First things first. You hit the ball with the big, flat, oval part of the paddle and hold it by the handle. That’s the basics of it. Feel free to stop reading at this point and go forth into the wonderful world of ping pong.
If, however, you’d like a bit more info on the various ping pong paddle grips, how and when they’re used, and their respective pros and cons, please continue reading. There’s a surprising amount of knowledge on this topic, and I’ve tried to cover most of it in this article on how to hold a ping pong paddle.
Why Choose One Paddle Grip Over Another?
Before we delve into the different grip options, let’s take a step back and consider why everyone doesn’t just hold the paddle the same way. Why did different ping pong paddle grips evolve? Why should you consider moving from one grip to another?
Table tennis is a game that moves at an absurd pace. Positioning your body for the appropriately aggressive or defensive return to an incoming shot must happen within a split second after hitting the ball. The grip is one of the major factors in allowing you to do this.
Another important consideration is that certain grips are more suitable for specific styles of play. As a novice, you’re not going to know which grip is best for you because your “style” will mostly involve trying to not making unforced errors. At this point, just focus on the basics, using the most common paddle grip – the “shallow shakehand.”
As your table tennis gameplay matures, you’ll find that a certain approach, mindset, or physical quality pushes you towards a certain style. Let this happen organically. At this point, a coach or a more experienced player may advise you to explore a different table tennis paddle grip to capitalize on your strengths and “plug” your weaknesses.
Don’t change your table tennis paddle grip because you think another one looks cool. Nor should you let the tail wag the dog and let your preferred grip determine your style of play. The key when exploring different grips is to let it happen organically.
The Shakehand Paddle Grips
These are the most common grips because they’re the ideal place for beginners to start. The paddle handle “feels right” when using these standard grips and enables an all-round gameplay style that’s perfect for a novice or a pro.
What the two variations of the shakehand grip have in common is that they basically feel like you’re shaking hands with the paddle’s handle – curling your fingers around it in a very natural-looking way. The thumb’s position differs slightly between the two variations, and we’ll get into that later, but both of the two shakehand grips have the following in common:
- The thumb is placed at the forehand side of the blade.
- The index finger is placed at the backhand side of the blade.
- The index finger is placed straight along the bottom edge of the blade.
- The three other fingers are curled comfortably around the handle.
The Shallow Shakehand Grip
As you can surmise from the summary of the shakehand grip I wrote above, it’s only really the position of the thumb that differentiates the shallow shakehand grip from the deep shakehand grip. For the shallow version, the thumb is hardly touching the blade. It is gently curled around the handle but placed very close to the bottom edge of the blade.
This is the most common grip for novice players and also one that many professional players stick to for their entire careers. It’s a natural-feeling grip that will feel “right” when you first take hold of a ping pong paddle. In all likelihood, this would be the way most people would start playing even before reading up about the various grips.
The Pros Of Using The Shallow Shakehand Grip
- Great way to start learning the basics of the game.
- Allows you to focus on the fundamentals rather than a complex grip.
- Allows for excellent flexibility in your wrist – making for excellent accuracy.
- Equally effective for backhand and forehand strokes.
The Cons Of Using The Shallow Shakehand Grip
- Limited power in attacking shots.
- Narrow “crossover point.” This refers to the point in time when the player makes a decision on whether they’re going to play a forehand or backhand stroke.
Considerations When Using the Shallow Shakehand Grip
Given the narrow crossover point, your body position is critical. It becomes extremely important to get yourself into as neutral a position as possible as soon as you’ve played your shot – giving yourself as much time as possible to make that decision.
Fortunately, trading power for wrist-flexibility does help with this problem somewhat because you’ll have that added benefit of accuracy.
The Deep Shakehand Grip
The major difference between the shallow and deep shakehand grips is the thumb position. Essentially, with the deep shakehand grip, your thumb is placed on the actual rubber part of the blade. Just how much of your thumb is pressed against the blade is up to you, but the experts feel that it should be relatively minimal. However, some players do choose to have the thumb high up towards the middle of the blade.
While the deep shakehand grip is by no means a more “advanced” grip, and most novice players will be as comfortable with it as the shallow shakehand grip, the latter is more commonly used because it favors accuracy over power.
The Pros Of Using The Deep Shakehand Grip
- An extremely comfortable, natural-feeling grip.
- As appropriate a starting grip as the shallow shakehand grip.
