Conducting effective table tennis training

10 Tips for More Effective Table Tennis Training

Whilst new equipment might help, there’s no doubt that effective training in Table Tennis is what’s going to determine your progress as a player.

There are players who can’t seem to stop improving, while others stay at the same level for years. 

The difference between the former and the latter lies in the frequency and quality of their training sessions.

Some players keep doing the same exercises or playing casual matches all the time while neglecting very important aspects of Table Tennis training.

Others train their body properly but not their mind. It’s essential to analyze training the same way we do with our matches.

In this article, we’re going to give you 10 practical tips to improve the quality of your training sessions and take your Table Tennis skills to the next level.

1) Warm up and stretch correctly.

Warming Up

We can’t stress the importance of warming up enough. 

Most Table Tennis players show up to the training hall and start playing. This is not the right way to train.

In our article about warming up and stretching for table tennis, we have included the ideal warm-up routine. It only takes 15 minutes and it’s the perfect set-up for a high-quality training session.

Warming up prepares us for physical activity. It increases oxygen delivery, redirects blood flow, raises the temperature in our muscles, reduces stress on our hearts, and helps prevent injury.

By warming up, we also give ourselves time to think about our goals for the training session. It’s always good to set goals such as “I want to work on the consistency of my backhand”.

After you’re done, it’s time to stretch. By stretching, we release the tension on our muscles, increase their flexibility, reduce soreness, and further prevent tightness and injury.

2) Target your weaknesses

If you had to take away just one of these tips, I’d single this one out as the most important. 

There are lots of players who have spectacular forehands, and they keep practicing their forehand loops over and over. 

Then, they go to play a match and they lose because they keep misreading serves and their backhand game is inconsistent. 

This player should focus directly on serve receives and backhand exchanges, specifically targeting the weaknesses in their game. Their forehand loop is already great. Now, they should focus on improving what’s preventing them from reaching a higher level.

A great drill for this player is:

Step 1: Opponent serves randomly, anywhere on the table.

Step 2: The player receives the serve and returns the ball to the opponent’s backhand.

Step 3: Maintain a backhand to backhand exchange for as long as you can.

If the forehand looper does this exercise every week, their level is going to shoot up. Not because their game is more powerful, but because it has fewer weaknesses.

It’s great to have strengths like a fast forehand loop, but it’s not good to be a one-dimensional player. 

Sooner or later, your opponents will start playing exclusively to your weaknesses and you’ll have to adapt, or your level will stall.

If you’re a beginner, we recommend nailing the basic shots first before moving on to more difficult drills (the forehand drive / backhand drive, and the forehand push / backhand push)

3) Include mobility drills and serve receive

No training session is complete without practicing mobility drills and serve receive. 

These are 2 of the most important skills in Table Tennis. Moving correctly is the main basis for every playing style, and serve receive is the start of half of the points you’re going to play.

The mobility drills you should do depend on your playing style. If you’re an attacker, try the Falkenberg, backhand-middle-backhand-forehand, in and out exercises, and more. 

Mobility drills are meant to perfect how players move around the table. For example, the Falkenberg is one of the most popular mobility drills for offensive players since it improves lateral speed and teaches players how to step around on their backhand side. 

We recommend practicing exercises that replicate what goes on in your matches. It’s no use practicing forehand step arounds if you’re planning to hit backhands.

Try to keep your tactics in mind when receiving serves. If you like to attack first, then it’s best to touch short or flick rather than pushing long. If you like to counterattack, then try pushing half long.

In addition to this, try to practice serve receives against as many different opponents as you can so that you’re exposed to all kinds of serves. This way, you’ll know how to receive them when the time comes in a match.

4) Analyze your practise drills

Studying

If your coach gives you a drill to perform, try to think; how could I get the most out of this exercise?

Say you’re going to do an irregular drill such as covering 75% of the table with your forehand, whilst your opponent blocks the ball freely.

Are you going to benefit by hitting the ball hard? Probably not. 

Table Tennis is a multidimensional sport. It requires many skills such as mobility, agility, speed, force, coordination, technique, and many others.

Try to think about what you’re looking to improve on every exercise. 

Coming back to the irregular drill, it works your reflexes, your coordination, your consistency, and your mobility. It’s no use hitting the ball hard because you won’t be able to react in time to the next balls. 

Irregular drills yield the best results when you can keep the point alive for as long as possible.

With other drills, such as playing a combination drill consisting of two forehands, two backhands, you can take your own approach. This exercise is good for backhand to forehand transitions, but it’s a much simpler drill than the irregular drill we talked about before.

If you wanted to practice hitting the ball hard, then you can go ahead and do so in this exercise since you know where the next ball is going to go. 

The main takeaway is that you want to determine what you’ll gain from doing every different drill, and thus manage the playing tempo and focus your attention accordingly.

5) Practice actively when your opponent is doing the drills

A very important piece of advice I was given is to make the most out of every drill, even if your opponent is doing the active part of the exercise. 

Even if you’re just blocking, try to work on the placement of your blocks, your consistency, your reflexes, and your mobility.

Some players use the time they have to block to take a small break until they have to do the drill themselves. Doing this just means you’ll waste half your training time.

When blocking, try to focus on the ball that’s coming to you. This is the perfect opportunity for you to practice reading spin, reacting to fast shots, and placing the ball with your blocks.

