12 Physical Training Tips for Table Tennis Players – by Werner Schlager

It’s the penultimate day of Werner Schlager Week here at ExpertTableTennis.com! So far we’ve covered; service and service returnstroke development, and technique and tactics. Today’s quotes look at the area of physical training for table tennis.

In the book, Werner splits up his chapter on physical training into four sections; endurance, strength, power, and coordination. I’ve decided to keep those headings for this post. I hope you learn something new and helpful!

These 12 quotes are taken from Werner Schlager’s fantastic book Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion. It’s a great read that you can buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. I highly recommend it. In my opinion, it should be compulsory reading for all aspiring table tennis players!

For more table tennis tips please check out my page, 1001 Table Tennis Tips. Now let’s get into the good stuff!

Physical Tips

Every third session takes place away from the table.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never spent much time working on my physical training for table tennis. While I was training at Grantham Academy we used to have a group physical session in the gym once a week – but that was about it. As such, I’ve always had a weak core (the core is very important for table tennis) and lacked the explosive power of other high-level players.

I’m always impressed when I follow the training of the Team GB Para players in Sheffield who appear to be working hard in the gym several times a week, on top of their gruelling schedule of training on the table.

If you’re a beginner you probably don’t need to worry about high-intensity physical training too much. However, if you’re an experienced player with ambitions of reaching the top, Werner recommends you spend a third of your training sessions working on your physical development. Your endurance, strength, power, and coordination. That’s a lot!

1. Endurance

An absolute minimum for me is one endurance training session a week (bike or running) for at least 30 minutes near the anaerobic threshold.

Table tennis players are not endurance athletes and they don’t need to do endurance training like they are training for a marathon. However, maintaining a decent level of aerobic fitness is very important.

If you are training regularly on the table, at a high-intensity, then your endurance should already be fairly good. On top of that, Werner recommends one specific endurance training session per week. This could be a 5K tempo run, for example. Having spent much of 2015 and 2016 running myself, I intend to write a blog post about running for table tennis players at some point in the next couple of months.

In the book, Werner shares that he really hates endurance training. But he does it anyway because he recognises how important it is. That is the mark of a true professional.

The general tendency of table tennis to play faster all the time demands a continuous improvement of physique.

Table tennis is much more physical now than it was 20 years ago. Imagine what it will be like 20 years from now!

If you are a young table tennis player this is something that you need to take into account. Ma Long and Fan Zhendong may look like they are pushing the boundaries of human potential, but we will probably look back at them in 2036 and comment on how slow the game was back then and how much more powerful it is now. That’s just something to think about.

I would have had fewer injuries if I had recognized the importance of fitness earlier.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to commit to a routine of regular physical training when you are injured. It’s a little more difficult to actually do all of the exercises when you are feeling fit and healthy.

Fortunately, Werner Schlager didn’t suffer too much from serious injuries. But other top players, Michael Maze comes to mind, have had large chunks of their professional careers taken away from them due to injury. If you want to play table tennis at a high-level, for many years, you need to start looking after your body now!

2. Strength

Additional training of the non-playing side is absolutely necessary. The one who doesn’t do strength training ruins his body.

Playing table tennis means using the body in a very one-sided manner. This is true of lots of sports. However, becoming significantly unbalanced in your strength can lead to problems and is difficult to fix later on if it has been caused by many years of training.

Personally, I picked up quite a few problems whilst I was running last year due to imbalances between my legs. My right leg was much stronger than my left and this was messing up my technique.

I’ve also had issues with my back in the past. My right lat (the “latissimus dorsi” muscle of the upper back) is much bigger and stronger than my left lat. This is common in table tennis players and is caused by all the millions of forehands we have played over the years.

3. Power

Powerful legs are the basis for top athletes.

Look at lots of guys who spend all day in the gym for “bodybuilding” and you’ll notice that many of them have fairly skinny legs – at least relative to the rest of their body.

Big biceps are flashy. Powerful legs… not so much!

But our physical training shouldn’t be imitating the routines of bodybuilders. We’re not working out in order to look better, we are trying to improve our performance on the table. Werner believes that powerful legs are the basis for all top athletes. I have to agree with him. And I think Zhang Jike does too!

