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Weight, Balance, and Swing Weight Demystified

Within the world of tennis racquets, many misconceptions arise due to a misunderstanding of the connections between important features. For example, many believe that a heavy racquet is automatically going to be more tiring and more difficult to play with than a lighter racquet. While it is true that a frame with a heavier static weight (more on this later) will require more effort to hold, it does not necessarily have a higher swing weight than a racquet that is much lighter.

In order to better understand this, one must understand the distinction between static and swing weights. Static weight is nothing more than measure of the mass of the racquet. If you have ever taken your racquet and put it on a postal scale, you have measured the static weight, which usually ranges between 8 and 12 ounces (227 to 340 grams). Another way to get a sense of this is to hold a frame by the tip at the head and allow the handle to hang straight down. In this case, if you hold two different racquets this way, it will be fairly obvious which has more mass despite any balance or swing weight differences.

Before we discuss swing weight, it is beneficial to have a solid understanding of balance and what exactly it does. Balance is basically a measure of where the center of mass is located along the length of a frame. For analysis, we assume that a racquet is symmetric about its longitudinal axis. That is to say that if a racquet sits flat on a table, the right side of the hoop is not heavier than the left. With this in mind, we can assume that for the sake of balance measurement, the frame behaves as a non-homogeneous rod. The specific density of the rod varies along its thickness, which means that the center of mass is not necessarily in the center of the rod. Balance is usually measured from the end of the butt cap and is reported in “points” either head light or head heavy relative to the midpoint. One point is equivalent to 1/8”, so if a 27” racquet has a balance point measured at 13”, it would be listed as four points head light. This is because the true balance is 1/2” away from the midpoint, in this case towards the handle, or “away from the head”, thus, head light.

One key to note is that balance is dependent not just on the amount of weight applied in one direction, but even more importantly, the distance at which it is applied. In other words, if you were to add five grams of lead tape only an inch from the current balance, it would not have a great effect on the new balance. If you were to add that same amount of weight 12 inches away, a much larger impact would be seen. This becomes even more apparent when the discussion of swing weight comes in, as we will explain.

Possibly the most misunderstood of all of the specifications that are commonly listed on racquets is the swing weight. This is because it is difficult to accurately measure without sophisticated equipment. We have a tool right here that allows you to find the swing weight of a racquet using a simpler approach, but it is subject to larger deviations due to imprecise measurements. First, we must have an understanding of what exactly swing weight is. The most basic definition is that it is a measure of a weight that is perceived by the player when the racquet is in motion. To further complicate things, it is linked to the static weight and balance, but not directly. This is because the units of swing weight (often not listed) are kg*cm^2, which clearly shows that the distance a weight is applied will have a stronger effect than the amount of weight itself. As such, two racquets that weigh the exact same and have the same balance can have dramatically differing swing weights depending on how the weight is distributed. It is also possible that a significantly lighter racquet will have a higher swing weight as compared to a frame with a higher static weight and the balance will also reflect that.

All of these factors of swing weight make it one of the most incredibly difficult subjects to understand, because it is supposed to be a measure of how the weight of the racquet is perceived in motion, and all players are different. This of course means that no matter how detailed of a search one goes on to find a racquet with the perfect specs, two racquets with similar swing weights can feel entirely different in action.

So how does swing weight affect the important characteristics of a frame, power, stability, control, etc.? It creates a unique point of optimum playability for each individual. In theory, as the swing weight decreases, racquet speed increases, but only up to a certain point, at which time the swing speed is limited by the physical limitations of the user. Another thing to factor in is that at contact, the racquet slows down, so one needs a racquet with a high enough swing weight to maintain stability and an acceptable amount of the incoming racquet velocity. So in essence, a lower swing weight results in greater potential racquet speed, but sacrifices stability as the effective weight of the racquet is closer to that of the incoming ball. With a lower swing weight, the racquet head will have a limit on power potential, while a higher swing weight deflects on impact less, providing additional repulsion.

The most important thing is to find the appropriate combination for your style and preferences. It is important to find a frame that you will not tire you from being too heavy, but still maintain the stability needed for your game. The beauty of customization is that one can relatively easily apply added weight to strategic locations to achieve the proper fit.