Techniques for an optimal stroke timing

This post determines principles to ensure  the best possible stroke quality regarding the stroke distance and the amount of knee bending.

0) Preparation

As preparation we consider our swing range for a certain shot, let’s say a forehand loopkill and save the image of the starting point, end point and arc of the blade in our mind.

1) Ball wrapping

A common tip to ensure a good stroke is to imagine that we wrap our bat around the ball.

Tennis players might know the problems, which arise from using this idea in a wrong way. Because the ‘wrapping’ can be seen during the stroke, people falsely thought that you actually have to wrap the wrist and lower arm at the ball contact. This led to many wrist injuries and tennis elbows due to overloading the lower arm. Luckily our ball impact isn’t as heavy as a tennis ball impact but we can nevertheless damage ourself or get used to this bad technique.

To state it clearly, at the moment of ball contact, we don’t use any kind of rotation in our wrist or lower arm to change the blade angle. The only wrist rotation which is allowed this the forward snap of the wrist from the backswing, but this forward rotation doesn’t change the blade angle.

If we remember the really short nature of a ball contact, we immediately see how stupid it is to believe, that we could wrap the bat around the ball in this short time.

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Situation 1,before ball contact. – We’re free to adjust to blade angle and it obviously doesn’t influence the ball.

Situation 2,right at ball contact. – We can’t change the blade angle anymore and influence the ball with exactly this blade angle.

Situation 3, after the ball contact. – We can’t influence the ball anymore.

After we understood this typical fallacy we can go on and use the concept in the proper way.

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The idea of ball wrapping is shown in the left half of the above picture. We start with a vertical bat angle and gradually close it during the swing. On the right side, a swing with a constant blade angle.

The advantages of using the left model are:

  • if we hit the ball at the arcs midpoint we can be sure to have a good blade angle (not too close not too open )
  • we can change the blade angle closeness at any time ( beside the ball contact itself ) and follow through smoothly ( try to change the bat angle in the second model during the flight and notice the difference )
  • the change is continuous ( imagine the bat as tangent to the arc )

2) Best contact point during the swing

Due to the nature of a table tennis stroke, it’s best to hit a ball exactly at the middle of this arc, given that we have a proper technique. This point is roughly at the same height as our throat. This leads to the first rule of thumb:

  •  [Height – general rule] We lower our stance until our throat is on the same height as the point where we want to hit the ball.

This can be achieved through bending the knees or leaning in one direction. If we have problems imagining this concept with the throat we can equally choose the right shoulder as anchor point.

As example, study Zhang Jike below and pay attention to the height of his ball contact point and his right shoulder.

Another, slightly different way to formulate the above thought:

  • [Height – specifically for net-high balls] We lower our stance until our hip bone ends at table level.

The last definition is more suitable for balls which are roughly at or above net height.

Take a look at Zhang Jike below and compare the point where his shorts end ( waistband ) and the table height as he counterloops to see this concept in action.

The answer to the question why this works is still lacking and is given in the next paragraph.

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Consider the left picture above. It shows the frontal view of a possible arc, limited through the physique. As we see, the best ball contact point ( green ) is always on the same height as our corresponding shoulder ( black dot ) or throat ( red dot ).

The second picture on the right shows why putting the hips at table level ( blue rectangle ) and adding the net height ( second blue rectangle ) delivers an optimal height to hit balls which are roughly at net height with the optimal arc midpoint ( green ).

3) Hitting distance

Many players make the error of standing too close to the table compared to where they want to hit the ball ( usually the highest point ), especially at the backhand during the serve receive. What then happens is obvious, they hit the ball before the green point and have insufficient speed for the incoming ball. Hence the next  rule of thumb:

  • [Distance of the receive position]  Imagine a long serve which hits the base line of your backhand side of the table.  Now imagine the point where we want to hit this ball and change the distance to the table until the stroke arcs midpoint matches this position. This is the best receive distance for long balls.

A short test routine to find this distance is shadow practising a backhand loop in a loop and slowly get closer to the table until the arcs midpoint matches the desired hitting point. This routine simultaneously finds the best range for the forehand swing against long balls.