6) Vary between regular and irregular drills

In Table Tennis, there are 2 types of drills: regular and irregular drills.

Regular drills are set exercises. An example of a regular drill is two backhands and two forehands. You know where the ball is going, so you can set up your strokes with more time. 

Because you know what strokes you’re going to play, these are perfect to work on your technical side, so practice them mindfully, trying to pinpoint flaws in your form and working to correct them.

Irregular drills are random exercises. An example of an irregular drill is one or two backhands and one or two forehands. As opposed to regular drills, you don’t know where the ball is going, so you have to react quickly and move.

These exercises are the ones that replicate matches the best, and they allow you to improve your reflexes, footwork and coordination.

It’s crucial to strike a balance between regular and irregular drills to get the most out of your training sessions.

We recommend spending half of your training on each type of drill. This will develop your techniques and your reflexes at an equal pace. 

7) Keep your score

Focusing over long periods of time is very difficult. Be it studying, working, or playing Table Tennis, it’s extremely hard to stay fully concentrated for hours at a time.

Table Tennis requires 100% of our attention to get the most out of our training time. You need to be constantly thinking about how you can improve or alter your technique.

When training, it’s quite easy to lose focus. When you notice this happen, we recommend you start keeping the score. 

For example, if you’re hitting 2 backhands and 2 forehands, every time you miss, it’s your opponent’s point. Every time he misses, it’s your point.

Practicing this way makes it easier to stay focused on the exercise you’re performing because it’s a competition! You want to keep the ball on the table and play with good quality.

You can keep the score to yourself or you can even tell your opponent you’re doing this so they also start paying more attention. Most drills will be done to a higher standard if you’re keeping the score.

8) Think about your tactics

After coaching hundreds of players, I can’t understate how important it is to train specifically for real match situations. 

I’ve seen countless players look incredible in practice sessions before falling apart in matches, with the root cause being a failure to practice how they actually play in matches.

To plan out your training sessions, it’s essential that you analyse your playing style first.

If you’re a 3rd ball attacker, you probably want to practice serving, open-ups and fast loops in a larger proportion than the average player.

If you’re a blocker, then practicing heavy loops and 3rd ball attacks is not coherent with your match strategy.

Always try to improve on the things that you do when playing matches. 

If you’re trying to incorporate new elements to your game, it’s fine to practice something different, but it’s not good to practice “generic” exercises without thinking about what you’re going to do in a real match scenario.

9) Visualize your goals and motivate yourself

Liu Shiwen Celebrating

A key component of a good training session is being motivated.

There will be times when you don’t really want to go to training or feel indifferent about putting the extra effort in. 

To avoid getting demotivated, we have a few tips that might help you:

  • Take a week off every 2-3 months of training, this will help you take a step back and help your body recover. I find that when I take a week off, I come back even stronger because I’m really motivated to play.
  • Watch videos and montages of the players you like.
  • Play in competitive tournaments and leagues with your friends.
  • Travel to tournaments outside of your city and get to know new people and places. 

Another great way to motivate yourself is visualizing winning tournaments and league games. 

Sometimes I don’t feel like training, but thinking about the upsides really makes it worth it. 

10) Practice alone

Working Out

A huge part of Table Tennis training happens when you’re alone. Practicing table tennis alone is as important as practicing with a partner.

When you’re alone, you can improve your fitness (cardio and strength training are great for Table Tennis!), work on your serves, think about your tactics, shadow play, use a robot. 

You can even do cross-training to mix things up! Or maybe you want to solve Rubik cubes to improve your concentration?

There are endless possibilities for Table Tennis improvement. It’s up to you to try them and see what works best.

Also, make sure that there aren’t any bad habits that are hindering your level and playing experience, such as having an imbalanced diet or getting insufficient sleep.

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

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

2 thoughts on “10 Tips for More Effective Table Tennis Training”

  1. Do you have to train hard every session? Or is it possible to just train gentle so your body does not need to recover so much before the next session and so that you can play every day and every now and then up the intensity as required in matches?
    I know table tennis is a somewhat intense sport and I have heard people like Timo Boll say that he always tries to have a high intensity workout but in terms of getting hours on the table its just not feasible to train hard every day unless for a short period of time.
    The current thinking in many sports like cycling, wrestling is that training quite gently every day is more beneficial over time because you can rack up more hours over more days.
    In this case a typical session might start with intense footwork drills, then irregular, then third ball. Before blocking and lobbing. I think this is what most people do but most men push themselves too hard with the whole one more rep mentality and borrow their strength from the future.
    What do you guys think?

    1. Super interesting question Alex, and I’m sure most coaches will give you different answers. That’s because it’s not a “one size fits all” approach.

      Whilst Table Tennis is fairly intense, it isn’t generally as gruelling on the body as sports like cycling or wrestling. This gives players the ability to play more intensely for longer periods. However, it’s important not to mix up ‘intensity’ and ‘focus’. Focused practise isn’t always intense, it simply focuses the player on to a specific action and embedding that learning into your muscle memory. More hours don’t lead to a better player if that practise isn’t focused.

      In terms of your own personal training routine, I would recommend basing it around tournaments. When you are not playing many competitive matches, up the intensity of your practise before winding the intensity back down in the days leading up to a tournament.

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