I still haven’t quite decided how important physical table tennis training is for table tennis players. There’s no question that elite-level players need to be doing physical training but should beginners and intermediate-level players be allocating any time to it?
I think my opinion of physical training for beginners and improvers has gone down over time. I used to think it was quite important. Of course all table tennis players should be working on their fitness and speed and strength and power. I would say that your physical condition should always be brilliant as this is only going to have a positive effect on your performance.
I still believe this to be true. Being a true athlete in great shape definitely isn’t going to negatively effect your table tennis development, but should beginners and improvers that aren’t in the best of shape dedicate precious training hours of physical training, away from the table, or would they be better off just spending more time actually playing table tennis? Really the question is…
Is physical training a good use of training time?
For most of us, non-professional players, we only have so much time in a week that we can dedicate to table tennis. Let’s imagine you can spare five hours a week to try and improve your table tennis. Is it worth spending any of that time in the gym or doing plyometric-type exercises to improve your fitness? I’m not sure it is. I think you would probably see greater improvements from dedicating the full five hours to on-the-table practice.
This is definitely what we have decided upon with Sam’s training for the Expert in a Year challenge. There was a point, back in April or May or something like that, when Sam was doing daily physical training in the gym. He has doing speed work, plyometric jumps, and we were even talking about adding some cardio into his gym plan. The problem was that Sam is a pretty busy guy, and we were ending up playing less table tennis so that he had time to get him gym stuff done. Then on other days he would come into a training session shattered before we had even started.
It’s not that physical training was bad for him, it’s just that there are only so many hours in the day! When he started going to clubs are losing matches to players that he wanted to beat we didn’t think, “Right, we really need to add some extra physical to your training!” We were both aware that it wasn’t Sam physical condition that was preventing him from winning his matches, and it’s probably not yours that’s holding you back either. More likely, it’s Sam’s technical and tactical ability that will results in better results in his matches and therefore it makes sense for us to focus on that.
So, as far as I’m concerned, if you are a beginner or improver (novice up to about county/regional standard) I wouldn’t worry at all about off-the-table physical training. By all means do some overspeed multiball drills or similar on-the-table exercises that are physically challenging but I don’t think loads of gym work is going to make a huge difference to your game. This is one thing that separates table tennis from the majority of sports.
Physical training for advanced/elite players
If you’re a high-level player who has been playing competitively for a number of years and is trying to reach the top then I think you are in a different situation. You are probably training for table tennis pretty much every day and you are dedicated more time to it in your average week than a beginner or local-level player.
Elite players need physical training for two reasons;
- To maximise their performance and give them the extra speed and power needed to compete at the highest level.
- To give them the strength and stamina they’ll need to train hard, daily, and avoid injuries.
If you feel like you fall into this category of player (you are playing at a high level and training at least four times per week) then here are some tips for table tennis specific physical training you could add to your weekly programme.
- Short sprints
- Train laterally
- Develop arm speed
- Train quick
If those five suggestions interest you I recommend you read a previous guest post by table tennis coach and personal trainer, Steve Brunskill, entitled 5 Tips to Improve Your Table Tennis Fitness. I also wrote an article on plyometric training for table tennis players for the website TableTennisMaster which you should have a look at.
I guess what this discussion really comes down to is how much do you believe the advice that…
“If you want to be the best you need to train like the best”
On a surface level this sounds like good advice but I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and I’m not quite sure it is.
For starters, the “best” players have been training for many years, usually 10+. For you to try and match the volume and intensity of their training is like buying a one-way ticket to over-training and burnout. You see this pretty much at any intensive summer camp. After a few days of training loads of players have injuries or are just sore and over-tired. Progression is important. You need to get your body used to that level of volume and intensity of training over time.
You also need to think about differences between the goals of elite players and yourself. Chances are, the majority of elite players are simply trying to maintain their level of play and keep themselves sharp. They don’t need to improve their technique or footwork because they already have those things sorted. The training they are doing, and especially the physical training they are doing, has been designed to compliment their individual goals and targets. You probably have completely different goals and areas you need to focus on.
So I would say, don’t worry too much about physical training as a beginner or improver. First increase you table time and quality practice. You’ll see plenty of very good players you are clearly out of shape and unfit, and it hasn’t held them back from reaching their current level.
Obviously at the top level you don’t see these unfit players and somewhere along your table tennis career you will need to start adding physical training into your schedule. Once you feel that you physical conditioning is holding you back from progressing in the sport, then it’s time to think about tackling it!