27 Mar 2020

Even though all our activities worldwide are rightly suspended due to the current health emergency, here at ITTF we are still bringing you some ideas on what to do in a moment when your options are limited.

by Massimo Costantini, ITTF High Performance Elite Coach

So lately I have been watching a lot of Table Tennis matches (what else!!!). I have focused more on the abilities put on the field from Champions of different countries, and soon I will share with you some more of my thoughts to better understand how Champions become Champions. But I also thought about the immense number of adoring people who want to get better in Table Tennis, so I have taken the liberty to write these few lines pushed by a question that perhaps many of you have asked yourself: and now, what do I do?

I certainly don’t want to claim the right to give definitive solutions, if only for the fact that all athletes have different psycho-physical characteristics, different playing styles, different materials etc.. So I consider one thing for sure: we’ll have to spend most of our time inside the home and maybe some time outside.

As a former athlete and coach, I think about how to use the current time for my sport, starting from what I have around me and what I have available. Let’s see: a computer, maybe a table tennis table in the garage, the possibility of going out for an outdoor fitness activity. So, let’s start with what we could do.

Imagine that, during a regular season, with an intense calendar of national and international events, travel, continuous commitments, more time spent online to organize travel from one place to another, we rarely have the time for targeted physical preparation.

That’s my first objective that I would like to share with you, the strength & conditioning preparation for a table tennis player, all the suggestions that will be given here to you are purely indicative or demonstrative.

The physical preparation of table tennis  includes many aspects of fitness exercise, in this first chapter I would think of a specific part limited to three main areas:

1) Endurance

2) Agility

3) Coordination skills

Endurance, speed-endurance and strength-endurance

(the physical ability to sustain a given effort for as long as possible)

This is the ideal time to strengthen our capacity for endurance, power and speed.

My favorite exercise is undoubtedly running in all its forms. But for this specific purpose, we are talking about long runs with a minimum time frame of 40-50 minutes of continuous and constant work. This type of work is called “aerobic work” because of the nature of the effort, which includes the ability to breathe and then give continuous oxygenation to cells, tissues, and muscles.

Of course I am not going to indicate what the pace might be, that is, the speed of the run. This is dependent on each individual’s form and ability, but, I repeat, the work must be of a long duration.

Why do we need endurance?

We need a strong body that helps us perform certain movements repeatedly without feeling fatigue, a body that helps us be prepared for the unexpected (jumps, recovery, extra movements, etc.), that allows us to develop the best possible power in our motor compartments (legs, feet, arms, hand, shoulder, etc.) and finally that allows us to work in the total absence of muscle fatigue.

Endurance work strengthens us and gives us confidence in the face of a sport performance of any intensity. It allows us to not fear pushing our body to the limits. This type of work will bring better cardio-vascular and cardio-pulmonary efficiency, it should therefore be mentioned that, from a physiological point of view, this aerobic work contributes to an increase in basal metabolism, creating the conditions for a greater consumption of calories in the presence of rest, i.e. it promotes the elimination of fat.

Another aspect related to endurance, and in particular to our sport is certainly speed-endurance and strength-endurance training.

We know that table tennis  performance, the technical aspect of it, is atypical. At times our sport requires endurance and therefore aerobic work (when for example the rally lasts a long time and we need to inhale/exhale more than once), but, under certain conditions and indeed in the vast majority of conditions, we require anaerobic, alactic  work, i.e. a total muscle effort where no oxygen is present and there is no accumulation of lactic acid (think how many times the rally ends with the third/fourth/fifth ball etc…).

Starting from this premise, therefore having to give maximum performance repeatedly in a short period of time, we can banally recommend a speed-running sequence, therefore a series of sprints with maximum effort and a duration of 8-10 seconds with limited recovery time. Why? By doing so, we accustom our body/muscle/mind to work under stress and give it the chance to recover quickly. This specific training will allow you to get ready for an unpredictable situation involving rapid sprints of a few meters without losing focus or balance while retaining the ability to perform your best strokes.

If going outside means being able to perform runs, sprints, and (why not) circuits, what can you do at home?

There are many different types of exercises that can be done outdoors, in the gym or at home, and I will just name some of them: Burpees, Sprawl, Mountain Climbers or mini Mountain Climbers, Squat Jumps, running on the spot, etc.
The internet can help us find a lot of similar exercises. There are also mini-circuits and believe me, a 20′ work is really effective. The exercises that I have indicated above all have the same common denominator, which is the strength-endurance with the active participation of the whole body, including abdominal, pectoral, shoulder, back, leg, calf, etc. just to name some parts of the body. Of course building strength endurance implies a certain intensity of work, but it is precisely the intensity of the exercise and the consistency of doing it regularly that will allow you to strengthen your body and make it more reliable and efficient.

