Backhand Footwork – Is It Necessary in Table Tennis Training?

Jena Newgarden
I recently posted a video to Facebook demonstrating one of my warm-up drills that includes hitting backhands and forehands from various locations on the ping pong table.  One top-level table tennis player commented that I should not be doing my backhand from the middle/forehand side of the table.  I questioned him as to why.  He correctly responded by saying that it is extremely difficult to cover the wide backhand if you play a backhand from the middle of the table.  He is Right!  That is…   well…  unless you have backhand footwork.

Typically, playing about 60-65% forehand and about 35-40% backhand will allow you to cover the table best.  However, for some of my table tennis students, I give some flexibility as each player/style/age/conditioning/body type is unique.  Because the forehand zone is larger, most players practice forehand footwork or full-table footwork.  I have rarely seen players practicing backhand footwork.

Before I give you a list of backhand footwork drills that I personally do, I must first explain the difference between the backhand hitting zone and the forehand hitting zone.  The forehand hitting zone is much taller, wider, and deeper.  With the possibility of reaching slightly and up or down our out or leaning in, your stroke is taller and wider.  With the possibility of hitting the forehand slightly behind, beside, or in-front of your body, the forehand hitting zone is also deeper.  The same is not true with the backhand.  The backhand hitting zone is short, narrow, and shallow.  With the primary snap coming from the wrist and forearm, you lose about 80% of your speed, spin, and control when reaching or leaning.  The depth is also more sensitive because your body is in the way; so hitting beside or behind your body is nearly impossible.  With a smaller hitting zone on the backhand, I think that you now can understand why backhand footwork is important!  It is critically important to expand the hitting zone.  That powerful backhand rip that you have is only possible in your zone.  Top table tennis players won’t often hit to your zone.  So you need to move your zone to the ball instead of waiting for the ball to hit your zone! (read the last sentence again and think about it)

Here are a few backhand footwork drills that I love:

Drill #1 (beginner level)

The blocker gives you one ball to the middle and one ball to the backhand; you continuously attack to the backhand.  This drill will help you establish the base movement.  Position your body about two feet from the table.  Stay slightly on your toes and slightly on the inside of your feet.  By keeping your racket in-front, your body weight should be leaning forward.  As soon as you attack the first ball, shuffle into position for the next hit.  Target hitting ten balls each rally, that’s a good goal.  If you are consistently make ten shots, then increase the speed slightly.

Drill #2 (intermediate level)

The blocker gives you very slow blocks to the backhand 50% of the table.  You continuously attack to the backhand.  Focus on watching your opponent’s racket so that you can predict where the incoming ball will likely hit.  As the ball approaches, watch the incoming ball until you make contact.  If you move correctly and the ball is in your hitting zone, then hit with moderate power.  If you did not get in the correct position, then hit with less power.  The drill is excellent for developing your ability to watch, your ability to move, and most importantly your ability to adjust your power based on your zone.  In table tennis matches, you need to decide (within a split second) if you should go strong or if you should just play control.  Your ability to make that critical choice, will be the difference this year in winning and losing.

Drill #3 (Advanced Level)

The blocker gives you variation blocks to the backhand 60% of the table – sometimes he blocks very soft and sometimes he applies a bit of pressure.  You continuously attack one ball to the backhand and one ball to his forehand.  This one is tough!  The reason that this drill is so difficult is because you must adjust to various speeds of the block, you must hit to various locations, and you must adjust to balls coming from various locations to the backhand 50% of the table.  For this drill, target hitting 7-8 balls each rally.  If you are missing before 7-8 balls, then ask the blocker to go slower until you get the hang of it.

Drill #4 (Advanced Level)

The blocker serves short to your forehand.  You step forward, lean over the table, and backhand banana flip to his backhand.  He blocks quickly to either corner, then the drill turns into a free point, where both players can hit to any location.  I see that many table tennis players are trying to develop the backhand banana flip; it really is a good shot.  As a deterrent for this, many opponents are now serving to the short forehand.  Backhand flipping this serve is great, but only if you have backhand footwork and are able to move for the next shot.

Drill #5 (Kids, This Is For Professionals, Don’t Try This At Home)

The blocker serves backspin long to the backhand or short backspin to the forehand.  If the blocker serves long, then the drill begins immediately.  If the blocker serve short to the forehand, then he can push up to five more times short to the forehand before pushing sharp to the backhand.  Now that the drill has started, you attack deep to the blocker’s backhand continuously for 2-10 attacks.  When you choose to attack down-the-line, then the blocker counterloops crosscourt and the drill turns into a free point with both players hitting anywhere.

As you can see, backhand footwork is important.  By watching your opponent, adjusting with your feet, adjusting your racket, and making good decisions, you will be well on your way to a stronger backhand this year.  As with any skill, it takes time.  Continuously practicing these table tennis skills again and again, and trying them out in matches again and again, will lead to success.  Best wishes with your backhand footwork!

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The Surprise Move in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
Most offensive table tennis players try to serve short and receive short.  If you are an offensive player, I would recommend that you use this strategy… most of the time.

