3 Backhand Ping Pong Shots You Need to Know

Learning how to play a backhand shot in table tennis is essential to become a successful player. Despite this, many people neglect training their table tennis backhand strokes. Instead, they spend more time favoring forehand drills, and ultimately, their ping pong backhand suffers.

As a forehand specialist myself, I understand this motivation. Forehand strokes tend to be more deadly, and more fun to execute. But if you don’t have a strong backhand to back it up, you best believe your opponent will pin you on your backhand as punishment. No more forehand shots for you!

Take the time to learn how to play backhand in tennis and table tennis. It will make you a more competent player and help you initiate the next forehand attack if that is your goal.

Player hitting a backhand in table tennis

What Strokes Do I Need to Learn?

For this guide, we’ll focus on backhand topspin table tennis, not backhand push. What is backhand and how can I master it? The backhand strokes you need to learn are the backhand block, drive, and loop.

These are the three main strokes you will be using in topspin rallies⁠—you’ll need all three to maximize your potential as a player.

What Is the Backhand Block?

The backhand block is your main defense against an incoming attack. It’s a defensive tool you can use when you don’t have enough time to execute an effective counter-attack. It’s effective because you can perform a backhand block much faster than you can drive or loop.

The backhand drop also gives you a greater margin for error, which helps you keep the ball afloat in sticky situations.

The motion of your backhand block will largely depend on the power and spin of the ball coming at you. For fast, spinny shots, you may not need to push the ball at all with your block. Simply get behind the ball and close your bat angle. But, most of the time, a backhand block requires a small forward motion or push forward.

How to Play the Backhand Block

Preparation
  • Feet around 1.5 times your shoulder-width apart
  • Facing the direction in which you are playing the ball
  • Weight on your balls/toes
  • Knees bent
  • Bat in front of you just above waist level
  • Around a 90-degree bend at the elbow
Striking the Ball
  • Adjust your bat angle to the incoming spin
  • Strike the ball fairly early after it bounces
  • Push through the ball slightly as you make contact
  • Source the motion from your elbow and forearm
Completion of Stroke
  • Stroke finishes out in front of you in the direction the ball is traveling
  • Bat should finish at shoulder level or lower
  • Return to the ready position when completed

Here is a video by PingSkills demonstrating the backhand block:

What to Watch Out for

Fortunately, as backhand blocks are one of the easiest and safest shots to play, there aren’t too many things that can go wrong. However, there are a few common mistakes I see from players who haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.

1) Not Playing in Line with the Body

The main mistake I see is not hitting the ball from the middle of the body. Unlike the forehand stroke, which you play from the side of the body, the backhand should come from the middle of your body. You should hit the ball centrally, in line with your nose. This is also true with drives and loops, not just blocks.

Beginners are lazy and will just move the arm to play the block. This stems from poor footwork and a lack of understanding. Always move laterally so that the ball would strike you in the stomach if you missed the block.

2) Untucked Elbows

Another common mistake is raising your elbow and/or blocking too far away from the body. You should tuck your elbow at the side of your body–dont’ flare it outwards. When your elbow is raised, your arm will tire quickly and cause you to lose control. Similarly, you’ll lose control if you play a block too far away from your body.

What Is the Backhand Drive?

The backhand drive table tennis move is an attacking topspin shot. It’s best used fairly close to the table, when you don’t want to loop but you still want to put pressure on your opponent.

The backhand drive is a very safe attack shot and will probably be your best strategy to prevent your opponent from initiating a forehand loop. Table tennis drives are useful in many situations, but you cannot use them against backspin.

The great thing about the backhand drive is that it builds on the fundamentals of the backhand block; so, it’s relatively easy to perform. As such, a lot of the components of the two moves are identical. I have highlighted the differences between the two moves below.

How to Play the Backhand Drive

Preparation
  • Feet around 1.5 times your shoulder-width apart
  • Facing the direction in which you are playing the ball
  • Weight on your balls/toes
  • Knees bent
  • Bat in front of you, just above waist level closer to your body
  • Around a 90-degree bend at the elbow
Striking the Ball
  • Adjust your bat angle to the incoming spin
  • Strike the ball at the top of the bounce
  • Push through the ball in an upwards motion to generate topspin
  • Source the motion from your elbow and forearm
Completion of Stroke
  • Stroke finishes out in front of you in the direction the ball is traveling
  • Bat should finish around shoulder level
  • Return to the ready position when completed

This is a great video by Tom Lodziak, a table tennis coach. He breaks down the form for the drive and recommends some drills.

What to Watch Out For

Since the backhand drive is a faster, more involved shot, players tend to develop some bad habits. Here are a few you should avoid.

