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Table Tennis Technique – Footwork

Getting your footwork right is a compulsory table tennis technique you must master if you are serious about improving your game.

ping pong footwork
ping pong footwork

In case you just start practicing on playing ping pong, the first thing that you need to do is put on some footwork training. Footwork is important because the right foot movement will have well coordination with your serves and strokes.

If you didn’t pay any attention to footwork, then without good conformity of your leg movement with your strokes, you will not play the game well and you will never get a good and accurate shot to beat your opponents. Therefore, in order to master the basic table tennis techniques, it is important for you to practice on footwork.

You need to be able to position yourself well during any game for you to have good control to keep up with the pace and speed of your opponent.

The modern table tennis game is full of attacking players, so the ability to be able to return offensive and aggressive shots will depend largely on how good you are with your footwork.

table tennis footwork

The Ready Stance in Table Tennis Technique

When you first practice the game and start to train on your footwork, you need to have yourself understand the ready stance well. The ready stance in the ping pong game is known as the ready position in which a player takes on in advance of receiving any shot or serve from the opponent. It is where the player’s movement to start a game with their stance.

The right stance also makes yourself to stay in a ready position for flexible movement to receive the ball that serves out from your opponent. At the time you can grasp the ready stance well, it is also possible for you to control your footwork effectively.

The Basic Stance….

1) Your body must be slightly bent with your arms place forward.

2) The hand holding the racket must be bent at the elbow to a 90 degrees angle.

3) The posture of your ankles and knees when you are waiting for your opponent’s serve should be slightly bent while the weight needs to be on the balls of your feet.

4) Assuming you are a right-hand player your elbow should be slightly moved to the left of the middle of the table with your left foot a little bit forward.

5) Always stand a little bit close to the table but not too close with your arm close to your body.

table tennis technique

Apart from the basic stance in table tennis technique, you need to develop a good hand and eye coordination to be able to control your footwork.

When you are in a good ready position and you have a good hand and eye coordination, your opponent cannot be able to catch you unaware with an unexpected shot that can easily take your off balance.

Your opponent can use your footwork against you if he or she can predict your movement.

You can always practice your footwork with your training partner. However, if your training partner is not around, it is still possible for you to practice. How? Well, with the advancing of technology in today’s world, you are able to practice your footwork with the aid of a table tennis robot. There are many ping pong robots available at the market and you can choose one to practice by making well use of the robot. You may master your footwork in a short period if you do it right.

The idea is to practice sideways movement on both directions, returning shots with both your forehand and backhand and always move back to your ready position after you return any shot.

Having Great Movement With Right Footwork

Many players are having good table tennis strokes but they cannot execute them well as their movement is not good. Well, let’s discuss something on how to improve your overall footwork so that you can improve your skill and play a better game.

pp footwork
pp footwork

When playing table tennis footwork and getting into position before the ball comes to you is crucial. I will give you some steps that helped me and my students to improve a lot, only with 2-3 training sessions.

1. Always play as if the ball will come back no matter what. This way you will always get back to your ready position after you have finished your stroke/serve/receive.

2. Open your legs 2 X shoulder width (this is not a general rule for everyone find the opening that suits you) approximately and sit on an imaginary chair bending your knees and then stand on your toes.

Your core must lean forward so that your whole (at least most of it)bodyweight will be controlled by your quadriceps. This way you can start jumping around WITH BALANCE (balance is very important so that you won’t be out of position after a stroke).

Check these videos for more information:

And also don’t miss out all of these videos named “Chinese Footwork part 1,2,3,4,5,6”.

Start with Simple Exercise

If you want to improve, then choose a simple exercise, 2 FH for example (one in the middle and one in your wide FH) and try to execute 10 perfect FH topspins. Then go for 15, 20, 30, and so on. Another good exercise is to receive on your short FH side and then go back fast waiting either for a BH or FH loop and then play the rally or execute the previous exercise.

Remember, if you don’t keep the ball on the table with perfectly executed footwork you will never improve. You must be totally focused on your weight being on your quadriceps and use little jumps on your toes. Executing the stroke is easy, executing 15 perfect strokes with good footwork is a much more challenging task.

Falkenberg Drill

The 3 and 4 Ball Falkenberg Drill will help to develop your Footwork, Balance, and Movement to the Ball to Return. There is a very good video of Danish Player Mie Skov doing this drill with her coach and you can watch it on YouTube to get an idea of how and why this works so well. Google Mie Skov Falkenberg Drill and it will come up.

You can set this Drill up on a table tennis robot or have a coach or training partner feed you Multi-Ball as in the Video.

For 3-Ball Falkenberg – these are all against Tospsin Balls and would be a good starting point to help develop your footwork.