The strengthening of the arm muscles should happen through very intensive table tennis exercises. Not weights. Multiball is good for this.

Werner makes this point a few times in this section. He specifically remarks that he doesn’t like push-ups because they strengthen the muscles of the arm too generally and reduce your control of the ball.

Those of you that follow me on Facebook may have seen that I’m currently in the middle of a push-up challenge. Joining me are Mark Simpson, Steve Brunskill, and Paul Warters. I spoke to Mark about it yesterday and he said;

“Last night was my first training session for table tennis since starting [the press-up challenge] and it is not good for your table tennis! This weekend I will need to take a day and a half off for my matches.”

It sounds like Mark agrees 100% with Werner Schlager.

Good efficient swinging movements save energy. Learning this efficiency is the key to modern table tennis.

You are not going to be able to produce maximum power unless you have an efficient technique as your foundation. Werner mentioned this yesterday in the technical tips also.

The Chinese players have both. Huge amounts of strength but also close to perfect efficient technique. That is why they are so good! Europeans, like Jan-Ove Waldner, may have lacked some of the raw strength of the current Chinese but they were swing players who could make the most of what they had.

If it is super powerful but looks “easy” the player is playing efficiently.

4. Coordination

When you serve, all the different movement must be coordinated perfectly.

Is coordination more important for the serve than other aspects of table tennis? Are the best servers the most coordinated? Is there a way to test general coordination skills? Is there a way to improve general coordination skills? So many questions!

As a coach, I have certainly found that some players do appear to be naturally more coordinated than others. This makes mastering complex service mechanics, involving intricate timing, much easier for them.

Personally, I don’t do any other sports for compensation. Of course, I go running regularly and do strength exercises.

There is some research that suggests that taking part in multiple sports as a child increases your chances of becoming a professional athlete in adulthood. The theory is that skills you’ve learnt in one sport are able to transfer into others and therefore speed up your learning.

I’m not sure if I buy that, though. Especially in table tennis. My theory would be that the most naturally talented and “sporty” kids generally play lots of sports as kids simply because they are good enough to get into all sorts of different teams. Then these same “gifted” kids are the ones that end up becoming professionals in their chosen event.

In my experience, playing both tennis and table tennis is not advisable. The necessary finer movements in table tennis are negatively influenced.

Here’s a quote that isn’t going to go down very well in the racketlon community! Werner Schlager doesn’t recommend playing multiple racket sports.

I played in my first racketlon tournament a few weeks ago and I certainly found that – at last in the short-term – my table tennis “feeling” and ball control was messed up by playing badminton, squash, and tennis in between table tennis matches.

I have played in the same table tennis team as Ping Ho (Tin-Tin’s older brother) for many years now. A few years ago he started getting into squash and I know he would often mention that it was screwing up his table tennis technique.

It is possible to train the ability to anticipate. Every irregular exercise improves anticipation.

Regular table tennis drills (such as backhand, middle, backhand, wide) are great for working on your technique or footwork. However, if you spend all of your time practising drills where you know the placement of the ball your anticipation will certainly suffer.

Irregular table tennis drills are perfect for improving your anticipation and general “reading” of the game. For example, I love exercises like; one or two balls to the backhand, one or two balls to the forehand. It really keeps you guessing. Switching drills are great too, such as; forehand to forehand, either player switches to the backhand, backhand to backhand, either player switches to the forehand, repeat.

Buy the book

I hope you enjoyed those quotes! Tomorrow is the final day of #WernerSchlagerWeek and I’ll be sharing some Werner Schlager tips regarding the mental side of the sport.

There are hundreds of other brilliant tips in the book, these are just a few that particularly stood out to me. I strongly recommend you get yourself a copy!


Table Tennis: Tips from a World Champion is available in paperback and for Kindle from Amazon. Please use the links below to buy…

To check out all of my favourite table tennis books please read my popular blog post, The Best Table Tennis Books.

And if you are looking for some more table tennis tips from professional players and coaches please check out my page, 1001 Table Tennis Tips.