Footwork patterns in table tennis: Full Guide

Move Quicker With Chinese Table Tennis Footwork

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Footwork is very important in table tennis. It’s one of the fundamental techniques in table tennis that every player should learn first. Today, we learn the 4 main footwork patterns in table tennis. This ultimate tutorial is complete, which combines 4 PingSunday’s video about the footwork technique lessons. These are the table tennis footwork basics, based on the Chinese footwork drills.

Why learn footwork basics?

Having good footwork will increase the quality of your shots. Top players focus a lot on footwork training. The number table tennis drill in table tennis is footwork. Your footwork should be “quick” and “precise”.

  • To have “quick footwork”, you should do some footwork drills.
  • To have “precise footwork”, you should learn the basic footwork patterns (Most important)!

And the Chinese table tennis players have the most comprehensive and the best footwork techniques in the world.

“To become the best, learn from the best”

That’s why we focus on the footwork techniques provided by Chinese coach.

Chinese table tennis footwork for beginners
Chinese table tennis footwork for beginners

Note: Use the “ladder drills” to train quick footwork.

How muscle memory works for footwork

Korean, Japanese and Chinese players train footwork a lot. Because they want to have the “quick muscle response” on the legs.  Training footwork drill helps you to increase the response rate of the muscle receptors.

The muscle spindle receptors and Golgi tendon organs all send information about the state of the muscle to the central nervous system. All muscles, with the exception of extraocular and facial musculature, contain these types of receptors. Golgi tendon organ senses muscle tension and the rate of change of muscle tension, which is very important in table tennis.

an example of footwork exercice to practice quick footwork
an example of footwork exercise to practice quick footwork

 

What is “Footwork pattern” in table tennis?

The definition of table tennis footwork: The optimal way to move and position your legs, it’s called “footwork patterns”.

Footwork pattern = Optimal leg’s movement in table tennis

Some players asked me “I play very well in the training, but in the real match, I play badly, I miss the ball, and can’t attack the ball”. There are many reasons for that. The main reason is, for the amateur player, they don’t know how to move after the service.

Definition of footwork pattern in table tennis - The way you move your feet
Definition of footwork pattern in table tennis – The way you move your feet

You should move to the optimal position right after your service. One of the biggest mistakes during training is people groove their Forehand topspin with their feet planted like trees in one place. So in the real match, they don’t know how to move, and can’t play efficiently.

Basic table tennis footwork patterns

We will learn the 4 fundamental “footwork patterns” that you should follow to have the “precise” movement. That’s why “learn how to move by using footwork” is crucial in table tennis.

Luckily, there are not many footwork patterns to learn. Based on the Chinese coaching, there are 4 main types of footwork in table tennis

  • 1. “Two Steps pattern”: Use after your service, to quickly come back to the ready position.
  • 2. “Quick jump”: Use to move forward or backward to the table
  • 3. “Side by Side”: Use to move from left-right or right-left
  • 4. “Cross Over”: Use to turn around, to pivot and attack the ball with your forehand

Pattern 1 “Two Steps footwork”

Use “2 STEPS PATTERNS” to quickly come back to the ready position. This pattern should be used after your serve or after your service-return. It consists of one big step and a small jump.

“Footwork pattern” for Forehand service

If you use the Forehand serve, you stand close to the table. After your service, you need to get into the ready position to attack the next ball as soon as possible. The first “footwork pattern” is called “2 steps pattern”, composed of “1 big step of the right foot”, and “a small jump of both feet”.

  • The “big step” quickly change the service stance to the ready stance.
  • And the “small jump” adjusts your feet and your body to the coming ball.
Step 1 "Quick Jump" after your serve
Step 1 “Quick Jump” after your serve

If you use more than 2 steps (3-4 steps) to come back to the ready position, you are too slow. Reduce to the “2 steps pattern”.

Step 2 "Small step" to adjust the balance
Step 2 “Small step” to adjust the balance

If you use 0 step (just stay at the same position after the service), then you can’t attack the next ball. This position is too close to the table so you need to step back.

Want to know how many steps you use during the service? Easy, take your iPhone and film yourself in the real match.

