Featured image – Gabin Vallet
Contrary to popular belief, Table Tennis is an extremely demanding sport. It’s an Olympic discipline for a reason!
In games, players often have less than a second to react, therefore, great speed and coordination are needed to move around the table at the required playing pace. To perform this at a high level, players need to be agile, both physically and mentally.
To achieve this level of agility and speed, whilst taking care of your body, you need to warm up before playing.
The importance of warming up
Warming up before playing is essential for many reasons:
- Warming up increases oxygen delivery and redirects blood flow to our muscles, preparing us for physical activity.
- It loosens up your muscles and raises their temperature. After warming up, you’ll notice your body will be stronger and more flexible.
- Low impact activity increases your heart rate and prepares your aerobic system. It’s important to warm up so that you reduce stress on your body, especially on your heart.
- It helps prevent injuries by raising our body temperature and easing our joints into the activity.
In short, warming up makes us play better, move faster, avoid injuries, and reduce stress on our bodies. It takes just a couple of minutes and the benefits, as you can tell, are more than worth it!
After warming up, you should do some light stretching to further increase flexibility, range of motion, and decrease the risk of injuries.
The perfect 15-minute warm-up routine
After researching and experimenting with different routines, we’ve come up with the ideal 15-minute warm-up routine.
It consists of 5 minutes of warm-up, 5 minutes of stretching, and 5 minutes of shadow play. If pressed on time, you can skip the shadow play and move directly to the table.
Warming up will take you 5 minutes, structured like this:
- 1 minute of jogging.
- 3 minutes of easy mobility drills.
- 1 minute of jogging, then walking.
Firstly, you’ll jog at an easy, steady pace for a minute. This will start raising up your heart rate progressively and loosening up your joints.
After that’s done, perform some simple mobility drills, 30 seconds each, all while jogging.
Our favorite routine is composed of:
- High knees
- Butt kicks
- Running arm circles
- Lateral movement (30 seconds in each direction)
These drills will get all your muscles warmed up and ready to go!
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.
Next, jog slowly for half a minute, then walk for the remaining 30 seconds. This is what’s known as the cooldown phase.
Following our warm-up, we need to stretch our muscles, namely the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hips, glutes, lower back, and shoulders.
Here’s a Table Tennis specific stretching routine that will cover all those muscles. (hold for 20 seconds on each side):
Hamstrings – Standing
Hamstrings – Sitting
Glutes & Lower Back
This stretching routine, if performed before and after every workout, will make you more flexible, agile, and will help keep you injury-free.
Shadow play is a very powerful training tool when it comes to correcting stroke motions, and working on balance, agility, and coordination. It consists of playing Table Tennis on your own, without using a ball. It’s also one of the best ways to practice Table Tennis alone!
You play as you would in a real match, but without the ball. Practicing this way has several key advantages over regular Table Tennis, so it’s crucial to include shadow play into your routine!
In real matches, and when doing Table Tennis exercises, almost all of our concentration goes towards the ball. Therefore, we can’t focus on hitting the ball with the correct technique, we just hit it instinctively according to what we have practiced in the past (muscle memory).
Sadly, this leads to bad habits and imperfections in our technique, and even the best of us have them. Shadow play and multiball are the best ways to counter these technical errors.
When shadow playing, you can focus solely on your technique and footwork, without worrying about hitting the ball and getting it to land on the table. Shadow playing is the only way in which you can use all your concentration on performing the correct movements.
Shadow playing helps us get rid of technical and mobility-related errors by working directly on our muscle memory, ingraining the correct strokes and footwork into our bodies. Isn’t that amazing?
You can also shadow play at high speeds and maintain perfect technique because you don’t have to react to where the ball is going. You’ll quickly notice the effects in your games!
Shadow playing it’s like telling your body what it needs to do. It’ll be easier for you to replicate the correct technique in your training if you shadow played during your warm-up. This is why we strongly recommend you include it in your warm-up routine!
My personal shadow play routine is composed of the following exercises:
- 1 minute for forehand and backhand loop
- 3 minutes of drills, working on what you need to improve, and doing mobility drills.
This is the time to correct your mistakes and to drill paying attention to your technique. If you don’t know what you need to improve on, ask your coach.
If you don’t have a coach, film yourself and contrast your technique with the pros, or ask advanced players for their feedback. Nowadays, you can contact players on social media and they’ll be happy to help!
As for the mobility drills, you can practice stepping into the table, touching short, then coming out for an open-up, you can do the Falkenberg drill, and many more! The possibilities are endless, so try to experiment with different exercises.
- 1 minute of pretending to play a real match.
This one’s actually great fun! Imagine you’re playing a match against one of your regular opponents. This will probably be the only match situation in which you can focus on your footwork patterns and technique, so make good use of it!
As I said before, it’s important to shadow play according to your playstyle. If you’re a chopper, practice coming in and out of the table, and get comfortable with moving laterally at high speeds.
Pay special attention to your specific problems and correct them during shadow play. Taking myself as an example, when hitting wide forehands, I tend to move with my right foot and drag the left foot along instead of moving with both.
When shadow playing, I would do the correct movement for 10 repetitions before every training session, and 2 weeks later, I was already moving both feet to hit most wide forehands!
Your first 5 minutes on the table
After you’re all warmed up, the moment you’ve been waiting for has finally come. It’s time to play some Table Tennis!
On a side note, warming up before your workout will also make you appreciate playing a lot more. You have to warm up and stretch, and as a reward, you get to play and have fun.
Warming up for a few minutes before playing makes us get in the mood to train, gives us some time to think about our goals for the session, and gets us pumped up to do our best!
It’s very different than just showing up and playing. There’s a huge mindset difference in both scenarios. If you always get to the club and just start playing, you’ll take the sport for granted, and you won’t be prepared properly for your training sessions.
As for your first few minutes on the table, you want to ramp up the speed of play progressively. Even if you’re a top player and you’re accustomed to playing at high speeds, in our daily lives, we aren’t used to tracking high-speed objects, so start slow.
You need to be patient and give time to your eyes, body, and brain to acclimate to the environment and get used to seeing the ball clearly. For the first minute or two, hit the ball slowly, looking at it all the way, and feeling your racket when you hit the ball.
It’s important to aim for consistency, not power, on the first rallies. Remember, you’re trying to feel the ball with your racket, get used to the lightning, and coordinate your strokes.
Once you’re comfortable, you can start hitting a bit harder (if you’re an offensive player). Practice your main strokes, and hit a few open-ups. Hitting a backspin ball for an open-up is very different from hitting a topspin ball, so you want to get that right.
If you’re warming up before a tournament, include open-ups, do a few serves, and practice pushing. Sometimes we get too hung up on hitting topspin shots before realising we haven’t practiced serves and touch play, which are arguably more important than topspins.
If you’re not able to push consistently during a match, you’ll feel you’ll have no safety and control in your game, so make sure to include at least a few points of serving and touch play before competitions!
Every player knows how tough Table Tennis can be on the body, and yet, most of them neglect warming up, or warm up inefficiently.
Warming up is crucial, so if you aren’t doing it already, make sure to incorporate it before every training session. Also, the ideal routine we suggested takes just 15 minutes to complete. We recommend you to try it, and tell us your experience in the comments below!
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!