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The Palpable Art of Ping Pong: How to hold a ping pong paddle

Before there existed Table Tennis Olympics, there was the spin ball. Before the chop and slice return, there was the serve. Still, before that, there was simply figuring out this one question, “how do you hold a ping pong paddle?” Well, we’re glad you asked.

In honor of our upcoming Ping Pong League, we’re using our next couple of blog posts to discuss some techniques that are sure to help your game. We’re calling it The Palpable Art of Ping Pong! …sorry, we get excited over alliteration.

Before you can go pro, you have to lock down the basics. The devil is in the details with this one, so grab your paddle and let’s get to it.

As with any sport, the variances in playing styles are quickly eliminated as the skill level of competition increases. Weaker styles are eliminated while stronger styles pull ahead. There are two major types of styles for holding a paddle: an attacking style and a defense style. The official names of these styles are Penhold and Shakehand, with one last lesser used variation called the V Grip.

Ping Pong Grip: The Penhold

As the name implies, this method looks something similar to holding a pen. Grab the paddle and let the handle rest somewhere between your pointer finger and middle finger, with your thumb securing the bottom side of the handle. Your middle, ring and pinky fingers support the back side of the paddle.


  • This grip lets your wrist move quite freely, naturally giving you a great forehand serve and return.
  • This grip eliminates the decision making when deciding which side of the paddle to hit the ball with, as you should always be using the front side (opposite the side that your 3 fingers rest).


  • Your backhand game suffers considerably with this grip. This isn’t often an issue until you get to higher skill level games, where you may need to return a ball that’s shooting away from you.
  • Your overall reach with this grip is shortened, especially on your off side (the side that you’re NOT holding the paddle). As a result, opponents may take advantage of this and attack your off side.

Ping Pong Grip: The Shakehand

This is the more popular grip style, where the head of the paddle faces upwards. Here, you grip the handle of the paddle with your four fingers, while your thumb stabilizes the opposite side, just like shaking someone’s hand.


  • This grip gives you greater control of your paddle, allowing you to play a wider game off of the table. If you get good with this style, you’ll find that you’re able to step back more and still consistently return hard to hit serves.
  • Natural feeling backhand makes it easy to return hits that are headed to your offside.
  • Opposite the penhold grip, your overall reach with this grip is extended, allowing you to reach attacks on your offside and return those pesky edge balls or reach in for those far away net balls.


  • Slicing and spinning balls with this grip is a bit more challenging, as you don’t have the natural angle that the penhold style gives you. Your serves and attacks may be easier for your opponents to learn and counter.
  • Even though this style offers a stronger backhand, it makes up for it with a weaker forehand than the penhold style.

Ping Pong Grip: The Victory Grip (V Grip)

This is the lesser used style in table tennis simply because of the learning curve. Though difficult to master, V Grip practitioners will often swear by this style, saying it adds a level to their game that the other two grips can’t give them. To correctly make the grip, hold your pointer and middle finger in a V shape, like you’re giving someone a peace sign. Rest the neck of the paddle right where your fingers connect and grip the rest of the paddle with your hand.


  • The V grip offers tremendous precision in your serves and returns. As long as you aren’t death gripping the paddle, you should be able to quickly make micro adjustments to the paddle in real time.
  • This style gives you the reach and flexibility that’s offered in the shakehand style, while arguably giving you a better forehand.


  • This grip gives you a rather unstable hitting head, which may be the reason that this is the lesser used grip. Micro adjustments in your grip can lead to great returns that are hard to read by your opponent, but it’s easy to over / under compensate. This can cause your ball to go in the wrong direction, or completely miss the table.

It’s hard to say which style is dominant. Each of these styles has their place in the highest level of competitive play, each feature unique benefits and handicaps. The safest bet for beginners is the shakehand style simply because most people (as long as they’re right handed) will not be returning balls to your offside.

Once you feel comfortable with one style, try your hand at a second. Learning two of the three styles can help fill gaps in your play and cover your weaknesses.

Stay tuned for our upcoming posts: philosophies of what makes a good table tennis player, serving, and returning serves.

Be sure to check out Atlas 42’s upcoming Ping Pong League. Grab your team, sign up, come out and bring your A-game.



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