Get Fighting Fit
In regard to most sports, being fitter is better than being fatter (except for sumo wrestling maybe!). In the course of this article, I’m going to give a few tips on how table tennis players can use their spare time to improve their fitness and their table tennis.
How Important is Fitness in Table Tennis?
Before I launch into how to improve your conditioning, I want to briefly discuss just how important physical fitness is in ping-pong. The importance of being fit rises as your table tennis level goes up. So the amount of fitness needed for a beginner is less than that of an intermediate player, which in also different to that of an advanced player. Let’s look in each in turn.
Fitness for Table Tennis Beginners
At the beginner level, your amount of physical fitness is unlikely to be an important factor in improving your table tennis, provided you have the ability to walk around for a few hours without getting tired. The biggest limiting factor at this level is your technique and consistency. Due to the number of mistakes you and your opponents make, most of the rallies that you play while you are learning the sport will not be long enough or vigorous enough to tax your physical limits all that much, unless you are playing for several hours in a row.
Being very fit will not affect the level of your play all that much as a beginner. It certainly won’t hurt, but it won’t be a great advantage either.
Fitness for Intermediate Table Tennis Players
At the intermediate level, physical fitness starts to become a more important factor. You and your opponents now have better technique and consistency. Footwork starts to become more important since your opponents are starting to place the ball in hard to reach locations, and your game tends to become more physically active as you move around to allow you to use your better strokes. You can also hit the ball harder more often, so strength and power start to become more important too.
However, even at this level some players can compensate for lack of fitness by having better technique or tactics. Naturally though, it is better to be fitter, since you will play better for longer.
Intermediate players should be getting most of their fitness work from playing table tennis, in order to make the best use of their time. But for those times when you can’t find a partner, doing some specific activities to improve your aerobic fitness and strength will be of benefit too.
Fitness for Advanced Table Tennis Players
At the advanced level, physical fitness is very important. Almost all your opponents will have good technique and tactics, so giving your opponent an edge in physical fitness can be the difference between victory and defeat. Anaerobic fitness (i.e. the body’s ability to contract muscles without burning oxygen) is needed during strenuous counterlooping or loop to chop rallies, while aerobic fitness is required to keep up the intensity over a 7 game match which can last up to a hour, or to compete successfully in several matches during one day.
Advanced players will be combining on the table work with off the table training in order to raise their fitness to the necessary level. A player who intelligently uses off the table training can use his time more efficiently and get an edge in fitness over someone who only plays table tennis.
Solo Activities to Improve Your Table Tennis Fitness
First of all, I’d better make the usual disclaimer in these circumstances, that older players should get themselves checked out medically before starting any change in their fitness regime, and that I am not a fitness expert and my advice should not be taken as such. I am, however, someone who has performed all of the activities I’m discussing below, and I’m going to give my opinion on how useful I’ve found them for getting fit for my own table tennis game.
Yep, plain and simple walking at a brisk pace. Walking is a terrific activity for table tennis players for a number of reasons:
- It’s low impact, which is great for those of us with aching joints, or who are still sore from a hard day of training the day before. It also gets the blood pumping around the body, helping recovery.
- You can get outside and take in the scenery, without having to worry about getting run over by traffic.
- It burns off some calories, which helps in dropping weight.
- By going for a walk, those of you who are trying to drop weight will still feel that you are doing something positive that day, and you will be less likely to splurge on your food intake. I know that my worst binges are usually on days where I’ve skipped my physical exercise and get that ‘Oh, what the heck, might as well lash out’ feeling.
Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of jogging. I’ve always found it a bit hard on my joints and quite boring to do – not even taking in the scenery helps alleviate the boredom of the exercise for me. I’m wary of using headphones to listen to music in case I miss a car coming out of a driveway and get run over, without headphones you at least have a chance of hearing the engine. But others swear by it (I swear at it!). So if you like to jog, go ahead. It’s a good aerobic workout and will toughen up the legs for table tennis. I prefer to use a number of other alternatives which I’ll mention below.
Bicycling/ Stationary Bicycling
I used to cycle into work, and found this a great way to get fitter. Bicycling was much easier on my body than jogging, and since I had a nice bike path nearly all the way to work, it was pretty safe since I didn’t have to spend much time dodging traffic.
Stationary bicycles are quite handy as well. I prefer the models with moving arms, allowing you to involve the upper body a bit more. Stationary bikes are great since you can set yourself up in front of the TV, and watch a table tennis video while you are burning some calories and getting fitter!
I’ve done more than my share of aerobics over the years, although at home and not at a gym. Provided you have enough space (and you don’t need a lot), just moving around to some good music can be a great way to get the heart rate up. You can make it as low impact or high impact as you want, just by changing whether you are jumping up and down a lot or a little. And all in the privacy of your own home!
These days my aerobic sessions are more a combination of aerobics and shadow play. I have plenty of space to work with, so I can perform my shadow play footwork drills. When my heart rate starts to get too high, I switch to some easier walking and arm waving type aerobics for a while, until it drops to the lower end of my working level. Then I go back to another shadow footwork drill, and repeat for about 45 minutes. This gives me a combination of footwork practice and aerobic exercise. But if you can do shadow footwork drills for the whole time, go ahead!
Table Tennis Robots
I use my ping-pong robot for fitness as well, although I tend to use this more in the middle of my season. At the beginning of the season I prefer to use my combination of aerobic and shadow footwork drills. As my fitness improves, I slowly start to bring in more work on the robot. It’s very hard work which is why I don’t start on the robot at the season beginning. But for a combination of fitness work and table tennis practice by yourself, a robot is hard to beat.
I use a Butterfly Amicus 3000, which is very good but also quite expensive. The Newgy Robots (540, 1040 and 2040) models are much cheaper and considered good value in table tennis circles.
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I have also used weight training for a number of years to improve my strength and power, and help ensure that I don’t lose too much muscle mass when doing a lot of aerobics. Since I am not trying to be a bodybuilder, I stick to working my whole body once a week (two workouts in which I do half the muscle groups per workout). Beginners and most intermediate players won’t really need to do weights unless they wish to though.
I use a home gym with mainly free weights and dumbbells (a personal preference from my bodybuilding days, but a home gym with cables will work fine as well. Or even a gym membership, provided you use it! And if you have never done any weight training before, I would most definitely recommend getting some expert help on lifting technique before launching into lifting weights. Using poor technique when lifting weights is asking for a career ending injury.
Heart Rate Monitor
I use a heart rate monitor (a fairly basic Polar model) to help with my aerobic workouts. I find using a monitor allows me to see at a glance how hard I’m working at any time. Although many people recommend the ‘talk test’ (where you should just barely be able to talk to a friend while doing aerobics), I find it a lot easier to have the monitor tell me exactly how hard I’m working without having to guess.
So as you can see, there are a number of ways to get fitter for playing table tennis. And while physical fitness is not that important for beginners, it’s never too early to start planning to get fitter so that as you improve your table tennis you aren’t held back by your lack of physical conditioning.