Using Your Waist on the Backhand Loop

Backhand Loop Ma LongI was watching a few table tennis videos on YouTube yesterday and stumbled across this old video of Ma Long practicing his backhand loop with multiball, fed by Liu Guoliang.

I’ve seen this video before but it was only this time that Liu Guoliang’s main coaching point really stood out. He demonstrates the problem and solution about 17 seconds in, and it’s all about Ma Long’s use of the waist!

He is telling Ma Long that his current rotation is not enough and also that it is bringing his body up instead of forwards. He then exaggerates the actual waist rotation he wants to see. The action Liu Guoliang demonstrates is very similar to the forehand loop (with lots of weight transfer and rotation from the hips).

This post will look at that technique in detail and how we can better use our waist during the backhand loop.

Traditional European coaching

Traditionally the technique for the forehand and backhand loop has been quite different. I think this goes all the way back to our coaching of the forehand and backhand drive. When we learn to play a forehand drive elements such as weight transfer and waist rotation are key coaching points. For the backhand drive they are not included.

As far as I can tell this is the same in China. A drive is just a drive and a backhand drive doesn’t require any rotation of the waist.

The problem comes when this technique is translated into the forehand and backhand loop. The lack of significant weight transfer and waist rotation during the backhand loop makes the shot considerably weaker than the forehand loop.

For decades we’ve seen this problem at the elite level. Players had blinding forehands but their backhands couldn’t generate the same level of power. Some top Chinese players got away with barely playing a backhand at all and just moving at lightning speeds to cover the table with their forehand.

Recently, we’ve seen the backhand becoming as much of a weapon as the forehand and I believe this is largely due to the kind of coaching we can see in this video. Liu Guoliang is clearly now transferring the principles of the forehand loop over to the backhand side and emphasising weight transfer and body rotation in order to increase power.

I know that some European coaches and players will say that this is nothing new and that they already know the importance of the waist in the backhand loop. I think the problem is that we often only pay lip service to the idea and we still don’t see anything inherently wrong with a backhand loop that is played almost all from the arm.

The backhand open-up

Bear in mind that in this video Ma Long is playing his backhand loop against a backspin feed! This is a backhand open-up shot rather than just a loop against a block.

The technique where a player bends their knees, drops down, lowers their wrist and then brushes up the back of the ball will surely be obliterated by this modern backhand open-up. Current equipment (and technique) means that this old-school style of “looping” is no longer necessary.

I, for one, still teach the backhand loop to be taken in front of the body, slightly to the left side or in front of the right hip. While it still might be worth coaching this shot to our players, or learning it ourselves if you are a player, I think we must now see it as a stepping stone between the backhand drive and this new modern backhand loop.

Just watch the video again…

Surely this is the future of the backhand loop in top-level table tennis!

Is this more natural anyway?

I usually find that when coaching this backhand drive to beginners they naturally try and play the stroke from the side of their body. Despite the fact that they don’t yet have the control of the ball to be able to do this it would seem that it just feels more natural.

Perhaps this is from playing other racket sports. After all, when have you ever seen a tennis player play a powerful backhand ground stroke from in front on their left hip? No. They turn their body, transfer their weight and strike the ball out to the side of themselves.

Maybe we could even start teaching players to use some rotation on the backhand drive, to get them used to the movement early on. I guess that’s for another post all together.

The way forward

If you are a player looking to compete at a relatively high level I suggest that you start looking to develop your backhand loop into more of a power weapon by incorporating weight transfer and rotation into your stroke. I’m not saying this is going to be easy. You’ve probably played thousands of strokes with your current technique, and any change is going to take time, but surely it’s worth it.

If you are a coach then I think we seriously need to start thinking of ways to implement this new backhand technique into our coaching. Multiball or robot practice is probably the best way to do it but I believe that our younger players need to be taught this from early on and our older players need to start working at trying it out and making changes to their current technique.

Just imagine a good player playing a forehand topspin without rotation or weight transfer. We’d say it was a lazy shot if it came primarily from the arm. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is said of a backhand loop in the next few years.

So those are my thoughts and I’d love to hear yours. Please leave a comment below and join the conversation!

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