This is the boosted Hurricane 3 rubber. And this is the unboosted one. But today, we won’t talk about the boosted Chinese rubber. We talk about how to choose the right rubber thickness in table tennis.
What Sponge Thickness Should I Choose? 1.7mm, 1.9, 2mm, or Max thickness?
In general, a thicker sponge means you can transfer more energy to the ball, and the incoming energy is also better preserved.
I’ve heard that some coaches have suggested their new players choose a thin rubber. These coaches claim thicker sponge has less control. I don’t agree with this. I think that using too thin rubber is very dangerous for new players, for beginners.
Using too thin rubbers form a bad habit
In table tennis, there is some available sponge thickness for the rubber: 1.5mm, 1.8mm, 2.0mm, 2.1mm, 2.2mm, 2.3mm, or max. So which one should you choose? What is the effect of the sponge thickness on the playing style, the spin, and the speed? It’s not only the color (black or red) but also the sponge that will decide your feeling when you hit the ball.
Some players assume that a “thicker sponge is good for topspin, and a thinner sponge is good for flat hard hit”. Is this correct? Or another says: “a thinner sponge brings more feeling. And beginner should use a very thin rubber 1.8mm“. Is it good?
There is also a debate about this “A big lie about sponge hardness”. So who is right?
For my new players, I always advise them to use the thickest and the fastest rubbers possible.
I found that new players who use thin rubbers (1.5mm, 1.9mm) will improve slower than the players who use max thickness (2.2mm, 2.3mm).
Bottom out effect
Because of the “bottom out” phenomenon of thin rubber. Bottom out is the phenomenon that the throw angle of the ball is very low. There is not enough sponge to absorb the energy, and the ball often goes to the net. To compensate for the “bottom out” effect, new players tend to hit upward.
Let’s watch this funny demonstration of Takkyuu Geinin.
Hitting upward is a very bad habit. When you hit too upward, then your shot is less consistent, and less power.
Please look at how Chen Meng, Fan Zhendong perform their strokes. They always hit forward, but not upward. Hit the ball forward is the only way to make the ball more powerful.
The role of the rubber’s sponge
But first of all, why we need a sponge in table tennis? What is the role of a sponge?
The sponge has 2 roles: compressor and energy storage.
Sponge thickness is the energy storage
The rubber’s sponge contributes 2 advantages in table tennis:
- Energy storage
For any stroke you make in table tennis, the ball must go through 3 stages:
- The ball sinks into the topsheet, and the pimples
- The ball push down the sponge (the sponge is now a compressor)
- The sponge springs back and releases the force (blade feeling and energy storage from the sponge)
That’s the reason why, for the soft stroke (like service, drop shot), the topsheet will generate spin. But for the strong stroke (forehand attack, topspin), that’s the blade will generate a lot of power (due to the stiffness). Or you will feel more your blade when you do a bigger stroke.
Compressor – Never play with too thin rubber
The sponge has 2 roles: compressor and energy storage.
Some coaches didn’t understand the benefit of this “compressor”. And they always recommend a very thin rubber to a new player. Like, “Hey, if you are new to table tennis, choose only 1.5mm to 1.8mm”. They say that a thinner rubber will give you more control. This is very bad advice!
I feel sorry for this player. Why?
It’s the problem of the blade, not the rubber. If you don’t have control then you are using a too fast blade. Change the blade. Choose a slower one. But don’t reduce the rubber’s thickness. It’s very dangerous for the new players.
Please watch this video. The blade decides 80% of your playing style, the rubber decides 20%. That’s the blade that gives you the feeling, the vibration, not the rubber. Use the thickest rubber as you can. Because the rubber function is to store energy. If you don’t have enough sponge thickness, then you lack energy, power, and spin in your shots.
Because by playing with too thin rubber, a new player will form a “very bad habit” during the stroke. Thin rubber will bottom out very soon. So a new player will hit more “upward” to fight with it, to lift the ball. But this technique is very bad. In table tennis, we need to hit more forward, but not “upward”.
And this player never knows this feeling. The feeling that the “compressor-the sponge” will absorb the ball. With the thicker sponge, the ball will sink more. This will give the sense of “control”- of “dwell” in your big stroke. Read more about the “big lie” discussion above.
