This is Episode 041 of the Ask a Table Tennis Coach podcast. Today’s question is from Manuchair and is about how to keep your wrist loose.
“Being an amateur boxer a few decades ago in Iran I’m used to keeping my wrists tight and stiff. I’ve recently started practicing table tennis and I’m finding it hard to relax and let my wrist be loose. What kind of practice do you advise for this please?”
This is something that loads of players struggle with – getting their wrist right. Most non-elite table tennis players are just too stiff in general. In the wrist, arms and body. This is something I have suffered with too and I’ve often been told I’m too stiff and need to relax.
The first thing I’d suggest is just to overall work on relaxing your body. It’s probably not just your wrists that are stiff, it’s probably your arms, shoulders and everything. Really work on relaxing. One of the top tips is to devise a relaxed technique. It’s really something that very few table tennis players manage.
It sounds like the boxing training has taught you to lock your wrists and that’s a good thing because if you have a floppy wrist when you’re throwing punches you’re going to break bones. It’s good for boxing, not so much table tennis.
In table tennis you need your wrist to be loose to add spin and quality to your shots. If it’s fixed that’s not going to happen.
On the backhand this is especially important. The forehand you can get away with just having a little bit of wrist, but if you watch any top players playing backhand loops there’s going to be loads of wrist involved. So if your wrist is stiff or locked and you are just playing with your arm you’re not going to have a very good backhand.
What can you do? Just try and relax the muscles in your forearm and this should help a lot to relax your wrist. Often a tense forearm is the reason why your wrist is locked and stiff. If you could just loosen those muscles that’s going to help.
Really all you want to be doing is allowing the wrist to swing with your shots. If you think about letting your arm swing and your hand naturally go with the swing of your arm that should help with these wrist issues.
I’d like to think that when I’m teaching table tennis to players I get them to think that the racket and their hand are one. Then you’re using your hand to play the shots. And if you watch top players you’ll notice they’ve got a lot of feeling in their hand and fingers. Lower level players look like they are doing a lot from their shoulders or arms.
Try and play with your hand and let all of that flow and be quite loose. You don’t want your wrist to be too loose and flopping all over the place, that’s when you’re going to lose all control. Sometimes when players are trying to learn to add wrist they end up getting a really floppy wet arm, then they are not able to play any shots.
It’s just about getting the wrist moving in the correct direction with the stroke along with the rest of your arm. It doesn’t need to be flopping all over the place.
When it comes to specific tips to help you loosen your wrist I think that the grip can be really important. I’m not sure what grip you’re using but I like to go for this loose and relaxed shake hands grip. There are certain kinds of grips that are going to make it really difficult to use your wrist.
If you’re someone who has a forehand dominant grip, like the seemiller grip, that’s going to make it really difficult to bend the wrist for backhand shots.
Whereas if you look at most of the top players you’ll see a gradual transition over the last decade or so towards a slightly more backhand oriented grip. This allows you to have a lot more flexibility in the wrist and to play more of a backhand dominated game.
Penhold grips are really good for wrist as well. Maybe that’s something that you can try just to get the feeling of it. Experimenting with your grip should help you to start loosening up. Maybe the grip that you’re using makes it difficult to use the wrist.
Something else that you can try is learning backhand flick shots. Shots that you are going to do over the table where the wrist is really king. When you’re playing big smashes and strong shots like that you probably don’t need that much wrist. But when you’re doing little flicks, flips and touches close to the net that’s where you really need a loose wrist because you aren’t going to be using the rest of your arm.
If you can practice working on a backhand flick and getting those kind of things going then you can try and use what you’ve learnt there and apply it to your other shots as well.
Finally don’t try and force the wrist movement too much. Like I said before just let the wrist swing on its own, don’t try and actually force the wrist through the motion. As with all things in table tennis repetition is the primary way that you’re going to learn.
You’ll need to find something that works and keep doing it till it becomes natural. I reckon that it’s going to feel pretty weird at first and you’ll probably feel a little out of control. Because if you’re used to playing with a stiff wrist and all of a sudden you let it move around it’s going to feel chaotic.
Over time your wrist is going to learn what it needs to do and you’re going to be able to get better quality on your shots.
I’d like to end this with a quote from one of the table tennis forums…
“The use of wrist and the amount of wrist used should be a natural reaction to a relaxed swing. The longer the swing and the faster the swing, the more wrist will be naturally used. This is not too dissimilar to the action of a whip.”
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