friend swears by a certain tension, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for you.
Hopefully, our article has shared some light on the topic, and if you’ve got any questions at all, please feel free to get in touch via the comment section below.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about tennis strings, we’ve got a full breakdown of tennis string gauges that you can check out as well.