Saturday 17 January 2015

The Importance of A Loose Elbow in Table Tennis

This may sound like a very odd topic title, granted it is a little strange, but it is important. A lot of new and developing players have trouble learning strokes and a common problem is the tightening of the elbow. Sometimes the swing is too big, or the elbow is locked when playing a shot which results in the stroke centering around a swing from the shoulder. See more from my Coaching Blog.

Why Is a Loose Elbow Important?

Firstly let's talk about the consequences of a tight elbow. A tight elbow results in tightening of the tricep and also forearm and prevents the ability to maintain good touch. A grip on the handle too tight can also have a similar effect.

In a game where touch is so important and minute changes can create big differences in the impact on the ball and the results, the over-tightening of muscles can have a detrimental effect. Here are some examples.

  • A tight full arm swing is much harder to control and focuses on the shoulder too much, this reduces accuracy and the ability to transfer speed into the ball as a shoulder swing is slower.
  • A tight arm swing without full extension limits the speed transfer of the ball as the player is controlling the pace of the swing with their arm and thus may disrupt the balance and mechanics of the stroke.
  • A tight extended elbow when pushing long or short limits control and usually causes the ball to bounce higher off the bat.
  • A tight elbow often prevents a correct backswing for looping strokes.
  • Swinging through the shoulder can often result in muscle knotting, shoulder pain and potential further injury of the rotator cuff etc.
The Master of Relaxed Play and Touch
Jan-Ove Waldner

Benefits of a Lose Elbow

  • Helps a more natural backswing where the body turns and allows the bat to naturally drop in a controlled manner. This means the player is able to start below the ball each time when they wish to play with more topspin and the swing is more natural.
  • The arm becomes more of a follow-through to the real weight transfer which comes from the legs and core muscles, a relaxed arm results in the most accurate and efficient transfer of weight.
  • Additional flexibility of the elbow allows greater touch and control which will allow more pace and spin variation and also helps keep the ball low to the net, especially in short and long pushing situations.
  • Easier to make controlled adjustments to swing and angle of bat.

In a sport like table tennis it pays to be relaxed in many facets of the game (you can read this blog by Ben Larcombe on How to Play 'Relaxed' Table Tennis), but personally I think the elbow is one of the key components in the sport for which it is vital to remain loose and flexible. Hope this was useful and gives you something to think about or check on next time you play :)


  1. Been following your comments for some time - once again agree with statement, find myself playing much better when I don't tense up, usually when I see my opponent as a LESS formidable player (eg..same player/different occasions - in a friendly game, more often win - in a tournament, usually other way round. PS..What am I supposed to do with the " I am not a robot" statement - as clicking on it or trying to type in box, makes no difference ? PS sorry, went back to box and clicked it.....came up with a TICK ok.

  2. Please some advice how to gain loose elbow.


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