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Backhand Battle: One or Two Hands?

Having trouble deciding if you should use a one or two-handed backhand in pickleball? Read on for the pros and cons of both, and what to consider when choosing.

Forehand is the simple one. You just grip it with your dominant arm and swing away.

But backhands are usually tougher. Backhands can feel vulnerable and weak at times.

You're swinging the "wrong" way, right? Wrong! Let's solve the backhand dilemma.

One-handed and two-handed backhands are both used in pickleball, and each has its own set of pros and cons. A lot of newer and developing players find themselves torn.

How to decide: One or two-handed backhand?

Many players go through cycles where they switch from using one hand and experiment with using two, on tough dinks or quick speed-ups.

What feels right depends on past experience with other sports, as well as goals and physical makeup. If someone had a one-hander in tennis in the past, they'll feel more comfortable doing the same in pickleball too.

If someone came from baseball or volleyball, maybe they are used to using both hands in tandem. Some folks don't feel enough strength from just one arm, and yet others feel equally weak when getting their weaker arm involved.

Some players use one-hand primarily and find it natural to swing with one's dominant hand, even if it's more of a "pull" motion than push. Meanwhile, many players feel added stability having another hand on there, even if it's a non-dominant hand.

And then some players mix it up, depending on the situation and shot.

Anna Leigh Waters pickleball nationals

Is a one-handed backhand better in pickleball?

Pros of a one-handed backhand:

Allows for greater reach, flexibility, and reduces the variables. A one-hander can get the dominant wrist more involved.

Some players may find it more intuitive to simply swing with the same arm as their forehand, and it simplifies bodily movement.

They also might feel like the footwork is more natural.

Some players find it easier to change direction and control the pace of the ball with a one-handed backhand because range of motion is less restricted.

Cons of a one-handed backhand:

One-handed backhands can be less powerful than two-handed backhands, and players may struggle to generate enough pop on their shots.

One-handers also might have trouble with balls that are very high, like above the shoulder, because they do not have the added extra arm to help come over the top.

One-handers also have issues regarding grip changes, as it can be tough to crank your grip to adjust from hitting. You may find yourself with a forehand continental grip from earlier.

When playing with a one-handed backhand, players should focus on precision. But done right, a one-handed backhand has a ton of versatility that a two-hander doesn't always have. They can swing a bit more freely with more of their body unrestricted, they can whip they core open and across as they swing.

Ultimately this style of backhand is very, very common on soft shots like drops, as well as dinks, but is lesser common even with pros when it comes to ripping or smashing a ball.

However, the very best one-handed backhands are thing of beauty as they make use of the entire body in unison, with maximized versatility and whip.

Pro players who use a one-handed backhand:

Jay Devilliers, Jessie Irvine, Tyson McGuffin

Is a two-handed backhand better for pickleball?

Pros of a two-handed backhand:

Two-handed backhands provide more power for a lot of players, as they can now use their second hand to steady the paddle and second arm to provide mass behind the ball. For some, a two-hander is simply more stability and control on shots.

Folks who come from tennis and had a two-handed backhand will obviously favor this in pickleball. So too will folks who came from perhaps baseball, basketball, and volleyball, and are accustomed to quick motions using both hands and arms together.

It's also useful for players with a shorter arm reach or weaker forearm strength, as it allows them to reach farther and swing harder.

Cons of a two-handed backhand:

Two-handed backhands can be less flexible than one-handed backhands, as you have to have your second hand and arm attached to the paddle itself and not operating as a counterweight or anchor.

The arm flows back as you hit, as you see with pro tennis players such as Roger Federer.

Some players may struggle to change direction on the ball with a two-hander because the approach to the ball is more static. You must align a certain way with your feet, more or less, to hit a ball a certain direction. There may be fewer misdirection opportunities depending on your arm strength and footwork.

When playing with a two-handed backhand, players should focus on getting their arms synchronized and using that second hand for added consistency.

Two-handed backhand can be effective for folks who will feel more comfort swinging upwards for topspin, as it allows for more power and stability on shots, with practice.

Pro players who use a two-handed backhand:

Riley Newman, Anna Bright, Anna Leigh Waters

When determining which one to play with, players should consider their physical abilities and preferences.

A player with a shorter arm reach or a need for more power and an anchor/unit type feel may prefer a two-handed backhand, while a player with a longer arm reach or a wish for more versatility and a coil/whip type feel may prefer a one-handed backhand.

You may very well decide you want to use both in various instances. Some top pros will switch to a two-hander to defend attacks, sharp dinks, or balls left up over their non-dominant shoulder, for example.

Meanwhile they might hit soft shots and slices one-handed. Players are torn between if a one-hander or two-hander can provide more wrist flick/snap.

Pro players who do both, depending on the situation:

Ben Johns, Tyler Loong, Irina Tereschenko

Understand that both one-handed and two-handed backhands have their own benefits.

Experiment with both styles and most likely one of the two will feel more natural, and know that there is no right answer and you may even use both at various times. See which works best for you in what cases.

Or, avoid the issue altogether, and run around for more forehands!


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