September 28, 2011

Minimum-quality shots

Often players and coaches harp on creating quality shots, as they should. However, what about minimum-quality shots? These are shots where your opponent has made you uncomfortable - perhaps with his attack, his serve, or something else - and so all you are trying to do is get the ball back in a way that he won't cream it past you.

Minimum-quality shots can be tricky to pull off correctly. First, you have to judge whether it's time to go for one. Second, you have to judge just how weak you can make your shot - to maximize consistency - and still get away with it. And third, you have to be able to something with the ball to give the opponent some trouble, such as angling the shot, going to the opponent's weak side, keeping it deep, changing the direction at the last second, changing the spin, etc. This last part is almost an art form. Ultimately, you don't want to try to win with your minimum-quality shots, but they will often keep you in the point. And some decent players pretty much base their whole game on just getting the ball back like this, though not at really high levels.

Often players don't distinguish between incoming shots that they have read properly and are in position to attack, and ones where they are not, and so blindly attack both. While they sometimes pull off a nice shot this way, and it might actually be good practice to raise you level by attacking shots that you are not really comfortable attacking, it's not usually the percentage thing to do, tactically.

One of my favorite strategies is to just keep taking the ball right off the bounce and returning it really, really wide to the opponent's backhand, but not too hard. You'd be surprised how much trouble they have doing anything with this shot. It's way too far over for most to use their forehand (and they are wide open on the forehand side if they do), they can't really hit this ball down the line very hard, and I give them no pace to work with, and so all I have to do is be a brick wall on my backhand side until they miss. This works especially well for me in returning serves, in backhand-backhand rallies, and for wide-angled pushes. The first two here are especially well underutilized by most players.

Getting back in shape for table tennis

I've decided to devote the next two months to getting in great table tennis shape. Besides the usual hitting with students and practice matches Fri-Sun (mostly with our local juniors as a practice partner), this means about three training sessions/week, plus lifting weights at a gym three times a week, plus daily stretching. (This is on top of going from 196 lbs in December to the current 173.) Here's my new weight training regime, which I started yesterday, with ten reps each, three times each, weight set so the last few reps are a slight struggle. I start and end each session with stretching. Right now my arms are very, very tired, but the rest of me seems okay.

  1. Triceps: Arm Extension
  2. Biceps: Arm Curl
  3. Chest: Chest Press or Fly Machine
  4. Back: Pull Down or Row
  5. Shoulders: Overhead Press
  6. Hamstrings: Leg Curl
  7. Quadriceps: Leg Extensions
  8. Other: Leg Press
  9. Abs: Ab Crunch or Abdominal Machine
  10. Torso: Torso Rotation (both ways, so this is really two exercises)

Table tennis videos

Can't get enough videos? There are lots of ones in the TableTennisCoaching video section. I've just added the ITTF video page. Or just type in your favorite player (and perhaps the words "table tennis") into youtube, and you can pretty much find anybody.

Table Tennis University

Table Tennis University opens for enrollment on Thursday, Sept. 29. It's an online table tennis school. I've linked to a number of their videos, but haven't otherwise been involved with them, but (from the videos and table tennis resume) they obviously are knowledgeable table tennis people. (I have my own video coaching at


My favorite sport is now penny-pong. (Patience - it takes about a minute to get into it in this 4:42 video.) But why does this remind me of the rickety bridge scene from Balls of Fury? Except they have, apparently, learned backhand.


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You know Larry, it would be better if you lifted with free weights using compound exercises, instead of the isolation exercises on the machines that you're doing now. The musculoskeletal system is designed to function as a whole, and trying to break it up into its constituent parts and piece it back together Frankenstein-style will lead to muscular imbalances and relatively weak connective tissues (both predisposing you to injury).

Something else to think about, of the movements that you are doing on those machines, which of them actually occur in real life, or in table tennis specifically? Hmm...

In reply to by vineRipeTomatoes

Hi Tomatoes, you are probably right - I'm no weight training expert. However, aren't the machines I'm using safer for beginners? I'm leery of injuries. I used these same type of machines the only other time I did a lot of weight training, about ten years ago (at a Fitness First), and it paid off back then. Perhaps I should do this way for a few months, and then consider trying free weights? But I don't think they have a large selection of free weights at the Planet Fitness I'm going to (half a mile away, open 24 hours). 

The machines are probably safer for someone that hasn't learned how to lift with free weights correctly. And admittedly good instruction is impossible to find. Since table tennis isn't a contact sport for the most part, you should be less likely to blow out a knee due to weak tendons/ligaments. I've taken the time to come up with some exercises that anyone should be able to do safely and effectively with zero instruction and a minimum of equipmental requirements, to give you some ideas.

Overhead press with dumbbells, from shoulders to locked out overhead

Goblet squat with dumbbell (google it if you're not sure what it looks like)

Pullups from a pullup bar


Back extension (like this: )

Hanging leg raise

Bicep curls, with a bar or dumbbells, apparently Sean O'neill recommends using a hammer grip since it more closely matches the forearm orientation in forehand strokes

The arm extension, fly machine, leg curl, and leg extensions you should probably drop.

In reply to by vineRipeTomatoes

Since I don't think they have these free weights at the Planet Fitness I go to, though I haven't looked closely. I have been doing pushups on my own on the side. I'm tentatively still going to stay with the machines they have there, and relook at the matter after two months, when I should be a bit more knowledgeable and fitter, plus more confident in using free weights without injury. I could go to the Fitness First place, but that's more expensive, farther away, and isn't open 24 hours/day. (And anyone can find this posting and comments by putting either "weights" or "weight training" into a search here, so it'll always be easy to find.) 

What's wrong with the arm extension, fly machine, leg curl, and leg extensions? (Remember, this is a learning process for me.)