How to plan the best table tennis training session

How to Plan an Effective Table Tennis Training Session

One of the reasons why I like table tennis so much is that we, as table tennis players, have a seemingly endless ability to improve.

Even Ma Long, the greatest player of all time, is still learning new techniques and tactics on a regular basis. 

If you want to improve in table tennis, you’ll need to put in hours of hard and smart work. 

This guide will cover the best way to structure your table tennis training sessions so that you only need to focus on hitting the ball as well as you can.

Warm up

The first thing to do before starting a training session is to warm up, since warming up prevents injuries, gets our muscles ready and our heartbeat going.

We have written a complete guide on how to warm up if you want to learn more about the importance of warming up and its benefits.

Basically, what you want to do is jog for a few minutes and then do some specific movements. 

Our favorite routine is composed of:

  • High kicks.
  • Butt kicks.
  • Running arm circles.
  • Lateral movement.
  • Carioca.

High knees and butt kicks will prepare your leg muscles and joints, arm circles will warm up your arms and shoulders, doing lateral movement (with your knees bent) and carioca will improve your balance, coordination, and speed at the table.

After your physical warm-up is done, a minute or two of static stretching will help you feel much fresher before playing.

You can now move on to the table. I recommend doing 2 or 3 minutes of shadow play before hitting the ball to get my legs and arms ready, but this is optional and something you can experiment with.

You should now warm up your forehand and your backhand. This step shouldn’t take too long.

Instead of hitting the ball with power, aim for consistency. You want to get the feeling you can’t miss.

When warming up your topspin shots, focus on getting good spin on the ball and moving your legs correctly. Warming up is all about consistency. 

If you’re consistent in your warm-up, then the difficult training exercises will be far more effective at developing your technique, so try to get as many balls on the table as you can.

After warming up your forehand and backhand, it’s time to start the actual training.

Training

We’re going to go over a standard, effective training routine, with adaptations for players of every playing level.

Professional players train in this manner and this method of training has received several improvements over the years, such as the inclusion of irregular drills.

This routine will take around 2 hours, not counting the warm-up. If you want to train for more or less time, just add or subtract an exercise per category.

The routine will be sectioned like so: 

  • 1hr 30minutes practice drills.
  • 30 minutes of matches.

We recommend doing each exercise for around 7 minutes. 

This length makes it so that you can practice the drill intensively but it’s not too long where you get exhausted.

7 minutes of intense non-stop work can be quite tough on your body, especially if you’re consistent while practicing, which is what we’re aiming for.

If you don’t miss the table, then you’ll be moving and hitting for 7 minutes straight, which means 2 things:

  1. It’ll be hard work.
  2. You’ll improve rapidly!

You’ll perform each exercise for 7 minutes and then you’ll have to block for your training partner for another 7 minutes. Adding a minute of rest in between, each exercise will take a total of 15 minutes.

This means that in an hour and a half of doing practice drills, you’ll have time for 6 different exercises.

Before explaining the routine, I want to go over 2 key points.

Important concepts to think about when planning training sessions

Firstly, I will present you with many effective exercises for you to choose from. 

If you want to improve as quickly as possible, pick the exercises you know that will target the areas you need to improve on. These will be the hardest ones to perform but the ones that will help you the most.

Taking myself as an example, my weak areas are my backhand loop in the rally and my mobility, whereas my forehand loop and my open-ups are quite strong for my level of play.

If I were to practice exercises that included opening up and hitting forehands, I would be polishing what I already know and I wouldn’t be learning anything new.

The things that are preventing me from reaching a higher level are my comparatively weak backhand loop and my lacking footwork, so I’d benefit from choosing exercises that target these two areas.

Secondly, try to maintain focus when blocking for your partner

Many players will reach with their arms and not move their legs when blocking for their partners. This creates bad habits that then surface when playing matches.

If you maintain focus when blocking, your placement, feeling, and reflexes will improve.

Blocking also improves our ability to read the spin on the ball, since some balls will come with slight topspin and others will come with heavy topspin. You’ll need to read the spin correctly and angle your racket accordingly to get the ball on the table.

With that out of the way, we’ll now go over the perfect routine which you’ll be able to adapt depending on your level, your strengths, and your weaknesses.

Exercise 1: Consistency

For your first exercise, you want to begin with something nice and simple. Nothing too fancy.

