“Hand Not Shoulder” – The Secret to Effortless Loops (Part 2)

Last week I shared “Pause & Snap“, one of my many table tennis mantras, as the secret to effortless forehand and backhand loops.

This week, I’m disclosing another table tennis mantra that I believe will help you add quality to your looping – especially if you find yourself too tense/stiff. Harrie often gets stuck playing very “big” loops because his arm is all locked up, but this motto seems to help!

“Hand Not Shoulder”

I say this a lot. Particularly when I’m coaching Harrie. I got it from Alex Perry (an ex-England player and coach). Here’s the gist of what he said to me during one of our training sessions at Grantham Academy back in 2009…

Beginners play table tennis with their shoulder, swinging their whole arm at the ball. As they improve they begin to play more with their elbows, giving them a bit more control and spin. Good players play with their hands. They learning ‘feeling’ and this is all in the hand – below the wrist. The professionals play with their fingers!

It was an idea that immediately made sense to me, and I’ve been using it myself ever since.

  • The beginner serves with his shoulder. Paul Drinkhall serves with his fingers.
  • The intermediate player hit a backhand with his elbow. Liam Pitchford does it with his fingers.

Now learning to play table tennis ‘with your fingers’ is going to take time. That’s the end goal. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. These guys are professionals for a reason. They’ve been working at this every day for 15+ years.

But… I believe most intermediate players are able to master playing with their hand (instead of their shoulder or elbow) fairly quickly – provided they start consciously thinking about it in training.

The shoulder loop vs the hand loop

Spotting the visual difference between a ‘shoulder loop’ and a ‘hand loop’ isn’t easy. Experienced coaches will be able to do it and tell you whether you are doing it right or not, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to see it.

However, you should be able to feel the difference.

Harrie’s forehand loop is often very ‘shoulder-y’. This is just one of his natural bad habits. But once I start saying “Hand Not Shoulder” to him he’s quickly able to change from a ‘shoulder loop’ to a ‘hand loop’.

It’s not that he can’t do it. It’s just that he often isn’t doing it by default.

I believe that a lot of intermediate players are the same. That’s why “Hand Not Shoulder” is my second secret to effortless loops. Keep saying it to yourself over and over and I reckon you’ll be able to add a lot of quality to your current loops without really having to change anything.

Just the act of thinking “Hand Not Shoulder” while you play should immediately enable you to play better quality forehand and backhand loops!

Try it yourself…

Why don’t you give it a go next time you’re knocking up and looping against a friend? Just keep telling yourself “Hand Not Shoulder” as you loop and focus on brushing the ball with your hand, whilst still keeping the rest of your loop technique the same.

It works for all of the loop variations – slow loops, fast loops, and loop drives.

This has to be one of the easiest ways to immediately add quality to your loops, without spending loads of time and money on extra coaching/training.

And don’t forget last week’s mantra either, “Pause & Snap“. In fact, perhaps you can either combine the two to create some sort of super looping mantra… “Pause & Hand” – wait a split second and then fast brush with your hand.

Good luck with your looping!