Ball 1 Backhand vs a Topspin Ball, Ball 2 Forehand vs a Top Spin Ball – Step Around and hit with your Forehand Drive, Ball 3 vs a Tops Spin Ball – side-step and hit with your Forehand Drive. Back to ready position for the next Backhand. Do for One Minute and Drink Water and rest in-between for a total of 3 Drills starting out.

Later after you are used to doing the 3 ball Falkenberg drill, you can try this one next.

The 4-Ball Falkenberg just adds a Backspin Ball at Ball Number 3 and it goes like this.

Ball 1 – BH vs Topspin, Ball 2 – FH vs Topspin, Ball 3 FH Slow-Loop vs Backspin. Ball 4 – FH Smash vs Topspin.

Ball 1 – hit with your Backhand, Ball 2 – Step Around and hit with your Forehand Drive, Ball 3 is against a BACKSPIN ball. Sidestep to the ball and Brush UP on the Ball to Loop-Spin it over the Net. Ball 4 is Top Spin so use your Forehand Drive to Smash the Ball for a point. Back to the ready position for the next Backhand Ball #1.

This Drill teaches you how to move between balls and how to change your racket angle between Balls 3 and Ball 4. For Ball 3 you hit with a Slow Loop – you need to use a 90% Racket Angle to Brush UP on the Ball to create a lot of Top Spins to get the ball over the net.

The Next Ball – Ball #4 comes back with Top Spin, and you need to be ready to kill this ball. So change your racket angle down to 45% and Hit Forward and Up for a Forehand Drive/Smash to kill the point. This drill simulates a game volley point ending situation well.

Remember to Keep your Center of Gravity LOW. Bend your knees and Legs and remember to keep your balance as you move back and forth to the ball. This takes a few times, but you will get better after each session of drills over a few weeks, and months.

For both drill practices just be sure to start out slow and easy and don’t overdo it. A little goes a long way with these drills towards improving your footwork. So 1 minute each with 3 drills total is a good starting point.

Doing this will have you breathing hard at first, and your legs will definitely feel it afterward too. Just be sure not to overdo it at first, and take a break in between drills to have water, and catch your breath. So please give this a try, they are a lot of fun too.

Classic Coached Footwork

Classic coached footwork is small skipping steps.

Feet just a bit wider than shoulders.

For RH players:- If moving to the right move L foot first. If moving to left move R foot first. IE The trailing foot first.

A technique called the ‘heavy left foot’ is good for attacking balls from the FH side. Moving to R move R foot ( leading foot ) first, rotate hips, plant L foot heavy, execute shot & then R foot comes forward to stop hip rotation.

R foot should end up behind L foot with feet apart at shoulder width. See Richard Prause & Dirk Wagner teaching this technique to William Herzell on ttEDGE video clips.

Of course, underpinning all of this is to ‘expect and move early’. Read the opponent’s body language and bat and try to anticipate the shot he intends to make before he hits the ball. Not Easy, instinctive.

Ways to Improve Footwork Practice

Lately, I have been wondering how to increase my footwork. I know that a lot of practice is very important, but I was wondering what kind of exercises would be useful. I have seen some matches which really inspired me to train lately. Especially when you look at the footwork of world-class players is amazing.

Which makes me wonder what exercises are useful to increase my footwork. I thought of exercises in which one places the ball in a pattern all over the table and the other one has to keep on attacking.

I started to ask around for experts to tell me their favorite exercises, with or without a table and/or partner, and take their sharing experience to help me increase my footwork skills.

footwork improvement
footwork improvement

Shadow Play

One skill I found very useful is a shadow play. It is a good thing and gives me a clear idea of where to place my feet.

Secondary movement, when I have to mainly try play forehands and if I found I have stepped to short make that next movement. Jumping is also good as I found it gives me a stronger push off when out of position.

When I am not training at table tennis, I will try to do some squats. They involve almost all the muscle groups in my legs and I will have much better explosiveness in my footwork. I have observed noticeable improvement even after a short period of time.

How Useful is Shadow Play?

Shadow play is a training method used for the repetition of technical strokes without the requirement of a table, ball or training partner. Essentially you are just going through the motions. Some players and coaches might downplay shadow practice as an ineffective method of training, this position is not correct. Shadow play can actually be a highly effective addition to your training regime and is sometimes just as beneficial as a normal training session.

shadow play
shadow play

Adding just a small amount of shadow practice to your training can help solidify your technical consistency and really drill the technique in. Shadow practice has also been shown to be effective in other sports like tennis and boxing where it is commonly used.

Shadow play can be very useful in the event that you don’t have a training partner or somewhere to play table tennis, you can do it at home even. You can do it by yourself or in your training groups, or as seen above as part of a programme. Above is the Aerobic Table Tennis programme which combines shadow practice, table tennis, and fitness to encourage more girls to participate in table tennis.

