To dramatically pick up your game, you need a solid routine of various types of drills. Here are the drills that I personally use on a daily basis.
This is the most common type of drill. I attack my training partner’s backhand while he blocks the ball to specified locations.
During these drills, I focus on:
- moving into position
- keeping my balance, and
- being consistent by making at least ten balls on the table each rally
Systematic drills are the longest and require the highest levels of physical conditioning. Examples of systematic drills include:
- 1 backhand, 1 forehand
- 1 backhand, 1 middle, 1 backhand, 1 forehand
- 1 forehand, 1 middle, 1 backhand, 1 middle
- 2 forehands, 2 middle
This drill requires more concentration because the practice partner has some freedom to change the routine (within stated guidelines), so I don’t necessarily know where the ball is going next.
For example, one drill is:
- 1 backhand (required), 1 backhand (optional), 1 forehand (required), 1 forehand (optional)
In this case, after the partner has given the first ball to your backhand, he/she can decide to give another one to the backhand or go to the forehand instead.
Once I’m consistent, I begin the same drill but I start with a serve, receive, and then continue the drill routine (as opposed to the partner feeding me the first ball directly). Another semi-systematic drill is:
- 1 middle, then 1 backhand or forehand
This type of drill starts out as systematic but ends with a game-like situation.
For example, I’ll start out with the 4-stroke drill: backhand, middle, backhand, forehand (and repeat). But after cycling through this drill twice (8 hits), on the eighth ball, I’ll hit it anywhere, instead of to the designated spot. From that ball forward, my opponent will play anywhere and I’ll play anywhere, as if it were a real game. This drill is halfway between a drill and a game situation. It combines the fitness of footwork with the creativity of a match.
In a random drill, the training partner can block the ball anywhere on the table.
In a random attack drill, I continuously attack and the training partner will block the ball to random spots, training my footwork and anticipation skills. Random drills are my favorite because they require the most focus.
To judge where he will block to next, I watch his racket carefully. Then I can quickly move my feet into position to prepare for the next attack.
(5) Multiple Locations
In other drills, I always hit to the same spot for the training partner to block. In a multiple locations drill, I attack various spots on the table, and likewise he blocks to various spots, so it’s more difficult for both of us since there’s random elements for both of us.
This drill forces me to make small adjustments with my feet and be able to change location quickly.
Recently, multi-location drills have become more popular at the world’s top training centers.
Examples of multi-location drills include:
- Cross-court, down-the-line
- Down-the-line, cross-court using all forehand
- My forehand ½ table to my partner’s 1 forehand, 1 backhand
- My full-table random to my partner’s 1 backhand, 1 middle
(6) Serve and Free Point
This is just like playing a game, but without keeping score. You start the point with a serve, and just have open play. You can have one person serve the entire time instead of switching servers every two points.
This is important to do on a daily basis because it allows you to experiment with different techniques without feeling the pressure of trying to “win”. This is a great drill for practicing new serves, new serve returns, and other parts of your game.
As stated in previous articles, serving is one of the fastest way to improve. In a game, I can sometimes win four to five points per game on my serve. This is a daily necessity for improvement. Some of the top Japanese players serve up to two hours per day.
(8) Serve Return
From the beginner ranks to the top level, serve return is the most difficult part of table tennis. Have your partner continuously serve to you so you can practice your returns.
Preparing for the Olympic trials, serve return is one of my main focuses. I benefit the most from having my training partner serve one particular serve over and over again for five minutes. During the five minutes, I focus on returning that particular serve in many different ways. Next my training partner will serve a different serve, and I will continue returning. In the last five minutes, my opponent will do any serve, short or long, and I have to choose the best return.
Multiball is one of the best ways to isolate one particular part of your game. Instead of the training partner blocking back my shots, he grabs balls from a bucket and hits each ball out of his hand, ignoring that ball when I return it. This is much easier for the training partner since he doesn’t have to focus on trying to make perfect blocks every time, and can make more precise balls, fast and slow, to various locations on the table with ease. See one of Wang Liqin’s multiball drills:
For example, focusing on footwork, I make a goal to move into position and loop fifty forehands before taking a short pause. This high-repetition practice is excellent for my footwork and consistency for the long rallies.
Another drill that I often do with multiball is looping half-long balls; those pushes that almost come off the end of the table. My partner will feed about one ball every three seconds giving me time to recover after each loop.
Overall, multiball practice is an excellent tool that all pros use constantly.
(10) Two Table
In order to push my footwork to the next level, I like to use two tables. My training partner will start multiball drills from one table while I make larger jumps to cover the distance to two tables, doing only forehand loops for example.
For beginners, I would suggest starting with your partner feeding the balls to the distance to one and a half tables. Once that is achieved, then move to two. Be sure that you have plenty of warm-up before performing this exercise so you don’t pull a muscle.
Using a robot is the most efficient way to have a quick, one-hour workout when a partner is unavailable. Unlike multiball, I don’t need a training partner, so I can practice whenever my schedule allows. I begin the session with five minutes of forehand and backhand. Next, I do thirty minutes of footwork drills like the Falkenberg or middle/corner; each drill is timed for two minutes with a one minute rest between. Next, I’ll do ten minutes of counterlooping and smashing. The one hour session will conclude with short-game and serve return. Even on my busiest days, I like to find time for a one-hour session at my house.
While this is not a “drill,” it’s important to include matches in the training mix. In order to link my training together, I like to play at least five to ten matches per week. This allows me to test my game and see how well I can execute my skills. Based on how well I perform in matches, I’ll adjust my practice the next week.
Also try to play in sanctioned tournaments, not just club matches. Tournaments tend to be nerve-wracking and can cause you to play poorly under all the pressure, so it’s crucial that you learn to adjust to tournament settings.
Becoming a table tennis champ is no easy task. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of training, but you need to use the right training techniques to raise your game quickly. Keep these in your training mix and you’re on the right track!
Samson Dubina is an accomplished player and coach. He was the US Nationals Men’s Singles Finalist in 2010. Learn more about Samson.
Do you have all of these elements in your ‘training mix’?