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 BeginnersAt 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 PlayersAt 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 PlayersAt 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 play 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 FitnessFirst 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!