12 May 2020

Join us for a new "Stay At Home" episode, of course we hope that staying at home will be finished as soon as possible.

Today we are talking about a topic that really concerns and interests us all: returning to the table tennis table.

by Massimo Costantini, High Performance Elite Coach

How best to restart your training practice? With what loads? What kind of drills?

We will give you some tips that may be beneficial when returning to regular training and returning to your best shape.

Gradualness

Once the local governments announce that we can return to training, the main consideration to keep in mind is gradualness.

You have to avoid the mistake of resuming the sessions with maximum intensity and duration. The desire to restart training may be overwhelming, so pacing yourself will be a necessary element.

It is similar to setting off too fast at a running race: starting off too quickly tends to end in shortness of breath and a subsequent loss of speed, as the effort and breathing are not co-ordinated. We have to be cautious, educated, and disciplined.

Graduality is important because your body must advise you on how to push it further but it is certainly necessary to accustom the body; it is like in a dialogue. We say something to another and they respond with their inner and outer reactions. Therefore, we must stimulate it, let it rest, wait for adaptation; we must be able to anticipate its responses.

Wanting to give a hierarchy to the gradualness, I would indicate a sub-category, the duration of the training session and then the drills with three main objectives: the duration of drills, quality of drills, type of drills.

Duration of training session

The duration of training sessions will certainly differ from a normal period of training and competition.

You may not have played for roughly two months, stopping when your fitness was at its peak while preparing for the World Championships and Olympic Qualification.

After only a few days, your muscles are decreasing in tone. From an initial enthusiasm for the novelty that happened to us and the thrills of a new lifestyle, a sort of uncertainty and frustration is emerging.

The more time passes, the more your physical and mental fitness gives way to a sense of resignation with just the thought of resuming as soon as possible.

Let’s try to manage the desire to restart progressively. My advice is to start with one hour per session for the first two or three days, as if to become familiar with the environment and enjoy the sense of achievement. Next I would increase the duration up to two hours for the next seven to ten days until finally the optimal three hours per session can be achieved.

Individual needs

Of course, this simple idea is on a general basis, so individuality could also indicate different loads; listen to your body. For example those who have had the opportunity to play at home with partners or robot machines may be able to progress more quickly than those who have only had the opportunity to practise their service.

Some of you may have been following a fitness programme. In short, there will be exceptions.

That’s just it, someone might say, “I’ve been exercising every day and I feel ready to get started”.

Very well but this has nothing to do with the “pongistic” effort, which is really specific; in fact, one of the most interesting topics is the relationship between technical “pongistic” gesture with its interactions and specific physical preparation.

We have said and repeated that our sporting gesture is neither cyclic nor static, so a physical preparation of the gesture outside the context of the table is still the subject of study and evaluation.

Where to begin

So once training at the table has resumed, where to begin?

First of all, let’s move away from the table, make sure we have our training shoes on and stay on the subject of body warm up. The principle of gradualness also applies to the warm up.

A light general stretching, preferably dynamic, with the aim of stretching the muscle groups that we will need for our sport’s performance.

After an initial muscle adaptation, I would switch to simple and slow motor coordination exercises. Continue with a jog at different gaits, with the whole warm-up lasting about 10 minutes.

Now we’re ready for the table.

Drills

We must give ourselves an idea of the work at the table. We have three aspects to take into account: the duration, the quality, the type of drills.

The duration

If we have followed the concept of gradualness, we must follow the same logical method for this aspect too. The exercise should be done for five to six minutes and then switch to your partner. In between the drills, take a couple of minutes to relax and then start again with another exercise.

Once we have increased the duration of the session, then we will also increase the duration of the drills to the nine – ten minutes we’re used to playing.

Quality

Once we’re at the table, we have to decide what to do. Most of you would probably love to play a game but we’d better not.

Give up that desire. Just think about the fact that the game imposes unexpected and maximal movements, our body is not ready. Maybe our mind is, or rather our desire is; training games at this point will only result in unpleasant muscular pains that could slow us down on the path to recovery of shape.

The main objective is to restore the biomechanical compartments involved in the specific movement, so top spin, block, counter topspin, and basic footwork movements with lateral movements, pivot, half step and cross step. The operative word is indubitably consistency.

Drills such as diagonal forehand topspin, or diagonal and down-the-line are the most useful. Also backhand top spins with various placements or top spins from two or three positions with a fixed placement. All these ideas of drills should be performed aiming for the highest consistency and possibly checking the good repetition of the technical gesture and leg movement.

Duration

During our drills we have to give ourselves a target for the duration of each rally. In my opinion, a number of 12-16 balls played per rally is a good goal. The quality will have to be constant and the partner will have to return the ball continuously; for the moment, we do not need to change the spin or speed; this will happen later, when we will talk about part two.

After the first group of sessions, after the first three days, we can move on to increase the number of balls to play for each rally, maybe going up to 24 or 30. The fact of setting a duration goal is always stimulating and helps to improve self-esteem. However, in order to do this, as mentioned above, it is important to verify the correct execution of the stroke. Try to be disciplined with yourself.

Types of drill

In the previous paragraph I had already mentioned some types of drills that were intentionally simple, elementary, where the basic aspect is a priority.

There is another group of drills that is also a priority and that, perhaps more importantly, that we could draw our attention to in this first phase back to the table: the transition.

In order to find again the best motor co-ordination and, ultimately, your form, it is fundamental to restore the concept of transition between the two wing strokes, the forehand and the backhand. The simplest of all transitions is the backhand / forehand played with continuity. This simple scheme could be implemented with multiple combinations of strokes, e.g. two backhands / one forehand or vice versa. Or the same with a pivot movement.

Simplicity

I recommend at this stage, once again, to maintain the simplicity of the drills and focus on absolute consistency of the ball for both the active player and the partner.

After a few days, we can move to more complex drills such as “middle and corners random” or “full table random” or “one or two for each wing” but before doing this make sure you have reached a good degree of transitions where the arm, trunk and legs move in sync for the best success of the shot.

At the end of the session you can certainly do some physical strengthening and conditioning exercises; once again, don’t overdo the quantity and then it will be time to conclude your training session with a good cool down session made of stretching; this time static.

I recommend that you’re ready to go back to the table tennis hall with more desire than usual.

So, here we have to say goodbye. We’ll talk again soon for part two.

High Performance and Development Coaching In Depth Massimo Costantini