We also remember that a large swing enables us to use great power but is energy consuming, time demanding and lacks control. On the contrary a small swing, for example on a block stroke, is energy efficient, has a high control, a good regeneration time but low power. Given such a short swing, we don’t benefit from applying the concept of the arcs midpoint and can therefore stay as we want to, ignoring the above rules.

To give another example, compare the usual counterhit with a powerloop. We don’t benefit of a low stance while counterhitting and stay more straight. Powerloops greatly benefit from the above rules and even demand it.

If we stand too straight during a powerloop, we hit the ball at the beginning of the swing and don’t have power to overcome the incoming spin.

4) Summary – Steps for optimal strokes

1. Predict the trajectory of the incoming ball

2. Choose the point on this trajectory where you want to hit the ball.

3. Bring ourself into a position where you can strike the ball at this position in your desired striking distance ( far / close ).

4. Meanwhile, move your right shoulder (throat) to the same height as the ball point where you want to hit.

Or ball specific:

  • high ball: stay as straight as possible / ignore this concept
  • medium high ball: hips at table level
  • low / backspin balls: shoulder at ball height

5.Hit a winner ;).

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8 comments on “Techniques for an optimal stroke timing

  1. Your articles are awesome. The ideas about table tennis equipment are best ever I read, besides the way you approach to tactics is very original and useful. Thank you very much.
    The only article that makes me doubt is this one. I have read books like Don Olsen´s PATT, I have asked some professional coaches and they recomend me to use a straight path mechanism. I don´t know if they shut up something or not. Please can you give more information about this question or where read more about this?
    Thank you very much.

    • Hi Carlos,

      first, thank you for your kind words.

      Second, don’t worry, I’m sure your trainers and myself don’t differ but just phrase it differently. Here‘s a nice side view of ZJK vs FZD. Go to 0:50 with the slowest replay speed and watch ZJK. At the beginning the tip of his blade points to the ground. As he rotates into the ball and then finally hits the ball, the blade angle gets gradually more closed. Thats what I meant with ‘curved’. Of course his arm swing is straight, which is probably what your trainers are trying to tell you.

      With the curved vs linear path I just wanted to show, that you don’t need to ‘lock’ your desired blade angle at contact right from the backswing to the point where you hit the ball, but you can gradually get there with your swing. Of course your arm gets accelerated in a linear way, if you aren’t made of rubber atleast ;).

      I’ll probably change the description and graphic in near future with/to a ‘diashow type’ in-game example as given in the video above. But I have to get the ITTF approval first.

      Hope that didn’t confuse you more than it helped ;). I also like to apologize in case the article confused you too much in the first place and prevented you from getting better.

  2. Hi, great article! I have a comment on the ideal spot to hit the ball. In your diagram it shows the arm moving straight from bottom to top whereas in an actual stroke, the forearm snaps forward/bends, which you stated in the beginning of the article. Does this change the optimal contact point?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Sam,

      as you’ve said, the stroke is dynamic.

      Depending on how much power you want to use (wrist,forearm, arm, amount of backswing etc.) your total “swing trajectory” changes.

      Imagine a full arm swing with maximal power. Now your optimal contact point is slightly before the arcs midpoint because you need a larger follow through to stop your blade without damaging your ligaments and muscles with a too short deacceleration phase.

      On the contrary, a short wrist snap with a little forearm close to the table the contact point moves closer to the midpoint of the much shorter swing trajectory, where you don’t need much backswing nor follow through.

      The most importatant thing beside your position to the ball and the contact point is your ability to maximize your speed of all participating parts during the contact point. If you accelerate your arm furiously after you hit the ball and make a ridiculusly large hip rotation for the follow through part it might look powerful but you just waste energy because everything which happens after the ball contact doesn’t influence the ball for obvious reasons.

      Again, your personal best contact point is the point where you actually want to hit the ball and where you are able to accelerate it maximally. Visual rule of thumbs where given in the text to achieve this,

      Did this answer your question?

  3. Pingback: Handling high, spinny topspin balls | Thoughts on Table Tennis

  4. Pingback: Playing against long pimples | thoughtsontabletennis

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