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The Basic Ping Pong Strokes

Up until now, we’ve covered how to serve and the proven successful paddle grips in our blog The Palpable Art of Ping Pong! If you haven’t read up on those fundamentals yet, be sure to check them out on our blog.

As with any sport, it is crucial to lock in an understanding of the basic techniques and continue to master them as your game evolves. Once you’ve mastered how to hold your paddle, the next step is working on your basic stroke techniques. So grab that paddle with your favorite grip, find a table and let’s hit some balls.

The Four Basic Attacks

The pro’s use four basic shots in ping pong called “pushes” or “drives.” The four strokes are as follows:

  1. The forehand drive
  2. The backhand drive
  3. The forehand push
  4. The backhand push

Before we start, let’s quickly go over a drive versus a push. A push is a defensive rebound of the ball, designed to negate ball spin that your opponent puts on the ball. This is done by literally pushing the ball away from you and back towards the opponent’s side of the table. A drive is a more offensive attack of the ball that creates your own spin by hitting the ball either upwards or downwards. This creates spin on your own ball in an attempt to throw off your opponent’s drive and force them to push instead.

Right. Easy enough. Let’s dive right in.

The Forehand Drive

This attacking drive is going to be your main offensive stroke as you play table tennis. The forehand drive is generally best when returning balls coming into your onside and center, although as your game improves, you may find yourself preemptively shifting to attack balls headed towards your offside. The great thing about this stroke is that it provides a natural top spin your ball and is organically low (close to the table). This makes it hard for your opponent to spike the ball on you. Finally, Depending on the angle of your return, the natural spin to the ball may make your opponent’s return shoot away from them. This is a great situation for you!

The forehand drive can be broken down into 3 main components.

  • Stance

If you’re right handed, your left leg should be closer to the table, your right leg should be further away from the table and your body at a slight angle.

  • The Hit

Your paddle should be held somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees to the table. Remember that your goal is to strike the opponent’s side of the table as quickly as possible while keeping the ball as low as possible. This prevents high bounce backs for your opponent, which can lead to them spiking you (think volleyball).

The angle to your paddle creates a natural top spin to the ball, but it is absolutely crucial to keep the angle of the paddle continuous from your hit through your follow through.

  • The Follow Through

The critical part of the finish is the follow through, which is correctly done with your torso, and not your arm swing. It’s easy to get into a habit of flailing your arm into the ball on a return, but this is wrong! Practice keeping your arm at an angle even to your body’s angle of the table. Rotate your torso to hit the ball and only once your body is parallel to the table, can you swing your arm another 30 to 40 degrees for a little added oomph.

If your paddle is hitting your shoulder on a swing, you’re swinging too hard, which may result in overshooting the ball.

The Backhand Drive

This attacking stroke exists for when the ball is shooting to your offside and a forehand drive isn’t an option. As opposed to a forehand drive, your initial stance is more square to the table to allow your reach to cover your offside.

  • The stance

When you commit to the backhand drive, you’ll want to quickly shift your body into a more parallel position with the table. Feel free to shift to the offside of your table, but the most important aspect here is to cover the corner of your offside. Your legs should be slightly more than squared to your body to allow maximum stability.

  • The Hit

As opposed to the forehand drive, you’ll want to use more forearm with this drive to almost “push” the ball away from you. You’ll be using the backside of your paddle. Remember to keep your paddle angles consistent to create the same spin.

  • The Follow Through

You should be aiming to make contact with the ball at the peak of its bounce. Practice pushing the ball and following through with your paddle to the direction you want the ball to bounce. Don’t be afraid to push the ball in a direction different from where it came from. You don’t want to get locked into a backhand position if you’re primarily a forehand attacker.

The Backhand Push

Pushes exist to counter backspins on your opponent. With a push, it is much easier to generate a counter spin and break your opponent’s lock on you, especially if they have you locked into your offside. As opposed to drives that hit a ball downward, a push strikes the ball upward and forward. You can use this push to return long balls, but try to return short balls with the forehand push (covered next).

  • The Stance

Make sure to keep your knees bent and squared to your torso, which should be parallel to the table. Feel free to lean a bit into your table, but be mindful of your elbows. The stance for a backhand push looks very similar to a drive in that you’ll want to cover the corner of the table you anticipate the ball will come.

  • The Hit

Instead of a strike that topples the ball away from you, think of the push as a brush that hits the ball from underneath. This brushing action is what creates a backspin. The more brush you have, the more backspin you’ll generate.

  • The Follow Through

As with the backhand drive, your forearm is going to be doing most of the work here. If you try to use your torso as a follow through, you’ll likely hit the ball too far off angle which will result in you missing the table. Finally, remember that the key to this push is a light return. Hitting the ball too hard could cause it to fly upwards, setting up an easy spike for your opponent.

The Forehand Push

This stroke is a defensive push that plays the ball with a small amount of backspin. You’ll use this stroke when you’re faced with a short or low ball and also effectively counters a heavy backspin ball. Mastering this stroke is crucial as the other strokes often won’t be able to reach short balls.

  • The Stance

Your feet should be wider than your shoulders, but only slightly. Your torso should be parallel to the table, but feel free to keep an ever so slight angle.

  • The Hit

Here’s where things get dicey. You’ll need to identify how much spin is on the ball based on your opponent’s hit. If the ball has more spin, you’ll want to push the paddle forward using an even amount of hand, wrist and torso movement. If the ball has less spin, you can trade off some push for more drive. Be careful on underestimating your opponent’s spins!

  • The Follow Through

This is a very soft stroke mainly used to position the ball well for your opponent’s return. If you push too far, you risk overshooting the ball and giving your opponent a point. Remember, this is a defensive stroke and shouldn’t be used to earn points. Set the ball up for a push from your opponent, then drive on your next rebound for the point.

These are the four basic strokes of playing ping pong. They’re easy enough to learn, but it’ll take time to master any of them. Unlike grip styles, you’ll need to be consistent in all of these strokes to take your game to the next level. After you’ve read up on grips, the strokes and the serves of ping pong, grab some friends and come out to Atlas 42 to test out what you’ve learned. We’ll see you there.

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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