If you serve long and push long, then your opponent will have plenty of swinging room and likely loop first, forcing you into a defensive position.  A short, low serve is much more difficult to attack because the table is in the pathway of the loop.  However, after you have used this strategy for several points, a smart or observant opponent will probably catch on and begin pushing back short.  Once he has proven that he also has the ability to push back short, your plan will be stopped because in return it will be difficult for you to use your strong loop.  For this reason, I would recommend an occasional long push or long serve to the backhand.  When pushing long or short, I recommend pushing quick, off-the-bounce for several reasons.

#1 – By pushing off-the-bounce, you will be able to disguise both short and long pushes with the same backswing.

#2 – By pushing off-the-bounce, you will be able to keep your push much lower.

#3 – By pushing off-the-bounce, you will be able to take the reaction time away from your opponent for an even faster surprise.

If you mistakenly let the push rise to the top-of-the-bounce or even drop, then your opponent will likely be able to predict a long push and your push will often be much slower.  As a surprise, it is critical that you quickly move your body forward by stepping forward with your right foot, lean over the table, stop your body momentum, and lightly brush the ball just after it contacts your side of the table.

So why should you push long to the backhand instead of long to the forehand or middle? Table tennis players have a much larger hitting zone on the forehand and middle.  Even if you surprise your opponent to the forehand, it will be quite easy for him to recover, even if the push is slightly higher, lower, deeper, shorter, faster, or slower.  There are many positions that he can contact the ball and still safely make a forehand loop.  With the backhand loop, the body is in the way.  A quick surprise push will be so sudden to your opponent that he will not have time to move back nor will he have time to rotate his body to the side.  With a small hitting zone, your opponent will likely be forced to push back, which will set up your strong looping game.

Now let’s reverse roles…  So what if your opponent uses the long push to your backhand?  What should you do?  That’s exactly what I’m going to demonstrate for you in this 2 minute video clip:

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Serving Precision in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden

When serving, many table tennis players focus on height, deception, speed, spin, and placement.  These elements are very important.  However, the main reason that you need to practice serving is to develop precision.  If you have control over your serve, it is easy to control the rally when you are serving.  Here are a few consequences of having poor precision.

A. You accidentally served long (when trying to serve short) and Ma Long rips the ball for a winner.  With more precision, you would have been able to better control the depth of your serve.  This is a very common mistake.  You were expecting a push from your short serve, but you were punished by a surprise loop because you weren’t able to control your serve with proper precision.

B. You accidentally served short to the middle (when trying to serve to the short forehand) and Zhang Jike steps in for an easy backhand flip.  With more precision, you would have been able to better control the placement to the forehand making it more difficult for him to use his powerful backhand flip.

C. You accidentally served long to the forehand (when trying to serve long to the elbow) and Wang Hao loops with extreme power wide to your forehand for a winner.  With more precision, you would have been able to better control the placement making it more difficult for him to smoothly loop with his forehand.  By serving long to the elbow, Wang Hao would have had to make a quick decision to use his forehand or backhand and would likely have given a weaker return.

D. You accidentally served short and high no spin (when trying to serve low heavy backspin) and Ma Lin finishes you off with a flip-kill.  With more precision, you would have been able to serve with more backspin, forcing him to push or give a weaker flip.

In order to master this skill of precision and control on your serve, you should be practicing your serves at least twice per week.  A good, tricky serve is only effective if you have control over it and can serve with the intended spin, speed, variation, and placement at the appropriate time.  If you have precision when serving, you can somewhat predict why type of ball is possibly coming next.  When you can predict what is coming, then it is much easier to form a game plan for the next several balls.

Sometime you should practice your serve when you are fatigued near the end of a hard workout session.  Also, make sure that you play plenty of practice matches and are properly able to use your serves.  Before each serve in the matches, consider the possibilities of various returns.  Each point in table tennis begins with a serve and return.  If you improve your serve and return game this year, you are well on your way to the next level in table tennis!

Samson Dubina

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That One Shot in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
There is one shot in table tennis that will really hurt you.  But before I tell you what the shot is, I’ll first make a couple of observations about your body positioning.

If you attack with your forehand from your forehand side, it doesn’t really matter where you attack.  You should mix up your placement – wide forehand, wide backhand, and middle transition.  Because your body is centrally located in relation to the ping pong table, you will likely be able to recover quickly for the next ball.

If you attack with your backhand from your backhand side, it doesn’t really matter where you attack.  You should mix up your placement – wide forehand, wide backhand, and middle transition.  Because your body is centrally located in relation to the table, you will likely be able to recover quickly for the next ball.

However, if you step around the backhand side and use your forehand, your placement is absolutely critical.  Most Ohio club table tennis players step around the backhand side and use their forehands to go down-the-line to the opponent’s forehand.  If the opponent doesn’t touch the ball, this works.  However, if the opponent does return the ball, it is very difficult to cover the wide forehand.  When you step around the backhand side to use your forehand, I recommend that you hit a winner.  Go for it!  If you want to hit a weaker ball, then stay with your backhand.  And when you do use your forehand from that position, make sure that you are very, very tricky on your placement.  If not, your opponent is sure to catch you on the wide forehand.

Samson Dubina

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