“Footwork pattern” for Backhand service

You normally stand at the middle of the table for your Backhand service. You need also quickly come back to the ready position after this service. Use the “2 steps pattern”, move your left foot forward as the big step, and the small jump of both feet as the small step.

Forehand serve vs backhand serve in table tennis

The advantage of Forehand serve is: many variation and deceptive spin.

The advantage of Backhand serve is: quickly recover to the ready position.

Using the backhand serve, you don’t need to step back a lot like the forehand serve. If you have a slow footwork, use more backhand serve in your match.

The reason why the Chinese players are so quick is they always come back to the ready position after the shot. They prepare in advance. They always make the “little jump” to adjust to the next ball. This “small jump” is another example of “micro-adjustment” I’ve talked before, which decide the quality of the player.

Move on your toe

Some players just step back but forget the small jump. This “small step” is very important, and to do that efficiently, you should move on your toe, but not on your heel. Look at this coach, she steps back right after her service, makes a little jump, forehand topspin, and immediately, make another small jump to equilibrate and prepare for the next shot.

Move on your toe, but not on your heel

Look at this coach, she steps back right after her service, makes a little jump, forehand topspin, and immediately, make another small jump to equilibrate and prepare for the next shot.

Move on your toe, not your heel
Move on your toe, not your heel

You can clearly see that the center of the gravity is transferred from the right foot to the left foot during the forehand topspin.

For the backhand topspin, the center of the gravity is in the middle, the legs are parallel, but you should also make the small steps. After your shot, you need come back to the ready position.

To the return the ball at your wide side, you should use also the “2 steps pattern”, put your right foot forward, lean your body, return the ball and quickly come back to the ready position.

Technique notes during the movement:

  • Keep your elbow close to the body.
  • That’s the foot will make you get into the position, but not the forearm.
  • Some players just stand at the same position and put the elbow forward, this way will decrease the consistency of your shot.
  • The stroke mechanism should be the same at any position on the table, use only the footwork to move.
Keep your elbow close to your body
Keep your elbow close to your body

Pattern 2 “Two Steps footwork”

This is the second pattern of table tennis footwork basics.

Remember: Footwork needs to be precise and quick.

There are 4 basic footwork patterns that every player should master. The first one is presented previously, it’s called “2 steps pattern”, used when you want to attack the ball after your serve. The second one is called “Quick jump pattern”. This pattern is used to move forward, or backward during the rally.

3 types of movement in table tennis

In table tennis, there are 3 types of movements.

  • A) Forward Movement: You move closer to the table
  • B) Move Backward: You move further from the table
  • C) Move Lateral: You move from left-right or right-left

In your opinion, which one is the fastest?

  • A) Forward
  • B) Backward
  • C) Lateral

The science of sport has confirmed that human body moves easier and quicker forwardly.

So the fastest movement is Forward. The second is Lateral. And the Slowest is Backward.

Move backward or forward

The “Quick jump” pattern is very important. It helps you move backward or forward to contact the ball at the good timing.

Although it is called the “Quick Jump”, you should not jump both feet. It will make you unstable. But that the right foot will lead the movement first.

The tip to move fast is “always put your weight on the toe, move with the toe”.

The coach moves very fast, and adjust easily to the length of the ball. Amateur players should train to have this reflex, quick jump with the right foot to attack the long ball, and come back quickly to the table.

To move backward, that’s always the right foot will push to the ground, and step back first, and the left foot follows.

Some amateur players do the wrong pattern (they use the left foot to come back first). This bad habit will destabilize your movement.

Correct Footwork to move forward and backward on the forehand side
Correct Footwork to move forward and backward on the forehand side

Footwork for forehand

For the Forehand stroke, remember that your right foot needs to move first, for both Backward and Forward movement.

Footwork for backhand

For the backhand stroke, the same principle is applied. That the right foot will step in first if you want to move closer to the table.

Proper footwork to move forward

This is the right pattern to move forward and backward in table tennis. If you stand too close to the table, it’s better you change it now.
The rule of thumb is: In a real match, or in training, you should stand at the same position that you can attack every long ball.

Pattern 3 “Side by Side”

The first footwork pattern is called “2 steps pattern”. Use this pattern to come back to the ready position after your serve.

