What is Speed Gluing?
First of all, let’s look at what table tennis players mean when we talk about speed gluing. In simple terms, speed gluing is the process of attaching the rubber to the blade by putting a new layer (or layers) of glue on the rubber’s sponge (and usually the blade as well). This fresh glue then increases the speed and spin that the rubber is capable of producing for a short period of time, usually a few hours. After this time the effect wears off and the rubbers will return to close to normal. The rubbers can then be removed from the blade and reglued to achieve the same speed glue effect again.
Advantages of Speed Gluing
This process of removing the rubbers and regluing them every few hours sounds like a lot of trouble, doesn’t it? Why would anybody bother? Surely the effect of speed glue can’t be all that important?
Well, speed glue is probably one of the most important innovations in table tennis in the last 20 years or so. Almost every male professional player uses speed glue in competition these days. The increase in spin and speed that speed glue produces allows modern players to hit the ball harder, while at the same time producing more topspin to allow the ball to dip and still hit the table.
How can this be? Imagine this scenario. The ball is at the level of the playing surface. If the player wants to hit the ball with no spin but still have it land on the table at the other side of the net, he has to use gravity to make the ball fall on the table. So the player cannot hit the ball very hard if he does not want the ball to go over the end of the table completely. If he puts on a little bit of topspin of the ball, he can hit the ball a bit harder and the topspin will actually pull the ball down onto the other side of the table. If he puts on a lot of topspin, he can hit the ball very hard and still have the ball strike the other side as the topspin pulls the ball down.
Using speed glue has been estimated to increase the spin on the modern 40mm ball by up to 30%. This may not be entirely accurate, but the fact remains that a player can put more spin on the ball with a speed glued rubber, allowing him to hit harder than normal and still have the ball land on the other side of the table.
This is only one side of the coin. The other half is that the speed glue also increases the speed of the rubber, allowing the player to hit harder as well. So the player can actually hit the ball harder with speed glue, and also have more spin to still bring the ball down onto the table. This is a very big advantage, and this is why almost all advanced players who attack use speed glue.
The increased speed and spin also allows those players who are not as strong as others to still hit the ball with ferocious power and spin. I can personally attest to playing 13 year olds of short height and small frame who can hit very nearly as hard as adults playing in the professional leagues. The use of speed glue has narrowed the gap between those players who are physically strong and those who are not, especially in the upper body.
Improved Control – Sometimes
Another advantage of speed glue is that it actually tends to improve a player’s control of the ball in most strokes that involve spinning the ball. The speed glue allows the player to put more of his own spin on the ball, making it easier to ignore the effect of his opponent’s spin. This can often be seen in the modern looping rallies, where both players are reversing their opponent’s spin by topspinning at each other. Another good example is in the return of serve, where aggressive loop returns are made easier since the speed glued rubber makes it easier to ignore the opponent’s spin when looping the ball.
Improved Control – All the Time
There is a point at which attempting to hit the ball any harder means you will lose your good form, and make more mistakes, as your put too much strain on your muscles and nervous system. Speed glue allows you to hit harder with your best technique, which can be helpful in three ways:
- Imagine your best match play technique means that you hit 80% of your forehand loops on the table. With speed glue, you can keep the same technique, and you will be hitting harder and with more spin due to the glue, and you will probably get a increase in your consistency as well, to say maybe 85%, due to the extra control from the increased spin.
- Instead, because the speed glue increases your speed and spin, you could decide to slow down your stroke a fraction to allow better technique, up to the point where you are hitting just as fast as when you did not use speed glue. But now you are hitting with better technique, so your consistency should increase to somewhere more like 90%. Of course, you could also steer a course somewhere in between these two examples, allowing slightly better technique and slightly quicker and spinnier shots.
- Because speed glue increases the speed and spin of your strokes, you can also use a shortened stroke to still attack with power and spin, even when you are unable to use your normal full swing. This can be a tremendous advantage when you do not have time to swing fully, such as when an opponent has made a strong attack to your playing elbow. A modern professional will simply sway his body to the side and use a shortened counterhit or loop to return the ball with an amazing amount of power and spin.
