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Table tennis footwork tips and techniques

Mastering Footwork in Table Tennis: An Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Footwork in table tennis is a fundamental skill that should be developed from an early stage. In fact, every table tennis skill is very much related to footwork. Table tennis is a very fast-paced sport that needs to react early with speed, agility, and precision. Footwork is the combined effect of all the needed aspects to synchronize your movements in a pre-determined way that helps you to improve your efficiency. Footwork gives you the liability to execute every shot in the most effective way.

The importance of building good footwork technique is more prospective for beginners who have a tendency to neglect footwork practices that can limit their progress and overall performance on the table.

Understanding the Importance of Footwork in Table Tennis

In table tennis, it is very important to move quickly and efficiently around the table so that you can position yourself for the best possible shot. Your swiftness should be optimum, not too slow to miss the ball, not too fast to get an awkward position. Your body position should be able to transfer maximum momentum to your shots. It should give you the easiness and comfort to execute every shot properly. Footwork does all these works in the most effective manner.

Strong footwork allows you to move quickly and smoothly across the table, making it easier to reach wider shots and execute them with precision.

Footwork also helps maintain your body balance to react early to your opponent’s shot. Moreover, good footwork helps maximize your body’s potential and generate power for shots which ultimately leads to improved performance on the table. You also have the advantage to execute a wider variety of shots.

Before going into the details of footwork, you should be aware of the two crucial aspects of table tennis, i.e. stance and ready position.


Stance in table tennis

Stance is the first step of footwork in table tennis. It is the body approach before making a return of your opponent’s serve. Your stance should be relaxed and well-balanced.

Take your position nearly one arm’s distance behind the table. Your feet should be wider than your shoulder. Bent your knees slightly and put your body weights on your toes. 

Your shoulder should be slightly forward with arms holding the racket in front of your body. Use your other arm to support your balance.

If you are a right-hander and forehand-dominated player, position your left leg slightly in front of your right leg. This side-on position brings more power to your forehand shots.

If you are a backhand-dominated player, your stance should be square-on, not side-on.

Ready Position

The ready position or base position is where you take your stance to receive your opponent’s serve. It is the position where you feel comfortable covering the playing area in the minimum possible time.

After playing a shot in a rally, move toward your base/ ready position so that you can move in any direction for the next shot.

It is always easy to cover the forehand area than the backhand area. For a right-hander, the ready position should be slightly left from the centerline of the table and the reverse is for left-handers.

Types of Footwork in Table Tennis

In table tennis, there are four types of footwork patterns.

  1. Side to Side
  2. In and Out
  3. Cross Over
  4. One Step

“Side To Side” and “In and Out” are the two basic but most important footwork techniques from a beginner’s perspective.

(All the below footwork techniques have been explained in respect of right-handed players. For left-handers, it will be just the opposite.)

Side to Side Footwork

Side to side footwork in table tennis

It is the most important footwork pattern in table tennis because most of the time you have to move sideways, from backhand to forehand and vice versa. 

Take a small sideways shuffle but your shuffling steps should be quick enough. For moving left to right i.e. backhand to forehand, move your left foot first, and then your right foot. Complete the shuffle by moving your right foot followed by your left foot.

For right to left, the stepping sequence is the reverse. Move your right foot first, then your left foot, then again the left foot, and complete the shuffle by moving your right foot.

Before hitting you must stop not to disturb your balance. So the sequence is like that Move-Stop-Hit…..Move-Stop-Hit.

In and Out Footwork

In and out footwork pattern

The type of footwork comes into action when you have to move your body front to return a short ball.

To return a short ball on your right or forehand side, step your left foot first and then your right foot to bring your body close to the ball. To return to your ready position, move your right foot first followed by your left foot.

Practicing “In and Out” footwork is necessary for beginners to return short serves effectively.

Cross Over Footwork

Sometimes you have to cover a wider area for returning a ball which is not possible by the “Side to Side” footwork pattern.

To get yourself to a wider position on your right or forehand, take a wider step with your left foot and then take the support of your left foot as it is a pivot, place your right foot wide enough to get the position for returning the ball.

One Step Footwork

One step footwork in table tennis

“One Step Footwork” is useful on occasions when the ball is slightly away from your reach. If the ball is a little away on your right side, move your right foot to get close to the ball. Your left foot remains stationary and bears the weight of your body.

Table Tennis Footwork Training

Common Footwork Mistakes to Avoid in Table Tennis

There are some common mistakes at the beginner’s level that affect badly to their overall performance. 

  1. Don’t get too close to the table, you will be in an awkward position to return long balls that bounces at the end of the table. Have an approx. one-arm distance from the table to use the full swing of your racket.
  2. Don’t stand straight. Bend slightly and put your body weight on your toes, not on your heels.
  3. Don’t stick after committing your shot. Always return to your ready position and prepare for the next shot.
  4. Don’t over-stretch your legs on your stance. This will restrict your movement.

How to Improve Footwork in Table Tennis

Shadow Footwork: Stand in front of a mirror and practice various footwork techniques as a replica that you will put on the table. Concentrate to keep yourself well-balanced, and also your movement should be sharp enough.

Multi-ball Drill: This is the best drilling practice in table tennis for beginners to get confidence in their footwork technique. Hit balls fed on different areas on the table by your coach or a robot. Make use of your footwork techniques to reach each ball and execute the correct stroke.

Develop agility and speed through off-court exercises like running, cone drills, etc.

Allocate dedicated time (1-2 hrs) to work on different footwork techniques and drills regularly for developing your muscle strength, swiftness, and coordination.

Good footwork is not about sheer speed, it’s about moving the right amount at the right time in the right direction. A relatively slow player who moves correctly has better footwork than a fast player who does not have the right movement pattern.

Suggested Topic:

  1. How to Hold a Table Tennis Bat: A Beginner’s Guide
  2. 4 Essential Table Tennis Shots: Mastering the Basics for Beginners

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