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Training for Beginners

Doing the hard yards...

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Many table tennis beginners don't want to bother with training, preferring to play games instead. This is fine if you just want to have fun and hit the ball around a bit, but if you have bigger plans then you have to get to work on the practice table.

Once you have decided to train to speed up your improvement, a whole series of new questions appear. What type of training should you do? How often? How long? What strokes? What type of drills? And many more.

In this article I'll answer these questions and more. To write about every aspect of training would fill a book (don't worry, I'm working on it!), so I'll keep things brief and to the point at this stage.

How Often Should You Train?

The answer to this question really depends on several things, including your level of commitment, desire to improve, amount of free time, availability of practice partners and facilities, and the costs involved. So one answer is not going to suit everybody.

I would recommend at least training once a week, and playing games once a week. Playing only once a week makes it difficult to improve quickly, since you are just not hitting enough balls. Two to three times a week is fine, but try to keep a ratio of at least 70% training to 30% games. Playing every day is probably a bit much, with 4 or 5 times a week ideal for rapid improvement. Be realistic with your schedule - unless you are planning a career as a professional player you are going to have other commitments competing for your time.

How Long Should You Train?

I wouldn't recommend more than two hours for a training session - it's pretty hard to maintain concentration for much longer than this. More frequent but shorter sessions of half an hour or an hour can work well, but you must then be sure not to waste any valuable table time.

What Type of Training Should You Do?

For most beginners, I would recommend spending as much training time as possible on the table hitting the ball. New players need to hit a lot of balls to groove in the correct technique, so the more time you spend on the table the better. You probably won't need to worry about off the table training until you reach intermediate level, which is the first time that fitness will begin to affect your ability to play your best. Until then, you are more likely to be limited by your poor technique instead of physical conditioning.

Beginners should start with working on the 'big six' strokes for at least 80% of each training session. These strokes are the forehand counterhit, backhand counterhit, forehand push, backhand push, serve and serve return. Without a solid foundation in these strokes, you will struggle to make it to intermediate levels of play.

The other 20% of training time can be devoted to some 'fun' stuff, such as learning the forehand and backhand loop stroke, lobbing and smashing. As you move up towards the intermediate level the forehand and backhand loop strokes will be trained more often, but for now keep the focus on the 'big six' strokes.

Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude

Regardless of the fact that you and your partner may be opponents some day, remember that when you are training, you are working as a team so that you can both improve. When you are feeding the ball, concentrate on doing it as well as you can, so your partner is getting a good workout. Expect him to do the same for you, and politely ask him to try harder if he is not doing a good job. Good training partners are like gold - so remember to look after yours!

Make sure that you have the right attitude to training. You should be working and concentrating hard in training so that you can relax when you go out and play. Don't goof around in training, and then try to go out and work hard when playing - by then it's too late!

Footwork

I've mentioned the subject of footwork for beginners elsewhere, so I'll just remind you to use proper footwork in all of your training. It doesn't matter what drill you are doing, or whether you are the feeder or the person working harder (feedee?), make sure that you are moving your feet correctly. This will help you master the correct footwork much faster.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Make sure that you have a warm up period before beginning training, to give your body a chance to prepare itself for the effort involved. Once you have finished training, a cool down period will allow your body to return to rest gradually, and help keep you from aching the next day. I'll talk more about warming up and cooling down in the weeks to come.
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