History of thick table tennis sponge
In my experience, max sponges give you more spin, therefore more control. The fact is thinner sponges go long more often when hit hard. Using a thinner sponge, you will have less spin, less power.
Hiroji Satoh was the first player to play competitively with a sponge rubber in 1952. He won two medals in the singles and team events in the World Table Tennis Championships. And he used a 10mm thick rubber.
Yes, 10 mm thick rubber. In the coming years, almost all top-class players used rackets covered with a thick sponge.
But 10mm thick is too much. The International Table Tennis Federation has allowed the total thickness is 4mm. Thick total thickness is the sum of the topsheet and the sponge. The topsheet thickness is about 1.8mm, so the maximum sponge thickness is about 2.2 – 2.3 mm.
Energy storage – It’s all about the hitting power
The second role of the sponge is energy storage.
Imagine there are 2 extreme cases:
If you use a very thin sponge, thin like paper. What happens? In every shot, the ball will hit directly to the blade. It will bottom out in every shot. The throw angle is very small. And there is no energy stored.
If you use a very thick sponge. There is a lot of thickness for compression. The energy is stored, and you can hit it very hard without bottom out the sponge. But the final phase “sponge springs back and releases the force” is not fast. Because the blade won’t participate in your shot. You just play with the sponge. Which is not good for your feeling. Also, the too thick sponge would be too heavy rubber to play with.
So if you can hit hard, choose a thicker sponge from 2.1 mm to MAX thickness. That’s why top players always play with MAX thickness. Because they are trained to hit hard in every shot.
Control and Dwell-time
So what is control here? Why many new players say that “this rubber is too fast, I can’t control it.” And right away, his coach says “choose a thinner rubber. Or a softer rubber”. This is a very bad choice! Why?
It’s not a rubber which is too fast. But it’s the blade! Many coaches and players didn’t realize this. That is the blade is too stiff, and that the player doesn’t get any “feeling” from the blade. You need a good dwell time to feel the ball.
So what is the difference in terms of control when you change from 2.0mm to 2.2mm? Watch this video, you will understand:
Speed and Spin – Chinese Secret
For any thickness and hardness of the sponge, there’s some maximum amount of energy it can store during compression. If you hit hard, and you pass this limit, then the “bottom out” will happen. You should avoid the “bottom out” effect. you’re going to lose energy on the shot.
This is the main reason why professional players play with Max thickness sponge.
Thickness has a limit, due to the rule. (4 mm).
Increase hardness. That’s why the top Chinese player plays with hard to very hard rubber. To increase the limit of Energy storage, to remove the bottom out effect, and to increase the spin and speed.
Sponge Thickness vs. Speed
As you know that sponge thickness is measured in mm. And thicker sponge can store a higher amount of Energy (or catapult effect). While control also depends on the blade, the catapult speed depends mostly on the sponge thickness.
So if you hit harder, play quicker, you should choose thicker sponges. In general, here is the guideline to choose sponge thickness which depends on your playing style:
|Sponge Thickness||Rubber Rebound Speed||Playing Style|
|OX - 1.4mm||SLOW||Defence|
|1.5mm - 1.9.mm||MEDIUM||Allround|
|2.0mm - 2.2mm||FAST||Topspin Attack|
|2.3mm - MAX||VERY FAST||Power Attack|
Conclusion – Best sponge thickness
Here is my final advice:
- It depends on your hitting power. But don’t choose too thin rubber, or too soft rubber, even you are a new player. Don’t choose rubber that is thinner than 2.0 mm.
- For the backhand side, choose something between 2.0 mm (new player) to 2.2, or Max (intermediate player).
- For the forehand side, choose 2.1 mm or Max. For the Chinese rubber, you need to tune, so choose 2.1 to 2.15 mm. Don’t select a max thickness for Chinese rubber. Because boosting a Max thickness, the total thickness will higher than 4.0mm (which is illegal). The sponge absorbs the booster and expand. I’ve explained how to boost Chinese forehand rubber here.
- To improve fast, you need to train like a pro, with similar types of equipment of the advanced players.
Please comment below,
What is the rubber thickness that you are using?
- “The big lie about sponge thickness”, OOAK, 2013
- “Table Tennis Rubber Guide”, Butterfly
- “SPONGE THICKNESS EXPLAINED”, Butterfly
- “Lecture On Material”, Rowden Fullen (2007)