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 match. However, table tennis can be a very physical game and warming up should be part of your pre-game routine, every time.
Why it’s important to warm up
Table tennis is a game that requires speed, agility, and fast reaction times, so it can be vigorous exercise. The American Heart Association recommends warming up before exercise to protect your heart’s health. Warming up beforehand allows you to:
Move more quickly
Speed is an essential part of playing winning ping pong. Warm muscles contract with more force and release more rapidly. You’ll find you’ll have more power and better reactions being able to reach shots quicker resulting in more winning shots.
Improve your range of motion
Warming up properly will give you a much bigger range of motion preparing all your joints to extend and give you a great reach.
Reduce the risk of injury
Warming up properly is one of the best ways of avoiding injuries. A good warmup increases your body temperature, which improves muscle elasticity that reduces the risk of strains. A warm body also delivers more oxygen to muscles, reducing the risk of cramps.
Mentally prepare yourself
A physical warmup is a great time to prepare your mental game and focus on the upcoming match, preparing your strategy and building concentration.
Different table tennis warm up exercises
The perfect table tennis warm up consists of 3 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 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 some quick lunges. Moving your large muscle groups gets your heart pumping faster and starts your warm up off right.
Practice side-to-side movements – (2-3 minutes)
Practicing your table tennis shuffle steps is a great form of exercise that also primes your body for a game. A standard lateral shuffle or table tennis shuffle drill gets you warm and builds game skill at the same time.
Improving your flexibility
For the last part of your warm up 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 table tennis include:
Twisting reverse lunge
This exercise opens your hips and abdomen while improving 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 for each leg.
Lunging hamstring stretch
This 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 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 exercise. They are both done when lightly jogging in place. With 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.
If you have a partner, it’s a great idea to take the last part of your warm up 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 partner about which skills you want to practice. In competition, warm up your strongest skill. Outside of competition, practice your weak areas. A 5-minute skill drill should consist of:
- 1 minute rallying cross-court or down the line
- 1 minute skill practice for player A
- 1 minute skill practice for player B
- 2 minutes service and receive
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, or 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 discomfort, and remember to breathe deeply while stretching.
Doing proper table tennis warm ups before a game and then 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 it also helps you play your best game from the first serve to the last stroke.
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 warmup, and don’t forget to cool down after your game.