The forehand loop, also known as the ping pong loop or table tennis loop, is a must-learn shot for anyone who is serious about table tennis. Offensive styles of play have become increasingly dominant, and the forehand loop is the most versatile stroke in your attacking arsenal.
Before embarking on your quest to learn the perfect forehand loop it is important you first know how to hit a topspin forehand: a regular forehand drive.
The forehand loop builds upon the fundamentals of the drive and without it, you won’t get anywhere quickly.
Provided you have mastered the drive, let’s learn how to loop and take your table tennis game to the next level.
Positioning and Posture
The first stage of executing a forehand loop is addressing your setup — these are the preparations you make to play an effective forehand loop. As soon as your opponent strikes the ball, you must adopt your setup without hesitation before the ball reaches you, or else you’ll fail to play the loop.
Here is a breakdown of the key characteristics (for right-handed players):
- Bend your knees
- Your right leg should be in line with the direction of the ball
- Your right foot should be further back than the left and angled outwards
- Legs should be around 50-80cm apart depending on preference
There are a lot of distinct factors which will affect your setup such as the spin on the ball, which direction you want to play it, even the speed at which you want to play the loop. However, these key characteristics should apply whatever the scenario.
Forehand Loop Stroke
As mentioned earlier, the forehand loop builds upon the fundamentals of the forehand drive for a more potent shot. Think of it as a modified forehand drive with increased spin and speed.
The stroke guide for success are as follows:
- Loose wrist
- Contact the ball at the top of the bounce
- Bat begins at knee level, finishes at eye level
- Focus on the transfer of power from legs to hips to shoulder to elbow
- Increased weight transfer from the back leg to the front leg
- Brush the ball to generate more topspin
Being an advanced technique, there are a lot of elements that contribute towards an effective forehand loop. And failing in just a few of these can destroy your stroke.
At first, this may seem a little daunting. There is a lot of information to take in. But breaking down the stroke into distinct stages makes forehand looping a lot more straightforward.
Transfer of Momentum Through the Body
The most challenging part of tackling the forehand loop is developing a textbook flow of momentum through the body. Think of the forehand loop as a compound movement. It is essentially a full-body workout.
To begin, lower your body and transfer your weight to the back leg – it is the foundation of the forehand loop. As this happens, the shoulders lower and the hips rotate, leaving you facing the same direction as your back foot. This concludes the build-up of momentum in the body.
The rapid release of momentum begins in the legs and hips. This is what many people neglect or fail to realize.
By skipping this stage and proceeding straight to arm movement you lose a considerable deal of energy. This results in a weaker forehand loop.
I cannot stress enough that hip rotation is an essential component of the loop. By neglecting it you bottleneck what your forehand loop could become.
Following hip rotation, we come to the arms, which are broken down into two parts: the shoulder and the elbow. You use your shoulder first for a fraction of a second until your bat reaches around waist level. This is when the elbow comes into play. The elbow dominates for the remainder of the stroke until the bat finishes at around eye level.
To help visualize how all of these aspects fit together I recommend watching the following video. It features slow-motion footage of current world number 3 Ma Long looping on his forehand. His technique is as close to perfect as you can get!
Forehand Loop Completion & Recovery
Upon the successful completion of a forehand loop, it is easy to sit back and gaze at the fruits of your labor. After all, the forehand loop is one of the most exciting shots in table tennis.
However, to be a great table tennis player you can’t just have excellent forehand loops. You also need to be swift in your recovery to prepare yourself for the next shot. Always assume your opponent will return your forehand loop, even if it looks like a winner!
The finish of the forehand loop should leave your bat in front of your face. If it goes too far to the left it may cause you to become imbalanced. Some advanced players finish their forehand loop past their face, but for beginners, I would not recommend it.
Your hips should also finish loosely parallel to the table. This is ideal as it completes the first part of the ready position – the neutral position needed to prepare for the next shot.
With your body correctly aligned, return your bat in front of you with around a 90-degree bend at the elbow. Your bat should be in line with your shoulder and the center of the table.
Generally speaking, returning to the ready position is a simple process. But the nature of the loop makes it far more difficult.
Forehand loops are able to impart much greater amounts of spin and speed than drives, which harshly cuts your recovery time. Adapting to this diminished recovery time is what makes an excellent looper in table tennis.
One of the most useful tips I can give you to mastering the perfect forehand loop is to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. The forehand loop is a very complex shot and often takes a while to get the hang of.
I know very talented players who struggle with their forehand loop, and conversely, others who can pick it up straight away.
Whatever the case may be for you, try to adhere to the advice in this guide. And please… remember hip rotation, it is the number one mistake I see.
As a final piece of advice, I recommend using shadow practice to critically analyze your stroke. Shadow practice is ideal when learning a new technique as it removes the haste of your movement, helping highlight which areas you are forgetting in the heat of play.
Whenever my form breaks down in matches or training I like to do a shadow stroke or two to remind myself of the perfect forehand loop. It has served me well over the years and I am certain it will benefit you too.