Good options for the first exercise are: 

  • Two backhands and two forehands.
  • Two wide forehands, two forehands from the middle.
  • Backhand, middle, wide forehand.

These exercises can seem really simple but even professional players do them because they’re a great way to start a training session.

Simple exercises like these are the fundamentals of table tennis, and it’s essential to have them become second nature. 

In these exercises, you want to aim for the following:

  • The transition between the backhand and the forehand should be seamless. 
  • Focus on shortening your strokes.
  • Always come back to the ready position after hitting the ball. 
  • Get good spin on the ball. 
  • Get at least 8 returns on the table per rally.

If you can do these exercises perfectly, then you’ll improve very fast since your coordination and hand feeling will be top-notch.

I also really like doing goal-oriented exercises for the first exercise in a session.

You can perform the exercises mentioned above but setting a goal for yourself.

For example, a good challenge is to complete 40 rounds (3 shots per round) of the exercise in 7 minutes. 

You’ll only be able to achieve this if you don’t miss the table. You can then compete against your training partner to see who got the most rounds in, which is super fun. The next time you train, you’ll want to get even more rounds in.

These exercises are perfect for developing the feeling of friction between the ball and the rubber. They’re also really good to help perfect hitting the ball in the center of your racket.

Now that you’ve done a simple exercise consistently and you have a good feeling with the ball, let’s move on to the following exercises.

Exercises 2 & 3: Regular mobility drills

The exercises you’re going to perform are called regular mobility drills. They’re referred to as ‘regular’ since you know where the ball is going. 

These exercises work your mobility and your consistency but they’re more intense than the ones we mentioned above.

Make sure to perform these exercises as slowly as you need. There’s no need to hit the ball hard. Again, you want to do as many rounds as possible.

If you get a high ball and you’re feeling confident, then yes, hit the ball hard so that you don’t form a habit of hitting at a moderate pace all the time.

You will then create a good habit of hitting at a moderate pace on most balls and hitting with power when you’re certain you’ll get the ball on the table.

Conversely, when the pace of the exercise has gotten too high and you’re out of position, hit the ball slowly and prioritize spin to regain your position at the table and keep the rally alive.

Below is a list of my favorite regular mobility drills. Out of all these, pick two for every training session, and make sure you rotate between drills so that you’re not doing the same all the time.

  • Backhand, middle, backhand, wide forehand.
  • Backhand middle backhand pivot middle wide forehand
  • Wide forehand, middle, wide forehand, backhand.
  • 3-point forehand.
  • Backhand, pivot, backhand, wide forehand.
  • Backhand, middle, pivot, wide forehand.
  • Falkenberg drill (backhand, pivot, wide forehand)

Again, you should try to nail your transitions, always come back to the ready position, and always be in the perfect position to play each shot. Make sure to move in the balls of your feet.

Also, analyze which balls you should hit hard and which ones you shouldn’t. 

Take the first exercise, for example. Backhand, middle, backhand, wide forehand.

You could hit the first backhand or the first forehand from the middle quite hard if you wanted.

If you hit hard on the first backhand, then you have to recover quickly but you won’t have to move that much since the following ball will go to the middle of the table.

It’s the same concept for the forehand from the middle, you can hit quite hard since you have to come back to your backhand which is near the middle.

However, you shouldn’t hit as hard on the wide forehand. This is because you have to come back to the other corner to play a backhand. 

If you hit hard on that forehand, chances are you won’t make it in time to play the backhand loop.

You must analyze each exercise like this. If you’re being inconsistent, try and think about what’s making you miss the table. 

Most times you won’t be moving correctly, you’ll be performing the weight transfer incorrectly, you won’t be coming back to the ready position, etc. 

Try to pinpoint the flaws in your technique. These exercises are meant to work on them.

Exercises 4 & 5: Irregular drills

You’re nearly an hour into the session and you have been moving quite a bit. 

Ideally, you have been consistent and worked on your mobility and technique thus far.

Now, you’ll be working on your reflexes and your coordination. It’s time for every table tennis player’s nightmare: irregular drills.

Irregular drills are called irregular because they vary from round to round. You don’t know where the ball’s coming on your side of the table.

I can’t stress this enough: Perform practice drills as slowly as you need, especially irregular drills. You want to get at least 8 balls on the table per round. 