Agility

(fluency and lightness of body)

The second important parameter for the sport of table tennis is agility.

Table tennis is perhaps one of the few sports where agility, a combination of explosiveness and quick reflexes, plays a very important role in the performance. It is now a regular practice, so that many athletes and fitness trainers equip themselves with various tools to tackle it. But one of these really is a must. I am talking about the famous Speed Ladder or Agility Ladder. With this practical tool, you can set dozens if not hundreds of different exercises that have different purposes but within a single matrix: agility. Training agility can be done outdoors, in the garden, under a porch, a beach, an avenue, a path – in short, in many places outdoors or in the gym or at home.

In the absence of the “Ladder”, you can organize yourself with the environment around you, for example, using the stairs of the house or apartment, or any other staircase available, of a monument or buildings in general. When you perform this exercise make sure to pay attention to do a rapid ascent and a rapid descent of stairs, all done obviously with speed and the very fast support of the feet on the ground; or perform simple exercises such as running sideways, lateral running cross, with jumps, running kicked behind or with high knees etc. Simply find an intermediate space of 6-8 meters and touch with your hands at two ends, repeat the action for 10-15 seconds recover and repeat it again. For “skipping” running or running with high knees, a space of 15-20 meters is sufficient: run, recover and run again. If you are in an outdoor parking lot, you can use a parked car as a table tennis  table 😊; IMPORTANT!!! make sure you exercise and perform these exercises safely. This way you can do what you usually do in the gym, i.e. running around the “table”: running sideways to the right, running forward fast, running sideways to the left and running backward. You can do this simple exercise with 3 sets of 5 runs and with a recovery of 15-20 seconds.

Another simple exercise, always using our imaginary “table”, is to run sideways from one side to the other of the vehicle. Usually with a table, you would touch your right hand to the right of the net post and run sideways to touch your left hand to the left of the net post. Work for a maximum of 10-15 seconds, recover and again repeat the exercise.

An exercise that you can also do at home (but I repeat, it is always better done outdoors) is that of simple quick jumps. First I would indicate the so-called volleyball wall, then position yourself in front of a wall and jump with your arms outstretched upwards and touch the wall at the highest point of the jump; I will not get tired of saying this, but the exercises should always be performed at the highest speed.

Of course, there are many other exercises available, and you can find all kinds of them on the internet, but the thing you have to take into account remains the same, which is: to perform quick movements by placing your feet on the ground for a very short time.

Coordination skills

(ability to perform one or more movements effectively)

The third and last group of exercises is about coordination skills, and on this aspect you could really write a book. The field is extremely wide and I will try to summarize the best, especially in reference to our activity. Again, no special equipment is needed. The ideal tool is our body and in fact, we have to consider it as a machine that can perform different exercises of varying difficulty at the same time. This way of training is useful to optimize energy expenditure and to make efficient use of the various parts of the body that can work almost independently.

Once again we have to think about our sport and one of its key factors: motor skills. It has been said many times that during the performance of a technical gesture the abilities put into practice are many. That is why it is important to have a body that is always ready to coordinate its various segments, from arms to legs, from trunk to pelvis and so on. Ours is not a cyclic sport, as are for example swimming, cycling, rowing, and running. Therefore, the ability to distribute the forces that contribute to motor exercise are even more fundamental for a table tennis player.

The simplest thing that comes to mind is the typical exercise that we all did as children: jumping jacks, i.e. jumping with wide legs, using your arms until you touch your hands up, very simple. If we have a skipping rope, we can perform many exercises using your arms and legs independently. Other exercises refer to simple running paces with different rhythms and different foot support. Ah, remember the Speed Ladder…well that ladder also allows you to do motor coordination exercises. Do you have a tennis ball? Stand 1 meter away from a wall and throw it at the wall with your right hand, then catch it with your left hand and vice versa, repeating the action several times. There are also “reaction balls” on the market that allow you to train your reflexes because their rebound is really unpredictable.

Last but not least, don’t forget to integrate an appropriate stretching routine into any of your fitness workouts.

And finally, why don’t you share a video of your fitness routine with us on Facebook @ITTFHPD?

I will stop here, for those who would like to get in touch with us and know more about fitness, please write to ITTF High Performance & Development

High Performance and Development In Depth COVID-19