- A great grip to move to if you find that you are a naturally aggressive player.
- Enables greater power in both backhand and forehand strokes.
The Cons Of Using The Deep Shakehand Grip
- Loss of wrist flexibility when compared to the shallow shakehand grip.
- With greater power comes a slight loss of accuracy.
- Very narrow “crossover point.”
Considerations When Using the Deep Shakehand Grip
The main thing to bear in mind when choosing this grip is that you’re losing flexibility in your wrist. This makes for an even narrower crossover point. Getting your body into a neutral position after playing a shot is even more important with this grip than its shallow counterpart.
The benefit of having a less flexible wrist is having more power in your shots. If you’re coming up against a predicable player who gives you enough time to position yourself for an aggressive, “finishing” shot, you’re going to be hitting the ball harder than with the shallow shakehand grip.
The Penhold Grip
Oh man, how many times did I try to play with the penhold grip when I just got started? I’ve lost count. It just… looked so damn cool. Like, how is my opponent even gonna feel when they see me warm up with this advanced grip? Turns out he’s gonna feel pretty good about humiliating me in front of whoever was fortunate enough to watch the resultant carnage.
The penhold grip is for experts who play a very particular style of game and have either evolved into it or received coaching in using it right at the start of their careers. Try it for fun, but know that it’s not an easy grip to master and you will be compromising learning the fundamentals of the game if you start out using it.
There are three variations of the penhold grip. What they all have in common is that your thumb and index finger wrap around the top of the handle, meeting at the other end. Your other three fingers are held in various configurations on the other side of the blade. Very little of the actual paddle’s handle area is “held” with the penhold.
It is a grip that massively favors forehand strokes. In fact, with two of the penhold grips, the same side of the blade is used for both forehand and backhand strokes. This means that the player must have very flexible wrists and learn to use this to their advantage.
The Chinese Penhold Grip
With this variation of the penhold grip, the middle, ring, and little finger are slightly fanned out on their side of the blade – each of the three fingers making contact with the rubber. Typically, the paddle is held in a way that the blade points to the ground, with the blade flicking upwards as the shot is played.
The Pros Of Using The Chinese Penhold Grip
- Virtually no concerns over the crossover point since the same side of the blade is used for forehand and backhand shots.
- Exceptional wrist flexibility for generating spin with forehand shots.
- Opponents will find you difficult to predict.
- Great for players who like standing close to the table.
The Cons Of Using The Chinese Penhold Grip
- Extremely difficult to master.
- Creating topspin with a backhand stroke is almost impossible.
- The amount of wrist repositioning can cause fatigue during a long game.
The Japanese or Korean Penhold Grip
The only major difference in this grip is how the three fingers on the unused side of the blade are positioned. With the Japanese/Korean grip, only the middle finger makes contact with the blade. The ring and little fingers are held against it.
The Pros Of Using The Japanese/Korean Penhold Grip
- Even more power in forehand strokes since the configuration of the three fingers behind the blade provides more rigidity.
- Great for players who like to stand further away from the table.
- No concerns with the crossover point.
The Cons Of Using The Japanese/Korean Penhold Grip
- As with the Chinese version, this grip is very difficult to master.
- Extra power comes at the cost of wrist-flexibility.
The Reverse Backhand Penhold Grip
This grip s basically the same as the Chinese penhold grip, with the exception that the backhand side of the blade is used to hit a backhand shot. As I mentioned before, with the other two penhold grips, the same side of the blade is used with all shots – backhand and forehand.
The Pros Of Using The Reverse Backhand Penhold Grip
- All the benefits of the Chinese penhold grip.
- Eliminates the issue of not being able to impart spin with the backhand stroke.
The Cons Of Using The Reverse Backhand Penhold Grip
- Introduces the crossover point issue into a grip that’s already hard to master.
- You guessed it; it’s an incredibly difficult grip to use.
Some Final Thoughts
In closing, I’m going to reiterate a point I made earlier. Don’t base your style of play on the grip that you like the look of. Start off with the grip that is easiest to learn, whichever of the shakehand grips feels more comfortable to you.
Concentrate on learning the basics of the game before experimenting with more complex grips. Make no mistake, there are massive benefits to changing up your grip to one that suits your style of play – just make sure you do this responsibly.
Basically, don’t run before you can walk.
If you’re looking to get some more practice in, check out our overview of the best ping pong tables so you can learn in the comfort of your own home!
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