Here’s a list of my favorite irregular drills:

  • 1 backhand, 1 anywhere on the table.
  • 2 middle, 1 either corner.
  • 1-2 backhands, 1-2 forehands.
  • 1-2 middle, 1-2 wide forehands.
  • 3/4 table forehand side (partner blocks anywhere on the table except for your wide backhand)
  • 3/4 table backhand side (partner blocks anywhere on the table except for your wide forehand)
  • Backhand exchange until partner plays down the line (you can then play out the point freely or come back to the backhand exchange)
  • Backspin serve, open up from anywhere on the table, and aim to end the point from anywhere on the table.
  • Backspin serve, partner touches short to forehand or pushes long to backhand. Play the point freely.

As you can see, these exercises are quite complex. If you’re a complete beginner, I’d recommend skipping these and doing simpler regular mobility drills instead.

If you aren’t a complete beginner, however, you’ll be able to do them just fine. Again, perform these drills as slowly as you need. 

Even if you have to hit the ball painfully slowly to get 8 balls on the table, do it. The benefits of irregular drills are completely worth it. 

These exercises are super useful because they work our reflexes and coordination.

In table tennis, we don’t know where our opponent is going to play their shots, for the most part.

Irregular drills help us prepare to play full shots even when we don’t know where the ball is going. 

Lots of beginner and intermediate players struggle to play full strokes inside the rally, and this is often because they feel they don’t have enough time.

Irregular drills work exactly on that. If you perform irregular drills often, they’ll prepare you for anything your opponent could possibly throw at you.

The key is to always come back to the ready position and have efficient strokes. Once you hit the ball, recover quickly and focus completely on the ball, then move to the following one.

These exercises also prevent you from guessing where the ball’s going.

If we take the exercise 1-2 backhands, and 1-2 forehands, for example, you don’t know whether the next shot will be a backhand or a forehand unless you already hit 2 of them. You can’t guess, you have to focus on the ball and move quickly. 

These exercises are quite tough but you’ll have fun when blocking for your partner as you’ll see them scramble for every ball.

A quick side note is that you shouldn’t block actively (that is, add your own speed onto the ball) when doing irregular drills.

You should block passively so that your partner has enough time to move and perform the exercise correctly unless they are very advanced players. Let the pace of the rally be dictated by the active player.

Also, don’t be afraid to tell your partner to slow down if you feel they’re blocking too fast for you. 

Exercise 6: Match situation / technical drill

After doing irregular drills, the last exercise will be either a match situation drill or a technical drill, depending on what you want to work on.

You’ll be quite tired at this point, so these exercises aren’t as physically intense as the other ones.

If you want a match situation drill, the following exercises are my favorites: 

  • Backspin serve, open up from anywhere on the table.
  • Touch short, open up from anywhere on the table.
  • 3rd ball attack (serve and attack).
  • Serve receive.
  • 5th ball attack (serve, open up and attack).

These exercises work on the basic match plays, hence the name.

If you want to go for a technical exercise, you can work directly on any technique you want to learn or perfect.

If you want to work on your counter-topspin, then serve half-long, have your partner open up and counter the next ball.

If you want to work on your backhand flick, have your opponent serve different variations of short serves and flick every serve.

If you want to work on your blocks, have your opponent forehand topspin to anywhere on the table.

You can think of exercises to work on any technique you want. These exercises are very good to top off an intense training session.

Matches

You have officially survived our ideal training session. Congratulations! It’s time to play some matches.

Matches are the perfect time to have fun and compete with your friends, but also try to apply the things you practiced in your training.

If you plan to compete in tournaments, this training will give you great preparation for your next tournament. Try to play your practice matches as seriously as possible and execute your best plays.

If you’re playing against a weaker player than you, it’s also a good idea to give them some handicap points to put more pressure on your game.

This will make it easier to face weaker players in tournaments.

Once you’re done playing matches, make sure to stretch your muscles.

A few minutes of static stretching is good enough. Make sure to stretch your quads, calves, hamstrings, and hips and you should be good to go!

If you perform this routine consistently while working on your weak areas, you’ll improve rapidly.

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: Nittaku Fastarc G-1 | Backhand: Rasanter R42
Playstyle: Forehand Looper

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