Table Tennis Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Table Tennis stretching exercises to improve your game and do away with table tennis injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published November 22, 2010 | Updated August 10, 2017
Long before table tennis was allowed as an Olympic event, it was played in Britain in bars, pubs and basements since the 1800’s. As per one account, it was played by the royals like court tennis but was brought indoors during inclement weather.
Some say that bored military men posted away from home invented the game. It was called "whiff-whaff" at that time and was played with whatever was handy. Often, sturdy books were used to whack wine corks and pebbles.
The game underwent a number of changes in the intervening period. The act of hitting little balls back and forth over a small net on top of a table was the only constant. Around the early 1900’s, unofficial championships and title exchanges became popular.
Over the years, table tennis balls became bigger so that they could be seen easily on television screens. The end score was also reduced from 21 to 11 to make the matches shorter and retain viewers’ interest in the game.
Even though the sport is played on a smaller scale as compared to lawn tennis, the number of muscles used throughout has definitely not been scaled down. The same muscles that are used primarily for sports such as racquet ball, squash and tennis are all in play here:
Ankle: The primary ligaments of the ankle are the medial, which is on the inside, and the lateral, on the outside. The lateral ligament is actually made up of three smaller ligaments that connect the fibula, talus and calcaneus bones. When you twist or roll your ankle, these are the ligaments that are sprained or ruptured. The medial ligament is bigger and thicker than the lateral, making it harder to injure. It connects the tibia to the talus and calcaneus.
The muscles that originate at the lower leg are attached to the bones in the ankle and foot, which helps produce motion within the ankle and foot. These include the calf muscle group, known as the gastrocnemius and the soleus, help with lifting and pointing of the foot. While the peroneal muscles, lie on the outside and help with stability. The peroneal tendon, Achilles tendon, and extensor tendons, are also found in the ankle, and may also be common sites for tendonitis of the ankle.
Knee: There are four major ligaments in the knee, responsible for knee stabilization:
The MCL and LCL are the inside and outside of the knee, and provide for side-to-side movement. The ACL and PCL are inside the joint itself, and keep the tibia and femur working in harmony. Of these, the ACL is commonly the first ligament to be injured in sports accidents.
There a lot of muscles that connect in some fashion to the knee. The first group, the quadriceps or thigh muscles, start at the hip and extend down the front, joining into the patellar tendon at the tibia, just below the kneecap. They straighten out the knee when contracted. The hamstrings, those muscles that run down the back of the upper leg, connect at the medial and lateral sides of the leg, just below the knee joint. These bend your knee when contracted.
Shoulder: The primary ligaments that should be stretched before play are the anterior or front, posterior or back, and the inferior or bottom ligaments. They become tighter at different motion ranges of the shoulder, and should be loosened before heavy use. The rotator cuff is actually comprised of four different muscles. These provide stability to the shoulder joint during activity.
Other stabilizing muscles in the shoulder area include the rhomboids and trapezius. The deltoid is found on the outside of the upper arm, and provides stability for upward movements. The rotator cuff tendons, as well as the biceps long tendon are the most commonly injured amongst the connecting tissues of the shoulder.
Elbow: The two muscles responsible for flexion and extension of the elbow are the triceps and the biceps. The biceps are on the front of the upper arm, and the triceps are on the back, and together with the wrist flexors and extensors take the brunt of stress during swings, both forearm and backhanded.
Most Common Table Tennis Injuries
The most common injuries associated with table tennis include sprained ankles, rotator cuff tendinitis, lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis and lower back pain. These injuries are typically caused by either not warming up before a game or because of overextension of the muscles.
Although table tennis is not a contact sport, players can get over enthusiastic from time to time and overextend themselves, putting strain on all of their muscles. Even the friendliest game of table tennis can get quite intense and without proper preparation, the muscles are more likely to get injured. Taking the time to stretch and warm up will help you extend yourself for a ball that is almost out of reach without injuring your muscles. There is also an increased risk of repetitive strain injuries from too much practice and play.
Sometimes, injuries connected to table tennis can also come from freak accidents: dropping and stepping on the tiny balls causing a fall, running around tables and tripping or twisting ankles and slipping on water spills.
Injury Prevention Strategies
The first step to a fun, injury-free experience is to use the right equipment; from the right pair of shoes to the appropriate table tennis bat.
A proper warm up session before and between games is key to preventing muscle strains and sprains while keeping the energy flowing. While you will need to focus mainly on the elbow and the joints of the shoulder, stretching the back, knees and ankles are equally important.
Cross training between tournaments is also essential. Cross training should consist of aerobic activities such as running and swimming as well as strength training of the core. The core provides extra stability for the entire body and is essential for preventing fatigued muscle injuries during play.
The Top 3 Table Tennis Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for table tennis; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Assisted Reverse Chest Stretch: Stand upright with your back towards a table or bench and place your hands on the edge. Bend your arms and slowly lower your entire body.
Rotating Wrist Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
Single Heel-drop Calf Stretch: Stand on a raised object or step. Put the ball of one foot on the edge of the step and keep your leg straight. Let your heel drop towards the ground.
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Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden or play your favorite sport without “paying-for-it” the next day.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.