Saturday, 30 January 2016

How to Develop Top Table Tennis Footwork and Positioning (Topspin Edition)

Positioning is one of the key aspects of keeping up with the speed of table tennis, if you can't get into position to time the ball well then often you will find yourself in a bit of trouble and on the back foot in a point. This article will touch on some things to practice to maximize your ability to get into the right position for every shot! This blog will focus on how to improve your footwork in topspin situations and rallies, developing from basics to mastery! See more from my Coaching Blog.

Steps to Mastering Table Tennis Footwork

Why is it so Important to Develop Good Position and Footwork?

The timing of your ball contact and good solid technique rely a lot on position. If you are late getting to the ball then your timing and weight transfer will suffer. Similarly if you are too far away from the ball or the ball is too close to you then the amount of power and acceleration you can achieve in your stroke is very restricted.

Also if you take a shot out of position it is likely that you will find it more difficult to maintain stability and balance, making it difficult to recover for the next shot or move to even cover the next ball.

What Can We Do to Achieve Good Positioning Footwork?

Well the answer lies in footwork drills whether it be multiball or single ball drills. A lot of repetition is required. So here are my ideas on how to build your footwork from the basics up.

Point 1: Start by always having your knees bent slightly, low and central center of gravity over the hips and a little forward. Be sure to distribute your weight into the front of your foot more on your toes, this allows you to spring more and move quicker.

Point 2: Learn the correct footwork movements, you need to know a single step movement, a shuffle step and a cross-step technique. There are a lot of demonstrations and tutorials, some basic movements can be found here on Pingskills:


Point 3: Always focus on where the ball is relative to your body. You need to try and focus on lining your contact up in the right place relative to you every time. This is the main focus of your footwork drills and the premise behind improving your positioning.

1. Transition Footwork

Backhand side and forehand side alternating footwork is very important for developing smooth transition between backhand and forehand, the middle ground during changeover can be an easy place for the opponent to target.

  • FIXED: Start off with one forehand, one backhand. Gradually move wider as you improve to cover more table space. Next you may change to 2 backhands, one forehand or 2 and 2.

  • SEMI-FIXED: To add an anticipation factor try doing either 1 or 2 strokes on each side, this way you have to be prepared for the change after either the first or second ball in the rally each time.

  • RANDOM: Now add a random element. First start with backhand to backhand and then a switch to the forehand, repetitive drill. Next you can try playing random all to your training partner's backhand.
This list of drills with progression can really help build strong foundations in your game. Remember when you are practicing footwork aim for more control in your strokes so you can repeat the footwork and positioning as many times as possible each ball.

2. Pivot Footwork

See my special blog on developing the pivot forehand and drills to help improve it:





One of the greatest footwork players ever, Ryu Seung Min
3. Forehand Game Footwork

Being able to play forehand all over the table is an incredibly athletic advantage to most professional players. Here are some drills to help you progress with forehand positioning.

  • FIXED: You can start off with a two point forehand, either 1 and 1 or 2 and 2. This can be done forehand and backhand side or middle line and forehand corner for best starting results. This helps build up footwork across a short distance for playing forehands especially across the middle of the table.

  • ADVANCED FIXED: 5 point forehand is the first drill to master, one ball to each of the lines, corner, middle, corner, middle, across the table. This helps build small explosive movements across the table, covering forehand at each point. The real advanced drill, highly common in China is the 3 point forehand. fh corner, middle, bh corner and back to fh corner to start again. This creates a wide movement from the forehand pivot to the forehand wide and helps build explosive footwork over a longer space.

  • SEMI-FIXED: Random across a fixed area. Start by doing 1/2 table forehand random to the backhand. Develop the drill by increasing the forehand area to 2/3 or even 3/4 (most realistic for general play).

  • RANDOM: Full table forehand. If you can master this drill then you are well on your way to becoming a table tennis deity. The combination of random placement and the need to get in very good position for each ball in order to remain balanced and in control is incredibly difficult. This is the ultimate in topspin table tennis drills.
Ma Long doing 3 point forehand movement

3. Incorporate into Game Scenarios

You can play a number of match type games like matches where only long topspin balls are allowed. A good example is a random topspin game starting with a basic serve to the backhand, be sure to keep the score so it becomes competitive!

You can also play backhand side to backhand side games or forehand only matches. There are a lot of ways you can make drills feel more like match situations. These can be great for developing your ability to move for the shots you need to take when under more pressure.

It Doesn't Always Have to Be On the Table

Remember improving footwork is also an aspect of physical training. There are a lot of footwork drills you can do without a bat and ball.

Anything which helps you improve leg power and speed will help with your footwork. You can do rapid flurries on your toes to help strengthen your calves and make you lighter on your feet.

Skipping: If you have a rope handy then make the most of it. Skipping is great for keeping the spring in your toes and light on your feet. It has long been seen as a good way of training for table tennis and also in particular boxing!

Shuttle Runs: You can do things like shuttle runs which involve running to a point and running back then running to a further point and back and so on in intervals. This includes a lot of start and stop motions to help with direction changes and reaction.

Net Post Runs: A great one which is regularly used in my club is the net post challenge. You must touch the net post and then sidestep as quickly as possible around half of the table and touch the other net post with the same hand. You must do as many 'laps' as you can in 1 minute. This must be repeated at least 3 times.


I hope this blog has been extensive enough in helping you with your footwork and positioning, no matter what stage of footwork development you are up to there is a progression upwards to a better level! :D

1 comment:

  1. This blog is really really useful to me!!! Footwork has always been a problem for me. But do you have any tips to stay consistent when doing footwork drills? My forehand topspin technique is not very good in footwork drills, I don't rotate my waist to much

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