These are the major advantages of speed gluing. But surely there must be a downside? Well, yes there is, but it’s certainly not as bad as the advantages are good. I’ll discuss the downsides of speed gluing below.
Disadvantages of Speed Gluing
When you speed glue, your rubbers will wear out faster. This is due to a couple of reasons, these being:
- the constant removal and reattachment of the rubber helps to break the little cells inside the sponge, causing it to lose its bounce; and
- the speed glue that is absorbed into the sponge can sometimes damage the original glue holding the pimples to the sponge, cause them to come apart or ‘bubble’, making the rubber illegal.
It has been estimated that a normal unglued rubber can withstand more than a hundred strikes of the ball in the same place on the rubber before needing replacement, while a speed glued rubber can only last for about 25 strikes before it is worn out. I can’t vouch for whether this is completely accurate, but as someone who has speed glued many times over the last few years, I can say from personal experience that my speed glued rubbers lasted about a third as long as those rubbers I did not speed glue.
As we’ll see in later parts of this guide, it is fairly normal for players to remove the rubbers from their bat before putting them away for the day – to avoid stretching the rubbers and wearing them out prematurely. This means that you will need to glue your rubbers onto your bat whenever you want to play. The speed glue effect only lasts a certain time as well (typically 3-4 hours), so there may be times when the effect is beginning to wear off and you still have matches to play. If you don’t have time to reglue your bat, you will either have to play with a bat that is losing its extra power and spin, or have a second bat ready to go – which also means extra expense in gluing up two bats at once.
Decreased Control – Sometimes
When using speed glue, you will lose some control when you attempt to play strokes that do not involve you spinning the ball. When you try to float the ball, the increased speed that you get is not countered by the increased spin, and so you will have a loss of control.
Increased Speed of the Ball – But What About You?
The increased speed that you get from speed gluing can also be a disadvantage at times, if you are not careful. It is very easy to get caught up in enjoying the extra pace, and forget about whether your reflexes and footwork are fast enough to cope with it. Remember, if you hit the ball 20% faster to your opponent, the ball will get to him that much faster, and the ball will come back to you off his racket faster as well – this means that you have less time to get ready for your next shot!
So unless your footwork and reflexes also improve by 20%, you may actually play worse against an opponent who is capable of returning the faster balls that you are hitting! It takes a very self-disciplined person to realize that this is happening in a match and decide to slow down his shots to compensate.
Because of the advantages in using speed glue, some players come to rely on the speed glue to help compensate for flaws in their technique or footwork. As they start to rise in level, these players will find that their opponents will also be speed gluing, and will be able to take advantage of these flaws. So it is important to keep using good technique and footwork when playing with speed glue, in preparation for those more advanced players. Remember, at the top, all players are speed gluing – so you will be on a level playing field. You can’t afford to allow your opponent the sort of edge that poor technique or footwork will give him.
Human beings being what we are, we don’t always do thing exactly the same way twice. This means that every time you reglue, the effect will be slightly different. Provided that you are fairly consistent in how you reglue, this will not be important most of the time – but there will always be that odd occasion (usually at the worst possible time!), when you reglue and the rubbers feel completely different to normal. You will have to decide very quickly whether to try and reglue again, and possibly make things worse, reglue a backup bat, or try to play on with a table tennis bat that now feels very unfamiliar. This can be a tough decision to make when you are in an important tournament and the clock is ticking.
There is also the matter of your health to consider. Table tennis speed glues use certain solvents which can be hazardous to our health when inhaled. While people will argue from both sides as to whether the risks are significant or not, it is still something to be aware of. The ITTF at the time of writing this article are heading towards the use of water-based non-toxic speed glues by around 2008, which will hopefully have less health risks.
Despite the cons, almost all professional players and most advanced amateur players reglue their table tennis bats, simply because the advantages still heavily outweigh the disadvantages. But should you speed glue?
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