The Grips of Table Tennis

Choosing The Right Table Tennis Grip – Guide To The 3 Most Popular Grips

When first picking up a table tennis racket, most beginners hold it like a baseball bat. Gripping hard within a clenched fist, this is an inefficient and uncontrollable grip that most people struggle playing with.

The first thing for any beginner to learn is how to hold the paddle correctly, allowing for much faster improvement and quickly winning more matches. If you’re not sure whether you hold the racket correctly, we’re here to help you.

All table tennis grips are determined by the size/shape of the racket, although there are actually no rules regarding racket size. You could play with a mini or giant racket if it was otherwise legal such as having approved rubbers.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates playing Table Tennis with a giant racket.
The richest men in the world can afford a larger racket.

Players have long experimented with their grips and racket sizing, perfecting these variables over time. Over the last 100 years, this has narrowed us down to just 3 primary grips used by a vast majority of players.

That’s not to say better grips won’t still appear. Yuna Ojio, one of the best Japanese Table Tennis players in her age category, invented her own grip just a few years ago!

What are the grips in Table Tennis?

Today, we have 3 main grips, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. They are:

  • Shakehand
  • Chinese Penhold
  • Japanese Penhold

Here’s a comparison chart outlining the strengths and weaknesses of these 3 grips:

A Table Tennis Grips Comparasion Chart.
Table Tennis Grip Comparison Chart.

Racket Insight also conducted a poll on Reddit to compare the popularity of these grips. 

We have found that out of the 476 people that answered, 384 are shakehanders, 70 are Chinese penholders, and just 22 are Japanese penholders.

A scale of the different grips that the players use.
Most players use the shakehand grip (on Reddit)

One of the most fun parts of playing table tennis is the variety of playing styles. It’s very interesting to see these different playstyles clash, both on a tactical and technical level. 

Let’s explore how each of the 3 main table tennis grips are used and help you decide which one you should use, starting with the shakehand grip.

A picture of the 3 grips of Table Tennis.
The 3 Grips of Table Tennis

Shakehand grip

The Shakehand grip is the most popular grip by far.

This grip is called shakehand because the player holds their racket as if they were shaking hands with it.

Strengths

The main strength of the Shakehand grip is its versatility. It’s the grip with the best backhand motion and the simplest to execute. 

This is the style that aged better with time. Up until the 2000s, all of the styles were equally strong. 

Nowadays, even though there are some very good penholders such as Xu Xin, the style that’s most prevalent in professional teams is the shakehand grip attacker. 

This is because today’s game revolves around backhand to backhand exchanges. The best grip for that is the shakehand.

All of the traditional penholder nations such as Japan, Korea, and most notably, China, have been moving from the penhold grip to the shakehand grip for many reasons.

The shakehand grip is deemed to be easier to learn and execute. It is stable, simple to understand and is also the best grip for style variations.

Virtually all defenders are shakehanders because the grip allows them to have the most versatile backhand. They can chop, block, and topspin with great quality and consistency.

Some offensive shakehanders, such as Ma Long and Koki Niwa regularly perform chop blocks, a very effective backhand variation that the other grips simply can’t execute as well.

Shakehanders are also the only ones that can consistently pull off-hand switch shots, given the nature of the grip. Check out this amazing hand switch shot by Timo Boll!

Weaknesses

The shakehand grip has main 2 weaknesses, the most important one being the crossover point.

One of the most effective tactics against shakehand players is attacking the elbow. Since shakehanders use both sides of their rackets, there’s a point in the middle called the crossover point in which it’s unclear whether to hit with the forehand or the backhand side.

The crossover point leads to lots of unforced mistakes, whereas penholders can just block all over the table with the same side of their rackets.

The second weakness this grip has is the limited wrist action when compared with penhold grips. 

The way the penhold grip works, added to the shorter handles on penhold rackets, allow for greater wrist action when compared to the shakehand grip. 

How to use 

To properly execute a shakehand grip, you must first press your thumb against the slope present at the top of the handle. 

A picture showing the slope in the handle designed to fix the thumb in place.
Slope in the handle designed to fix the thumb in place.

The index finger should rest straight on the other side of the racket, like so:

Shakehand Grip Explainer

To have an efficient shakehand grip, your grip should be loose, and you should apply the pressure to hold the racket with your thumb and index, while the middle, ring, and pinky fingers should be completely relaxed.

Holding the racket with your thumb and index frees your wrist and provides better feeling on the ball. If you grip the racket too tightly, you’ll have no touch on the ball, and your wrist will be locked, hindering spin generation.

Your grip may have slight variations, though nothing too radical. It’s fine to raise both your index or thumb finger a bit if that’s more comfortable to you.

To sum up, the shakehand grip is the most versatile, has the best backhand, is easiest to learn, and is currently the most popular. It’s very hard to go wrong choosing the shakehand grip.