The second footwork pattern is called as “Quick jump pattern”. Use the “quick jump pattern” to move forward and backward. This footwork is very important to move from the distance close to the table to mid-distance.

This is the 3rd footwork pattern to move side by side, lateral movement.

The 3rd pattern is “Side By Side” – How to move laterally in table tennis. This footwork is one of the specialties of Asian table tennis.

Asian footwork vs Western footwork

First of all, let’s analyze the lateral footwork pattern of Timo Boll, and then compare with Ryu Seung-min. You will see what I mean.

Timo Boll lateral movement footwork
Timo Boll lateral movement footwork

To move from the middle of the table to the pivot position, Timo Boll has used 3 steps. Let’s count: 1, 2, and 3.
For some players, this footwork could be fast.

But in the eye of Asian coach, this footwork pattern is too slow, and out-dated.

Ryu Seung-min's footwork
Ryu Seung-min’s footwork

Meanwhile, Ryu Seung-min used only 1 step to move to the pivot corner. This pattern is called as “big jump pattern”, which is also used by some Chinese players (Ma Lin, Xu Xin).

Why Asian players normally have a better footwork than the Western players?

  • Personally, I think that Asian players always try to incorporate his body into the shot. Asian players analyze the technique as the whole, entire subject.
  • Western table tennis players normally divide the technique into several parts, in the “analytical approach”, step by step.

Footwork to do the backhand to forehand transition

To move from left to right, or from right to left, you need to keep the balance. You need to move both feet. Steady footwork, don’t rush. Keep your body steady is the key to do the weight transfer correctly.

This is called “Side by side feet movement”.

That means if you want to move to the right, push your left foot to the ground and move your body to the right side.

So to move the right, your left foot must move first.

Left foot move first to go the right
Left foot moves first to go the right

If you want to move to the left, that your right foot must move first. Use your right foot to push your body to the left.

Don’t jump and lean in table tennis

Some amateur players use bad pattern. They jump and lean the body. They use the left foot to lean the body to the left.

No, don’t do that. If you do that, you will lose the balance, and then you can’t make a powerful shot.

Remember: To make a quality shot in table tennis, you should do the weight transfer. You should change the center of gravity between the feet.

Footwork to do the forehand attack on the table

To do the forehand from the middle of the table to the right side of the table, you should also do this “Side by side pattern”. However, use only small movement, and change the center of gravity from right to center.

Don't stand still in table tennis
Don’t stand still in table tennis

Even you don’t need to move a large distance like the backhand to forehand transition, in this “Forehand Half Table” attack, you always need to do the footwork.

Don’t stand still, if you do that, you will make a bad habit.

Use a “Small side-by-side pattern” to adapt to the ball position. Using footwork is also important because, without the proper footwork, you can’t do the weight transfer correctly. Now, you understand why Chinese table tennis focuses a lot on footwork.

Footwork to cover the middle of the table with the forehand

To cover the forehand attack from the pivot corner to the middle of the table, you should also use “Side to Side Pattern”.

However, at the pivot corner, you should rotate your body more (move your left foot a little bit forward), and then use “Side by Side pattern” with a larger step, to move to the middle.

Look! The coach rotated more at the pivot position (left foot forward).

Rotate more for your forehand pivot
Rotate more for your forehand pivot

So this is the 3rd Footwork pattern in table tennis, to move correctly from left to right, and right to left.

Pattern 4 “Cross Over”

We learn the last footwork Pattern “Cross Over Pattern”. This footwork pattern is the most important one, it allows you to quickly turn around to pivot the ball!

Footwork to pivot

Backhand generates opportunity for forehand attack. So after your backhand active block, you should step around to pivot – attack the next ball.

So here is the pattern to do that:

1 – Left foot moves to your left side.

2 – Right foot follows. Rotate your body at the same time.

3 – Body mass is put on the right foot and then weight-transfer to the left foot during the stroke.

4 – And finally, come back to the ready position.

Left foot moves to your left side
Left foot moves to your left side
Right foot follows
Right foot follows
Weight transfer during the stroke
Weight transfer during the stroke

Tips to improve your footwork

  • To jump on your toe.
  • Keep your heel high.
  • Always use your toe to contact the ground. This will make you quick!

