So you’ve decided to give table tennis a try. Why not? It’s an athletic sport that can be played indoors, it’s competitive, and truly fun for all ages. To get started, all you need are some table tennis balls, 2 table tennis paddles, and a table tennis table. Once you have all the equipment in place, it’s time to get started! However, before hitting your very first ball, you’ll need to consider how to correctly hold the paddle (or some call them blades).
I’m completely serious in saying that this maybe the most important decision your table tennis game. How you grip the paddle, there two mainstream ways, will determine your eventual game strategy, the way you swing and hit the ball, how to apply spin, and also how you move around the table. It’s important you start out with a correct grip so you don’t spend time correcting it in the future when the strokes get more and more advance. You know how tough it is to change bad postures and habits.
Again, there are two mainstream methods of holding a table tennis paddle, the “Shakehand Grip” and the “Penhold Grip”. These are the standard methods and there are many other ways that are less frequently used such as the “Pistol Grip”, the “Seemiller Grip” (named after the well-known player Dan Seemiller), the “V Grip”, and more. I generally like to convince new players to stick with the standard grips as they are not only easier to get accustomed to, many advanced players are using the standard grips. If you have questions about your grip, your strokes, or other strategies, just ask around. Good luck finding someone using, for example, a V Grip in your recreation or sports club!
Let’s get started discussing about the Shakehand Grip which is becoming more and more popular. In fact, virtually all professional players from Western countries and around two-third of professional players from Asian countries are using this grip. It’s a very natural, easy to get used to grip and offers the player a truly “all-around” game. That is, power is distributed quite evenly between the forehand and backhand strokes.
Like the name (not very creative I must say), you hold the table tennis paddle as if you’re shaking someone’s hand or holding a tennis racket. No, it’s not rocket science but I’ve seen plenty of beginners hold it incorrectly. Take a look at the pictures below:
The correct, suggested way of holding a table tennis paddle using the Shakehand Grip is to extend your index finger. This allows you to better control the ball and racket head. It also allows you to know what angle your bat is on. Remember, as with every grip types, it should be loosely held so I can easily pull the paddle away from you.
Both sides of the paddle are used when holding the Shakehand Grip. Unlike tennis where the backhand and forehand grips are slightly different, in table tennis grip changes between these strokes are not recommended. Because the ball moves so much faster, there is no time to change grips. The biggest disadvantage of using the Shakehand Grip is the larger “cross-over” point, the section directly in front of your body where using a forehand or backhand stroke is ambiguous. This is where practice and experience are extremely important.
The Penhold Grip, once the predominate grip in Asia, is losing its audience to the Shakehand Grip. While this is so, it’s still the second most used grip type and offers its player a strong, attacking forehand. In fact, some of the best players at the moment are using the Penhold such as Ma Lin, who won both the Olympics singles and doubles gold title in 2008.
The Penhold Grip originated in Asia and like the name (again, where did the creativity go?), the table tennis paddle is held as if you’re holding a pen. That is, your thumb and index finger wraps around the front of the handle while the rest of your fingers are either fanned out across the backside or curled up with your middle finger pressed against the backside. There are slight variations of this grip such as the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese styles.
Although the Penhold Grip has a smaller area of cross-over, a major reason for a diminishing fan base is that with the Penhold Grip, players will naturally have a weaker backhand. The way backhands are conducted, your arm must be twisted in a slightly awkward way preventing a natural stroke that accompanies the Shakehand Grip. Penholders therefore must compensate this weakness with better footwork or in recent years, perfect the Reverse Penhold Backhand Loop.
We’re not going to get into a debate over which grip is better, the most important factor is which grip you feel more comfortable with. Once you determine your grip type, stick to it, don’t change around, and practice as much as possible. If chance allows, ask an expert or coach wether or not you’re holding the paddle correctly. Hit a couple shots with them and ask if your strokes and footwork are also correct.
Depending on the grip type you’re using, you’ll need to purchase table tennis paddle that matches. That is, some paddles are made specifically for Handshakers which have longer handles that are flared or straight. Penhold paddles have shorter handles and will differ depending on the Penhold style you use. For example, Chinese Penhold paddles will have a round head and relatively short handle. A Japanese Penhold paddle will have a squared head and an additional piece on the handle where your index finger wraps around.
In closing, table tennis is a very fast pace, precise game where correct equipment and techniques including strokes, footwork, the way your hips swing are all essential. When you feel your game has plateaued, I strongly suggest finding a professional coach to give you some pointers.