How to Switch Between Forehand and Backhand

This is Episode 036 of the Ask a Table Tennis Coach podcast. Today’s question comes from Sharad and is all about how to switch between your backhand and forehand strokes.

Sharad asks…

“Hey Ben! You had a video on grip where you were talking about pinching the racket with the thumb and index finger. I would like to know if you still need to change grips between forehand and backhand because I’m having difficulty with the switchover. Also, how far up the handle would you hold the grip? And are you supposed to tense up when touching the ball?”

Firstly, the video that Sharad is talking about is called ‘How to Improve Your Shake Hand Table Tennis Grip’. This came from 11 weeks of me basically playing around with my grip, reading things and watching things online. Basically just trying out some different things.

I’ve always had grip problems as a player. I was never really comfortable with the grip that I was using. I’d change it from time to time and it never really felt right. But after spending that time doing that, back in January 2015 I think, I made some real progress there and I felt more comfortable with my grip. So I decided to make a video sharing my thoughts.

In summary what I had come up with is called the ‘Relaxed Shake Hand Grip’. Which I believe is what is used by the Chinese. It’s all about using the fingers to hold the bat, but being very loose with your grip especially with the palm. This means your arm is going to be really relaxed and you’re going to have a lot more feeling on the ball.

I used to never do that. Most of the time I was playing I used to hold the racket really tight, especially in my palm, so I was really gripping tight which would tense up my forearm and I ended up playing really stiff. Just making those small changes had a really big impact on my game.

Anyway, back to the question, Sharad you’re going to want to grip that’s good for both your forehand and backhand. It’s very important in table tennis not to be doing a massive grip change because you don’t have the time to do it.

I always see that when tennis players start playing table tennis they tend to have this big grip change. Because that’s what they’re used to in tennis. Where you’ve got the time to hold the racket in your left hand and shuffle it around a bit, then play a different shot.

In table tennis there’s no time for that at all. You need to have a grip that is good for both, or just a tiny change. If you look at someone like Ma Long I believe he puts his thumb a little bit higher on the backhand, so he is making a tiny adjustment with his grip. But in general the grip is staying the same and the adjustment is quite subtle.

If you have quite a loose grip on the racket it’s quite easy to make those little adjustments and let things move around a little bit. It’s when you’re really stiff when you’re having to flip the bat in your hand to change it around, otherwise it’s not going to move.

Other parts of the question, ‘How far up the handle should you hold the racket?’. I would say that most players that ask me about grip problems I’d say that they are holding it too far down the handle. You don’t want to go completely to the top, it needs to be comfortable, but I think most players could do with holding it a little bit higher up.

If you want to make sure that your thumb and index finger are comfortably touching a little bit of the rubber. Sliding right down to the bottom your thumb is going to be no where near the rubber.

Lots of Chinese coaches like to teach this idea of having a relaxed grip and hand, then tensing up as you make contact with the ball. I remember an English coach telling me this when I was about 18, that you can relaxed and then tense up and it will add a little bit of something to your shots.

I have admit that it’s something I have never mastered myself. I reckon there’s something good in there, I just haven’t fully discovered it yet. But certainly the point of contact with the ball is the crucial millisecond of the stroke. That’s the bit that you really need to get right, so if there is something you can do to add quality to that ball by tensing up then that’s something you should definitely do.

Sorry that I can’t give you a better answer on that.

Last thing that I wanted to say was having Dan Seemiller on my other podcast, the Expert Table Tennis Podcast, it’s really become apparent to me that there aren’t any hard and fast rules about grip. Dan had a very un-orthodox grip and it didn’t hold him back at all.

So don’t worry too much about your grip, but as with most things I tend to like the Chinese way of doing things. I feel like they’ve become the most efficient in their style and techniques, so I often like to copy those. This relaxed shake hands grip tends to be the way that the Chinese shake hand players playing.

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