Chinese Penhold grip

The Chinese penhold grip is the second most popular grip in Table Tennis today.

It’s still viable at the highest levels of play because of the invention of the RPB (Reverse Penhold Backhand). Unlike the Japanese penhold grip, Chinese penholders can consistently loop on their backhand side, sticking a rubber on the backside of their rackets.

Strengths 

The advantage of the Chinese penhold grip is that it frees the wrist in a way the shakehand grip doesn’t. This allows for spinnier shots and better touch on serve and receive.

Another advantage of traditional penhold grips is that they don’t have a crossover point between the backhand and the forehand side, since they hit with the same side of the racket for both strokes. 

If they use the reverse penhold backhand, however, they will have a crossover point, like shakehand players. 

Weaknesses

The Chinese penhold grip’s biggest disadvantage is close to the table backhand exchanges, due to the lesser hitting surface on their backhand side. 

This makes it very hard for Chinese penholders to block, punch, and perform short counters. The RPB is great for looping but not much else. 

Because of this, Chinese penholders prefer to attack first with 3rd ball attacks and proactive receives. It is easier for them to do so because of their advantages in the serve and receive departments, where they can create opportunities to attack.

If they’re attacked, they’ll usually drop back a bit, where they can make use of their wrist usage and longer strokes to counter.

How to use

To hold the racket correctly using the Chinese penhold grip, you must wrap your thumb and your index finger around the handle.

A picture of the forehand Chine Penhold.

The middle, ring, and pinky finger should wrap onto the other side of the racket.

A picture of the backhand Chinese Penhold.

This grip has stayed relevant over time because of the RPB. Traditional penholders aren’t as effective in today’s game because they can’t loop on their backhand side.

Reverse penholders tend to play at mid-distance, where they make use of their spinny shots on both the forehand and the backhand side. 

Great exponents of this style are Xu Xin and Dang Qiu 

Japanese Penhold grip

The Japanese penhold grip is the hardest grip to execute today, hence its dip in popularity over the years.

Strengths

The Japanese penhold grip is probably the best grip for pure forehand loopers. J-pen players have the largest hitting area and the lightest, most forehand-oriented rackets.

Japanese penhold rackets are made of cork on the backside to decrease their weight. These rackets are extremely light, which helps with stroke acceleration. 

These blades are generally 1-ply, very thick, fast, and stable. This style relies on fast, hard-hit forehands and well-placed backhand blocks, so it’s all about crispness and stability. This is why J-pen blades also sound really loud!

The shape of the cork handle is also intended to give extra stability when using power, and the larger reach allows for better reach and leverage.

This grip is all about the forehand, really. There are also some blockers who like to use this style because it has no crossover point and a large hitting surface.

The 2 main playing styles for players using this grip are:

  • Blockers who move their opponents around until they get an opportunity and smash a high ball.
  • Forehand dominant loopers who will make use of tactics to execute 3rd ball attacks.

Most of these players will need great footwork and a good punch down the line to create forehand to forehand rallies, where they have an edge. 

Weaknesses

The main weakness this grip has is that you cannot loop with your backhand.

This means that the Japanese penhold grip is critically disadvantaged in one of the most important aspects of Table Tennis today.

This isn’t to say that this grip is worse than the other two, though. Even though it’s limited on the backhand side, J-pen players have the largest hitting area and the lightest, most forehand oriented rackets.

The J-pen grip is the least versatile among all the grips, and the hardest one to execute. 

How to use

To hold the racket correctly, you should wrap your thumb and your index fingers around the handle like so:

Photo: SportsSG

On the backhand side, the grip looks like this:

A picture of the backhand Japanese Penhold

Are there any other table tennis grips?

There are 3 main grips used widely in Table Tennis – Shakehand, Chinese Penhold and Japanese Penhold. There are also some other less popular grips, such as the V-Grip and the Seemiller grip but it’s rare to find these used.

Though these 2 alternative grips can be effective, we didn’t include them in the article because you won’t find a coach that knows how to teach them properly, unless your coach is Danny Seemiller himself!

We recommend trying out the shakehand and penhold grips, then discussing the topic with your coach and figuring out what works best for you.

What grip do you play and why? Let us know in the comments below!

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 200 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Tibhar Stratus Power Wood | Forehand: Rakza Z | Backhand: Rakza 7 Soft
Playstyle: Forehand Looper

David's been playing Table Tennis since he was 12, earning his first coaching license in 2012. He's played in national team & individual competitions, although he prefers the more relaxed nature of a local league match! After earning his umpiring qualification in England, David moved to Australia and started Racket Insight to share information about the sport he loves.

Blade: Stiga WRB Offensive Classic | Forehand: Calibra LT | Backhand: Xiom Musa
Playstyle: All-Round Attacker

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