Many people think of table tennis as a casual game and don’t take it seriously as a sport. Or they may feel a little silly doing exercises before a relaxed, non-competitive table tennis match. However, table tennis can be a very physical game, and warming up should always be a part of your training program.
Why it’s important to warm up
Table tennis is a game that requires speed, agility, and fast reaction times, so it can be a vigorous exercise. The American Heart Association recommends warming up before working out to protect your heart’s health. Warming up before a table tennis game allows you to:
Move more quickly
Speed is an essential part of playing ping pong well. Warm muscles contract with more force and release more rapidly. By exercising before each match, you’ll have more power and better reactions, and you’ll be able to reach shots quicker resulting in more winning shots.
Reduce the risk of injury
Warming up properly is one of the best ways of avoiding injuries while playing table tennis. A good training session increases your body temperature, which improves muscle elasticity which reduces the risk of strains. A warm body also delivers more oxygen to the muscles, reducing the risk of cramps.
Mentally prepare yourself
A physical warm-up session is a great way to prepare your mental game and focus on the upcoming match, preparing your strategy and building concentration. Being in the right frame of mind and having good table tennis psychology is just as important as warming up your body for a game.
Improve your range of motion
Warming up properly will give you a much bigger range of motion by preparing all your joints to extend and improving your footwork.
Different table tennis warm up exercises
The perfect table tennis warm-up session consists of three different sections, and lasts long enough to increase your heart rate and body temperature, and open your joints for movement. Here are some exercises to get you into the ideal game form.
Gently elevate your heart rate – (2-3 minutes)
You can do this by lightly jogging in place, marching with high knees, or even with some quick lunges. Moving your large muscle groups gets your heart pumping faster and starts your training session off right.
Practice side-to-side movements – (2-3 minutes)
Practicing your table tennis shuffle steps is a great form of exercise that primes your body for a game. A standard lateral shuffle or table tennis shuffle practice drill gets you warm and builds your game skills at the same time.
For the second part of your training session, you should spend 4-5 minutes improving your flexibility through stretching. Practicing dynamic stretches allows you to develop flexibility without lowering your heart rate, and stretch several muscles at the same time for better performance and efficiency. It’s also one of the best ways to avoid an injury. Some great dynamic stretches for warming up the whole body for a ping pong game are:
Twisting reverse lunge
This exercise opens your hips and abdomen while improving your balance and flexibility. Start in a standing position. Take a long step back with one foot, lowering into the lunge position. Twist your upper body in the opposite direction of the rear leg. Repeat 5-10 times with your right and left leg.
Lunging hamstring stretch
This exercise stretches your back and hamstrings along with your hips. Start in a standing position. Take a long step forward with one foot, lowering into the lunge position. Reach your arms forward, resting your fingertips on the ground. Then lift your rear leg until it is straight, rising from the hips, keeping your fingertips on the ground. Repeat 5-10 times with each leg.
Knee lifts and butt kicks
These dynamic stretches improve the range of motion in the large muscles of the legs while keeping your body warm before you begin your game. They are both done when lightly jogging in place. For knee lifts, lift the front knee to hip height with every step. For butt kicks, try to kick the heel of your foot into your buttock with every step. Do each exercise for 15-30 seconds with each leg
If you have a partner, it’s a great idea to use the last part of your training to drill some table tennis skills for 5 minutes. Don’t just use this time to rally, which isn’t good preparation for a real game. Instead, talk with your fellow table tennis player about which skills you want to improve. In competition, warm up your strongest skill. Outside of competition, work on your weak areas. A 5-minute skill training drill should consist of:
- 1 minute of rallying cross-court or down the line
- 1 minute of skill practice for player A
- 1 minute of skill practice for player B
- 2 minutes of service and receive
Here are some of our favorite skill drills.
1-2 backhand strokes or 1-2 forehand strokes
To play table tennis successfully, it’s immensely important to work on your stroke play as well. As the name suggests, this exercise consists of switching between backhand and forehand without creating an imbalance between these two strokes. Plus, this exercise pushes you to make decisions more quickly. To reduce the amount of time of each stroke, be sure to keep your back high while performing this drill.
Backhand to backhand exchanges
This exercise is based on a game-realistic scenario. You or your partner can play down the line with a backhand stroke or perform a forehand pivot at any moment. This is an amazing training drill because it helps you focus on and learn your opponent’s body language during the match.
2 backhand topspins and 2 forehand topspins
This is another great practice drill. The rules are very simple: perform 2 backhand topspins from the backhand side and then 2 forehand topspins from the forehand side. Repeat this for 1-2 minutes. Keep your body low and follow the ball. Aside from honing your skills, this exercise will also help you improve your footwork.
Pro table tennis tip: If you don’t own a ping pong table and don’t want to join a table tennis club, you can perform shadow play exercises or imaginary stroke play. This is how you can work on your forehand drive, backhand drive, chopping, and footwork at home. Make sure to use your whole body, twist your torso, and bend your knees while performing these strokes.
Don’t forget to cool down
A post-game cool-down is also important. Cooling down allows your heart and respiration rates to decrease gradually, and your body temperature to lower slowly, which protects your heart. Stretching during a cool-down also helps to release lactic acid from your muscles and reduce soreness, stiffness, and cramping. Spend 5 minutes walking gently, allowing your heart rate to decrease gradually.
Stretch your muscles with static stretches where you stretch just to the point of tension, then gently hold the stretch. Do not bounce or stretch to the point of discomfort, and remember to breathe deeply while stretching.
Doing proper table tennis warm-ups before a game and cooling down afterwards not only protects your health and heart and lets your body get the most benefit from the exercise of a table tennis match, but also helps you play your best game from the first serve to the last stroke.
Table tennis players who don’t warm up are a bit slower and hesitant at the beginning of their game because their bodies aren’t yet attuned to the activity. Taking just 15 minutes to properly prepare can make all the difference, so don’t skip a warm-up session, and don’t forget to cool down after your game.