This post is all about the physical side of our sport – table tennis fitness, to be specific – and to make this article the best it can be I’ve enlisted the help of an expert, Steve Brunskill.
Steve is a table tennis coach and personal trainer – so he ought to know a thing or two about table tennis fitness. If you’re from the UK you have probably heard of Steve already. He was the head coach of Ormesby Table Tennis Club (one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the UK) and is now the head coach at Swerve TTC.
Steve has played at a high-level himself and coached many top athletes. Even now, despite his efforts being focused on coaching, he maintains a ranking of around 100 on the England Senior list and finds himself inside the top 25 veterans in the country!
On the fitness side of things, Steve holds numerous qualifications and certificates in areas such as; weight training, fitness instructing, fitness assessing, writing sports programs, nutrition, sports therapy and sports massage. As a coach, I’m sure this gives him a broad and holistic view of the training process and how best to work with his players.
Anyway, that’s enough about Steve for now. If you would like to find out more about him I’ll include some links at the end of the post. This guest post is all about some easy to implement tips that will help you improve your table tennis fitness. So, for now, it’s over to Steve!
Table Tennis Fitness
Designing a fitness programme for table tennis is just the same as designing a fitness programme for any other sport. Firstly, you need to decide the specific type of fitness required. You’ll need to address the following questions;
1. What are the main muscles used?
2. What types of movements are used?
3. Which energy system is used?
4. Which muscle fibre type is used?
5. What stage of the season is it?
However, table tennis is not as straight forward as many other sports. Factors such as the high skill level required, the shortness of each point, the short duration of a game, and the length of the season can make things more difficult. The level of ability and effort level of the participant also plays a major part.
So for the purpose of what I am about to write: it is based on the pre-season phase of training, for a player of good ability, who has been playing for several years, and who wishes to improve and climb the ranking list to become a top player. I am also assuming that the player already has a good base level of general fitness.
To become a top table tennis player you need to become an athlete, just as you would in any other sport. I think most people are familiar with the term “you are what you eat”, well the same applies to training; “you become how you train”. Train slow, you become slow. Train fast, you become fast.
Table tennis is a reaction/speed game that requires explosive anaerobic movements which must make up the main specific type of training programme that is required.
My first observation of players/coaches standard table tennis fitness training is that it is usually based on general fitness, with lots of running (from 800m to a couple of miles). This uses our red twitch/slow twitch muscle fibres and the movements used have very little resemblance to that used when playing table tennis.
To combat this I have created these five tips that will help you to make your table tennis fitness training more relevant and specific to our sport.
1. Short sprints
Break your running distances down into short sprints of 10, 20, 30 and 40 metres. Repeat these sprints several times and allow plenty of time to recover in-between bouts. It’s no good running tired because this will only make you run slower, which defeats the object.
A lot of players don’t realise that the latest evidence has shown that short intense sprinting improves cardiovascular and endurance in about half the time as traditional cardiovascular training, such as long distance running and cycling. So even if you are only trying to improve your “general level of fitness”, sprinting is probably still the best way to go about it!
Sprinting improves strength, power and limb speed, which are all vital for table tennis. It also helps to build lean muscle mass, while reducing body fat and working the anaerobic system.
Table tennis is a high-intensity sport (as is sprinting). Table tennis also requires explosive power (as does sprinting). So you can see there are a lot of similarities in the training benefits.
2. Train laterally
Table tennis is mainly a lateral movement game (meaning the main directions of movements are side to side). So, as I said at the beginning, “you become how you train”. A lot of your table tennis fitness training needs to be made up of lateral movements, such as lateral jumping.
Training laterally increases your ability to change direction quickly, improves leg strength, explosive power, stability, balance and coordination. Basically, everything you need to play table tennis!
3. Use lots of jumping and bounding movements
Add jumping exercises to your fitness programme, such as tuck jumps. These are great for improving your dynamic power and agility. They also need no equipment and can be performed when you only have a limited amount of space. You can adapt them in many ways by using different leg positions such as a pike jump or split jump. You can also add sprints and sidestep movements on landing. These are probably the best types of exercises for developing explosive power.
Jumping on and off boxes is another way to advance your jumping training and increase explosive power. Known as plyometrics, and used by most top athletes, this is an advanced form of training which is very good for strengthening the tendons and ligaments, and developing joint stability.
(I wrote a post about plyometrics for table tennis myself a while back. You can read that here if you would like to – Ben).
4. Develop arm speed
I am a great believer in the importance arm speed when playing table tennis. Players need fast acceleration in the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Resistance training bands are great for training arm speed and acceleration because they allow the player to mimic the movements of a stroke and target the specific muscles required to execute the shot. The gradual increase in tension of the band makes the trainer increase the speed against the resistance and improve their acceleration of the stroke.
The use of heavy bats can also help with arm speed and increase the power of shots but the band gives a safer option as it offers a steady increase and decrease in resistance.
Also, don’t rule out weight training! The Chinese train with weights and understand the incredible benefits weights can add to explosive power and speed. Contrary to what many people think, the use of heavy weights moved fast in the positive phase and controlled in the negative phase increases power and speed and can be a great benefit to table tennis players. You don’t need to just stick to using light weights with high repetitions.
5. Train quick
General conditioning exercises; such as press ups, sit ups, lunges, squats etc. are all great for table tennis. However, the emphasis should be on speed, quickness and explosiveness, rather than simply good technique of exercise. Just have the player blast 6 quick press ups several times or add bounces to the press up or a jump to the squats. There are many ways to make these types of exercises more suited to developing explosive power.
In conclusion, I believe table tennis players need to become athletes. They need to eat like athletes and train like athletes.
Training should, where possible, mimic the sport we play. Table tennis is a short, sharp, explosive game that uses anaerobic lateral movements with balance, agility and coordination. Remember this when you are next working on your table tennis fitness!
A huge thank you to Steve for that really interesting post. I’ll definitely be picking his brain more in the future about all things to do with fitness training for table tennis.
If you are serious about improving your table tennis fitness and training like an athlete you should join TableTennisUniversity.com and enroll onto the Xtreme Table Tennis online training program today!
It’ll help you to develop your speed, strength, agility, endurance, and power… And start playing the best table tennis of your life.
The course was created by Scott Armstrong, a certified personal trainer and with a passion for creating sport-specific training programs for elite clients. The curriculum includes 18 table tennis specific workouts, split up into six modules. What more could you want?!
Click here for more information and to enroll.