1) Taking the Ball Too Early or Late

Unlike the block where you take the ball early, the drive requires you to contact the ball at the top of the bounce. Some players tend to take the ball too early on the backhand side. This gives you less of an angle to play the shot, and limits your speed.

2) Not Facing the Direction You are Hitting

You always want to face the direction you are hitting. Some beginners will turn their bodies so that their backhand is facing away from the table. The idea here is probably to get a better wind up on the backhand drive. However, this leaves you in no man’s land to play a forehand drive so you should nip this tendency in the bud.

3) Too Much Wrist Action

Feel free to use a little wrist action for the backhand drive—a lot of players do. But by no means should your wrist dominate the movement. Some players snap at the ball with their wrist and don’t really move their arms. By doing this you will have little control over your ball’s direction, and sub-average power.

4) Not Playing the Full Stroke

The drive has a much longer motion than the block. Some beginners stop their drive stroke as soon as they make contact with the ball— this is a mistake. You need to continue your stroke after you hit the ball. If you don’t, your drives will feel somewhat robotic, and that will only hurt you when you come to learn the backhand loop.

What Is the Backhand Loop?

The table tennis backhand loop is the optimal backhand attack stroke. You can use it on any ball on your backhand side that drifts long on the table, and even for backspin strokes.

An advanced shot, the backhand loop has a smaller margin for error than the block and drive, making it easy to mess up if you’re not precise. Some players don’t use it at all because of the high chance for error.

The backhand loop has the greatest point-ending potential of all the backhand moves. It takes a bit of time to set yourself up for the stroke, although not as much as the time needed for the forehand loop.

A quick tip—you’ll need a bat with a decent amount of grip to perform a loop. Unbranded bats just won’t cut it! Take a look at our bat guide if you don’t have one yet.

How to Play the Backhand Loop

Preparation
  • Feet around 1.5 times your shoulder-width apart
  • Facing the direction in which you are playing the ball
  • Weight on your balls/toes
  • Knees bent
  • Bat in front of you around waist level close to your body (depending on incoming shot)
  • Around a 90-degree bend at the elbow
Striking the Ball
  • Adjust your bat angle to incoming spin
  • Strike the ball at the top of the bounce
  • Brush over the ball in an upwards movement to generate heavy topspin
  • Source the motion from your elbow, forearm, and wrist
  • Begin with forearm and elbow, and flick your wrist just as you make contact with the ball
Completion of Stroke
  • Stroke finishes out in front of you in the direction the ball is traveling
  • Bat should finish at around head level
  • Return to the ready position when completed

To demonstrate the backhand loop, I recommend watching another one of Ping Skills’ videos. He breaks down the components of the stroke well.

What to Watch Out For

Since the backhand loop is an advanced shot, it requires more patience and attention to detail. I also find it takes more experience to successfully perform the backhand loop than to perform the forehand loop.

This extra experience is needed because the backhand loop requires you to rely on a seamless range of motion from the front of your body, while the forehand loop relies on a simple engagement of the hips for power.

Here are some more bad habits to look out for:

1) Wild Strokes 

It’s hard to get the form down for the backhand loop, so you might be tempted to crank up your force. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in an overly long stroke. If your backhand loop is finishing far above head level and to the right of your shoulder, it probably needs improvement. Some pros can get away with it, but too much force usually places you off balance. In many cases, you won’t have enough time to reset to the ready position.

2) Not Enough Bending at the Knees

Bending your knees is always important in table tennis, but it’s especially important for looping. Some players don’t bend their knees enough during their loops, which can hurt your strokes. If you are looping off of a backspin, it’s especially important to bend your knees and get low.

3) Improper Wrist Action

A common obstacle to perfecting the backhand loop is improper wrist action. Think of the backhand loop as flinging a frisbee. Although your arm does a lot of the work, it’s actually your wrist that produces the spin and glides the frisbee through the air.

The same applies to table tennis. The wrist is the last action that contacts the ball, and delivers the pent-up speed and spin. If you fail to exercise the wrist, you’ll lose much of the snap and spin needed for an effective loop.

Get Practicing!

To be a great player, you’ll need to perfect your ping pong backhand by practicing blocking, driving, and looping. Frequent training and analysis of your stroke technique, especially for looping, will get you there!

Be patient, and watch others. As someone with a weaker backhand than forehand, I am constantly comparing my stroke technique to others. This helps identify your weak points, and makes you a better player.

Alex Horscroft
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Freelance writer. Table tennis enthusiast. Lover of all things online. When I’m not working on my loop game I’m probably binge-watching some fantasy show.

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