So despite the skeptics, I encourage you to utilize shadow play, even as a minor part of your training, just to get those technical strokes set in stone 🙂

Consistency Is The Key

For those who are looking the way to improve their footwork, this is the practice you can follow. Be careful and execute this footwork the days you don’t practice in table tennis, or at least 5-6 hours before or after your training. Make sure you are not tired so that your body takes full advantage of the exercise.

Now when training in table tennis you should try multi-ball or shadow play. When doing multi-ball execute fast-paced topspins all over the table at your full speed for 30 seconds and take 10-20 seconds to break. Repeat until it exhausts you. After the first two to three weeks of multi-ball and squats, you will reach a whole different level 🙂

How to Start?

Start out by building strength up in your legs. Squats, cycling, jogging, some weights, etc. Once you have improved strength, maintain it and work on increasing balance and agility with routines involving sidestepping, shuttle runs, etc.

Agility ladders are useful in this phase. Finally, once you have improved your strength and agility, combine the 2 and work on increasing your power with jump squats, sidestep jumps, star jumps, etc. Integrate this into your practice sessions, maybe 10-15 minutes in the end and as part of your strength and conditioning program.

As mentioned before, shadow play is great for footwork techniques. Do it at the end of the table and concentrate on your feet. Work your way through the movements slowly first and build up the pace.

Focus on where your weight is throughout each movement and work on always trying to recover balance evenly across both feet as quickly as possible after each shot. Good footwork is like learning a new dance.

I have always wondered if a few dancing lessons would help a player with their footwork too. Might be worth for a try.

Differentiating Short and Long Footwork Training

Footwork is a big part of table tennis and such are written about often and in detail. Today I will take a moment to split footwork into 2 distinct groups, short footwork, and long footwork. Both are significantly important in table tennis and require different forms of drills to develop and while a player may be efficient at one they may require improvements in the other.

footwork training
footwork training

Short Footwork:

Short footwork is the small movements constantly required to recover and be in position for the ball, also called small footwork. These movements often center on shuffling and short steps but are incredibly important for maintaining body position and balance and of course not getting caught off guard.

How to Identify a Problem with Short Footwork:

Often it is body shots or a slight discrepancy in timing or position which will identify that a player is not automatically making small footwork adjustments. Usually, a player may subconsciously be lazy and choose instead to reach an extra inch or two to make a less efficient shot.

The ball goes back on the table and so the player automatically assumes the shot was a success. However, it is important to note that small footwork can make the difference between a 50% shot and a 100% shot as small as that gap in the movement may be.

Short Footwork Drills:

Short footwork drills should focus on small changes in body position. A good exercise for this is the multiple point forehand where the controller starts with the first ball wide on the forehand and gradually shifts the placement across the table to the backhand corner over as many strokes as they can manage (5-8 is normal).

This encourages small changes in placement but the necessity for a movement, as minor as it may be, for each ball.

Middle balling is also another good exercise, controlling balls to the middle third of the table where a player is forced to constantly make a choice as to whether a backhand or forehand is the most efficient shot to play and of course the target is centered on the body so movement is vital. Both of the above drills can be fed multi-ball or with a partner.

There are of course a huge number of drills which focus on small footwork movements the above 2 are just a couple of my favorites.

Long Footwork:

Long footwork focuses on larger movements and balls that are further away from the body, particularly wide angle balls and fast recovery. What is often notable is that the recovery to backhand after a wide angle forehand can often be an area which requires a considerable amount of training to become efficient.

How to Identify Problems with Long Footwork:

This is simple to identify, a player is usually not making the wider angle balls or is moving in time but not in the correct body position where they have a stable center of gravity to work with.

Also, you can see the player may not recover fast enough from the wide ball as mentioned above, this is a clear sign that more focused practice is required.

Long Footwork Drills:

Lazy Falkenberg is a drill which really helps, despite the name. The Lazy Falkenberg, unlike the normal drill, is a ball selection drill where a player hits backhands until they choose the pivot forehand.

Once the player has hit the pivot ball, the controller hits the wide forehand and then returns the ball to the backhand as with the normal drill. Start off with leniency and then try to increase the width of the wide forehand ball to really press the distance.

Another strong exercise is 2 point forehand. You can start on the middle line, forehand line or middle forehand, middle backhand and gradually increase the distance between the two shots. Mastery of long footwork is essentially when you are able to consistently hit forehands from each wide corner continuously as we often see players like Xu Xin or Wang Liqin doing.

So another basic pointer on footwork, it might seem obvious to you but it is important to distinguish the difference between short and long footwork so you can work on both. Short footwork focuses on burst speed while long footwork is based on explosive leg power, so physically they both require different types of strength as well.

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