Table tennis stance is the second aspect of table tennis technique that I teach to my players. The first is the correct shakehands table tennis grip.
This post is part of my How to Play Table Tennis series. Today we’ll be whizzing through how to stand, where to stand, and why. And we’ll be using the great Fan Zhendong as our example!
Before I start, I want to clarify the difference between “stance” and “ready position”. You may have heard people use both terms almost interchangeably, but here’s how I define the two;
- Ready position describes the generic, neutral stance that you might expect to see adopted by a table tennis player before they receive serve – feet quite wide apart, knees bent, upper body crouched forward, both arms out in front of you, and the bat in a neutral position. The ready position doesn’t change. If I say “ready position”, that is always what I want to see.
- Stance describes the way in which a player is standing during any stage of a game. For example, when serving there are correct and incorrect stances that are specific to each individual service. Therefore, the correct stance is dependent on the stroke being played. You don’t want to play a forehand loop with the stance you’d use for touching a short ball to your forehand!
Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or the space to describe one-by-one the correct stance for all the possible strokes and serves. In this post, I’m going to focus specifically on the correct ready position and helping you to improve your generic table tennis stance.
This article was originally published in March 2013 but was updated in November 2019.
Table Tennis Ready Position
This might sound super basic but you’d be surprised how many experienced table tennis players have fundamental problems with their table tennis stance!
Here’s a quick tip. Don’t play standing bolt upright as if you’re waiting for a bus!
The table tennis ready position has five key components.
You need quite a wide base when playing table tennis. From my experience beginners are far more likely to have their feet too close together than too far apart.
Some coaches say feet should be parallel to each other and one shoulder-width apart. But I would go further than that and say that your feet should be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 shoulder-widths apart – like Fan Zhendong!
Having your feet wider apart will give you a more stable base, help you to move, lower your centre of gravity, get you down closer to table height, and enable you to transfer your weight from foot-to-foot to develop power.
Also, it’s a good idea to have your non-playing foot slightly further forward than your playing foot. For example, a right-hander would have their left foot slightly in front of their right – making them not 100% square to the table.
If your legs are completely straight, you will find yourself constantly off and unable to move to wide balls. Therefore, your knees should always be slightly bent – like Fan (above).
Don’t bend your knees too much and make sure you don’t have them bent in a squat position either. A slight bend is all you need.
3. Upper Body
When playing table tennis your body should be crouched. This means that your head and shoulders are forward and slightly down. It’s also why Fan Zhendong always looks like he doesn’t have a neck in photos!
This forward-leaning ‘crouch position’ will stop you from entering into a ‘squat position’ and will shift your weight onto your toes (the balls of your feet) which will make it much easier to move. That would be poor form for a squat but it’s great form for table tennis.
This crouched forward position should also stop you from drifting away from the table as you play your shots. This is a common problem for players that have their weight on their heels.
Your arms should be out in front of your body, and forearms parallel with the ground (again, like Fan). This both helps with the crouched/leaning forwards stance and also makes it much easier to play your shots.
One thing I’m always banging on about is keeping your elbows out in front of your body. I see many beginners playing with their elbows back and “tucked in” against their sides. This is not good technique. It will almost halve your ‘reach’ for wide balls and destroy your chance of ever playing a powerful shot.
Finally, most players try and keep their free arm parallel with their playing arm, for balance.
The bat/hand/wrist is the final component of a correct ready position. We always assume that we do not know where the ball is going (even if we are doing a regular exercise) and therefore we keep our bat in a neutral position – pointing the top edge of the racket towards our opponent. That way it is possible for us to play either a backhand or a forehand, on-demand.
You want your bat to be an extension of your forearm – not angled up or down. In order to make that happen, you need to keep your wrist straight but allow the weight of the bat to drop it down. This is best explained with a photo.
You see how Fan Zhendong’s wrist isn’t bent in or out but he has allowed it to drop slightly so that his bat is in a horizontal position. If he had kept his wrist up the bat would be going up at roughly a 45-degree angle and would no longer be an extension of his forearm.
For more help regarding this, you need to check out my blog post all about table tennis grip.
Table Tennis Stance
As I said at the beginning, this article is all about helping you to improve your generic table tennis stance. I often call this your “shape”. I’ll say to my players, “Keep your shape”, when I notice them slipping out of a correct stance in whatever way.
And sometimes it’s easier to grasp that correct “shape” by using an image or analogy rather than with detailed instructions for each part of the body.
“Pretend you’re a goalkeeper!”
Whenever I see a player with an unhelpful stance often all I need to say is…
Pretend you’re a goalkeeper ready to receive a penalty.
…and, provided the player has at least some simple knowledge of football, they tend to immediately get into a much better stance for table tennis.
You’d be surprised how similar the two stances are! The following is taken from Soccer Coach Weekly…
The ready position is the position that goalkeepers need to adopt as they prepare to stop a shot… Feet shoulder width apart. Knees slightly bent. Weight on the balls of the feet. Hands at waist height. Elbows tucked in. Shoulders forward (nose over toes). Balanced. Head steady, eyes on the ball.
Replace the word “goalkeeper” with “table tennis player” and that could be straight out of a table tennis coaching manual!
The goalkeeper analogy usually fixes #1 and #2 – feet and knees (the lower body). The only problem is, it doesn’t correct #3, #4 or #5 – upper body, arms and bat.
I noticed this recently when I was training Harrie. Most of the time; his back is straight, his shoulders are back, and his bat is down.
So I came up with this instead. Pretend you’re a goalkeeper…
“A goalkeeper with a Zimmer frame!”
Upper Body: Zimmer Frame
Ready Position vs Stance
It’s important to remember the difference between ready position and stance. The ready position is the basics but sometimes stance will have to be changed for certain shots. For example, if you are ‘opening up’ and topspinning a backspin ball with your forehand you may start in the neutral ready position but very quickly your stance will have to be adapted. You might need your feet slightly wider, your right knee slightly more bent and your right arm and bat closer to the ground.
However, the general principles are the same. If your weight is on your heel something has probably gone wrong. If your back is straight, or your elbows glued to your sides or your knees bent in a ‘squat position’ your technique is probably not quite correct.
Here’s a great video of Alois from Ping Skills going through the key components of the basic stance and explaining all about balance and stability.
Where to stand
I’ve spent a lot of time covering “how” to stand. Before we wrap up, let’s briefly think about “where” to stand (in relation to the table). Here are a few tips…
Have your bat in the centre
Once you start playing table tennis you will realise, quite quickly, that you can reach much further on your forehand side than your backhand side. Therefore, standing completely in the centre of the table is a bad idea.
Instead, look to have your bat in line with the centre of the table. If you’re right-handed, this will mean standing slightly left of centre. If you’re left-handed, this will mean standing slightly to the right.
Give yourself some space
Another common error I see in beginners is standing way too close to the table. Some even have there legs touching the edge of it! Standing this close gives you little time to react to shot, makes it difficult to move, and often leads to you standing upright (instead of being in the correct “crouched” position). Take half a step back. Not too far, as this will make shots harder to play accurately but just enough to give yourself a bit of room.
Here’s a great video on ready position by Stephen Foster for AllAboutTableTennis. He covers ‘where to stand’ as well as ‘how to stand’ in a good amount of detail.
And that’s everything you need to know about table tennis stance and the ready position!