In sports such as basketball, volleyball, tennis, and many others, height is an advantageous attribute.
Other sports, such as horse racing, benefit jockeys who are short in stature. It would seem that most sports have their ideal height.
In table tennis, however, there are successful players at all height ranges. If there is an advantage that comes with your height, it isn’t that obvious at first glance.
Is there an ideal height for table tennis? Is it better to be tall in table tennis? Or is it better to be shorter? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being tall or short? Let’s find out!
Is being taller better in table tennis?
In short, no, or at least not to some extent. Players of all heights have their advantages and disadvantages in table tennis, but everyone can play at a world-class level, from Mima Ito (152cm) to Tomislav Pucar (197cm).
In table tennis, being tall has its advantages and disadvantages, so being tall is not necessarily better. The advantages of being short are the disadvantages of being tall and vice versa.
It’s instinctive for us to try and make the most out of our bodies and craft our playstyle around our capabilities. Even if you don’t realize it, your height might be affecting the way you decide to play.
Would you play the same way if you were 20cm taller? What if you were 20cm shorter?
Pros of being taller
There are some very tall professional players, with the tallest table tennis player being Tomislav Pucar at 197cm high. Being tall has its benefits, some obvious, some less so.
The most important advantage of being tall is the reach taller players have. Due to having longer arms, they cover a larger portion of the table.
This is why many tall players play close to the table and block while others prefer to return balls away from the table. The reach advantage they have makes it possible for them to get to some balls that players with lesser reach wouldn’t be able to.
The second advantage tall players have is that they have more leverage since their kinetic chains are much larger.
An integral part of table tennis is weight transfer, and shots such as the forehand topspin, are the product of energy transfer.
The force for these shots comes from the legs, through the waist, the abs, the arm, the forearm, and the wrist, and ends in the fingers. Tall players have longer bodies so the kinetic chain enables more power generation given equal acceleration.
The last advantage of tall players is that it is much easier for them to hit smashes.
Since they have more reach, they can hit the ball at a higher point than shorter players, so they can hit the ball more downwards and win the point more easily when they smash. It’s much harder to beat tall players by lobbing.
Cons of being taller
On the other hand, being tall means they have 3 key disadvantages.
The first drawback is that tall players have to bend their knees a lot more than short players to be able to play properly.
In table tennis, it is essential to be at a low height when hitting the ball.
This allows us to draw power from the ground, have greater stability, and have a better idea of the height of the ball relative to the net.
In table tennis, you have to have your racket just above net height to hit most shots. If you are standing very upright, your core and your legs will be detached from your arm.
It is very important that the whole body is at the same height, which is why tall players will have to bend down much more than the rest of the players to achieve the same height.
This results not only in greater physical wear but also in the speed of the players. The ideal way to play would be to play with slightly bent knees, as this is what enables the best side-to-side speed.
But that is a privilege that only shorter players have. Tall players have to bend their knees more or play with a wider stance, which makes them inherently slower than shorter players.
That is not to say that tall players are slow. There are tall players who are quite agile and very quick on their feet.
What I mean is that if we take two players with equal physical conditions, one is 190cm tall and another is 170 cm tall, the 170cm player will be faster.
The second disadvantage tall players have is the elbow. Because they have longer arms, the elbow’s weakness on tall shakehand players is going to be much greater.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s a point where it’s hard to decide which shot to play, the forehand or the backhand. This position is called the “crossover point“, also known as the elbow.
Therefore, a good strategy when playing against tall players is to aim for their elbow or the middle of the table. This also negates their advantageous reach, and it makes their reach play against them.
Setting up shots
The last disadvantage tall players have is that it takes them longer to set up their shots.
Because of everything we just mentioned, tall players need more time to build their shots.
They simply have to move a larger body, and setting up shots requires greater effort and time commitment.
Taller vs Shorter players
As we just saw, height is a tradeoff.
Tall players have more reach, higher potential strength and have an easier time hitting smashes, while they are less agile, have a weaker crossover point and take longer to set up their shots.
Short players are more agile, their crossover point is not as pronounced, they need less time to set up their shots, they have more balance due to their lower center of gravity, and they have a better idea of the height of the ball relative to the net.
If we take Mima Ito as an example, she plays with her knees slightly bent, which makes her a very fast player, and since she is short, it is very easy for her to hit the ball straight forward.
Because of her height, she can flat hit balls that drift just a bit higher than the net without having to bend her knees.
The disadvantages of short players are that they have less reach, less potential strength, and have a harder time hitting smashes.
Is there an ideal height for table tennis?
The ideal height for male table tennis players is between 170 and 185cm.
If we analyze the height of the best table tennis players both in the present and in the past, the majority fall into this range.
Ma Long is 1.75m tall, Waldner is 1.79m tall, Fan Zhendong is 1.73m tall, Zhang Jike is 1.78m tall, Wang Hao is 1.75m tall.
Players in this height range have enough reach while not losing too much agility.
A 170cm player will have the maximum agility possible at the same time that he will have an adequate reach, enough power generation, a small crossover point, he won’t have to crouch that much and it won’t be that difficult for him to hit smashes.
A shorter player than that is going to have to compensate for the lack of reach with very good footwork or reflexes.
However, keep in mind that players of all heights can play at a world-class level.
Koki Niwa is 162 cm tall and he’s an absolute legend of the sport. But now we are talking about the optimal height.
A 185 cm player is going to have a lot of reach and leverage, it will be easy for him to hit smashes at the same time that they won’t have to bend their knees to the point that it becomes excessive and he won’t lose as much agility.
However, there are taller successful players like Tomislav Pucar who is 197cm tall and plays at an excellent level.
I would say that although there is an ideal height for table tennis, every height level has its advantages and disadvantages. If you don’t fall into the ideal height range, don’t worry!
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 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!