This is the “cross-over” pattern. The specialty of Chinese player. This pattern helps Chinese player to use forehand to attack the ball on all of the table’s area. Ma Lin, Xu Xin, is the master of “cross-over” footwork.

Footwork to pivot in table tennis

Using the same pattern: left foot cross-over first, right foot follows.

Left foot cross over first!

Right foot follows! And then come back to the ready position!

You need to use small steps, during the cross-overs. If the cross-over is not very smooth, it is because the small step is missing.

Cross Over to cover the wide forehand side in table tennis
Cross Over to cover the wide forehand side in table tennis

The advantage of having good footwork in table tennis

That’s it! I have covered the 4 types of footwork in table tennis. As you know, table tennis footwork is very important!

It absolutely increases your level! You can follow many more rallies! The shot quality increases! And you win more your matches with the proper footwork techniques.

Table tennis footwork and stance

What is a good ready position in table tennis?

Chinese philosophy of “Standing Position” is quite clear and simple.

1) They don’t force the player to lower their body to the net. Such a thing like “Eye around the net height” doesn’t exist. It depends on your height. Some players are short, another one is taller. So there is no rule for that. If you are tall and try to stand “eye at the net”, you can’t move quickly.

Ma Long ready position
Ma Long ready position

2) But the Chinese focus more on distance, and the “weight distribution“. For the distance, you should stand not too close, and not too far from the table. The right distance is about the length of your arm from the table (around 50 cm).

Don’t stand too close to the table, it’s really bad for your table tennis.

Zhang Jike ready position
Zhang Jike ready position

3) “Weight distribution”. It’s the secret that many table tennis coaches didn’t teach the player correctly. You should put all of your weight on the toe, but not on the heel. That means the good standing will help you lean forward easily. Or if you stand right, someone from behind you will slightly push your back to make you fall down forward. This is the best way to stand because you are always ready to move.

This is the standing position of Ma Long and Zhang Jike. They stand differently. It depends on their preference and habit.

Standing not to close to attack the long ball
Standing not to close to attack the long ball

It seems that Ma Long stands lower than Zhang Jike. But both stand at the good position (that means ready to attack every long ball).

Zhang Jike is standing high compared to the net
Zhang Jike is standing high compared to the net
Zhang Jike stands up
Zhang Jike stands up

Basic stance tips:

  • Focus more on the “weight distribution”. Look how Ma Long jumps on his toe. He is ready to lean forward, to fall forward.
  • You can clearly see that. “Eye on the net” is a bad advice for your standing. Zhang Jike quickly stands up when the opponent is about to serve (throw the ball up).
  • Zhang Jike looks down his racket to estimate the right distance from the table.
  • So remember: the distance from the table is much more important than the height of your standing. If you are tall, you can stand high.
  • No need to bend the knee, just to have the eye on the “ball” but not on the “net”.
Zhang Jike looks down his racket to estimate the right distance from the table
Zhang Jike looks down his racket to estimate the right distance from the table

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Susan Wakeman
Susan Wakeman
2 years ago

I am impressed with two things:
1. Your vast knowledge
2. You ability to share that knowledge in English.
Thank you!

Wilfried
Wilfried
2 years ago

Hello Coach, I have two questions i’m wondering about footwork – What about short push on the wide FH, should i just move in my right leg under the table or move my left leg first then my right leg in order to not have my legs too wide apart and a good balance ? – And for FH serve, we sometimes see players hit the floor to do a noise with their left leg if i’m correct. Then they push with the left leg do to the ‘big jump’ to come in position but in the end we can… Read more »

emratthich
emratthich
2 years ago

wilfried
for the forehand short push. you should move your rightfoot (for right-hand player) first to step in. and then use “quick jump” to come back to the ready position

for the service. some players storm to hide the contact sound. i will explain it later.

bests.

Wilfried Rouqu
Wilfried Rouqu
2 years ago

Thanks 🙂

Kakours
Kakours
3 months ago

Hello coach,
I can’t grasp were should the toes point when I hit the forehand to make good weight tranfer and hip rotation.I’ve studied some videos of Waldner hitting inside out forhands and he seems to rotate his left toe outwards when his tranfers his weight.Could you please explain the movement of the legs?

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