When trying to become a better ping pong player, many people wonder if they should switch to a different grip.
Changing your grip is a big-time investment since it’s almost like becoming a beginner once again. So it’s important to be sure about changing the way you hold the paddle. You need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each type of grip.
There are two main ways of holding a ping pong paddle: a penhold grip and a shakehand grip. The shakehand grip is the most common way of holding the paddle for westerners, and the penhold grip is used traditionally by Chinese players.
The Shakehand Grip
This is how most westerners hold a ping pong paddle, but it’s used in Asia as well. It’s called the Shakehand because the grip is very similar to how you would shake someone’s hand. There are two variations of this grip, called the shallow shakehand grip and the deep shakehand grip.
The difference between the shallow and deep grip is hard to notice, but they offer slight advantages and disadvantages. For both grips, the index finger is resting across the back of the paddle. You should be able to see the edge of your index finger coming out from behind the paddle blade.
However, in the shallow shakehand grip, the thumb is resting on the handle, while in the deep shakehand grip, the thumb rests on the rubber. The thumb’s position makes the difference and changes the agility and power with which you can strike the ball.
The Shallow Shakehand Grip
The shallow shakehand grip is actually how most beginners hold the paddle. It’s probably the one that feels the most natural, and it gives a balanced feeling while holding the paddle.
Coaches sometimes encourage players to hold the paddle with just the index and the thumb. This is because some players hold the handle so tightly that it defeats the purpose of the grip, which is allowing for a relatively free and loose grip for greater flexibility and reaction times.
Pros and cons of the shallow shakehand grip
The advantage of this grip is that it provides wrist flexibility, which is good for spins and loops. A player can make tricky serves and counterattacks, putting a bit of extra spin on the ball. The grip is quite loose, and it allows the player to adjust the paddle’s angle quickly.
At the same time, this grip provides power for basic forehand and backhand strokes. So, a player can hit the ball strongly from any side of the table. The downside of this grip is that it creates an area where you’re unsure whether to use a backhand or forehand stroke.
This area is called the crossover point, and it’s where the forehand position turns into the backhand position. When using this grip, the player must be quick and decide which angle he wants to hit the ball.
The Deep Shakehand Grip
Less wrist flexibility can be a good thing, and this is precisely what this grip accomplishes. By reducing flexibility, the player has a stronger grip on the paddle. The main advantage this provides is that it increases accuracy.
Pros and cons of the deep shakehand grip
During a ping pong game, being precise can be very important. The best players are the ones that can place the ball right at the corner of the table. Players using this grip have the advantage of making precise and powerful shots. Since the grip is a lot stronger than the shallow shakehand grip, it provides some extra power for smashing the ball.
The downside of this grip is the same as the shallow shakehand grip, the weak crossover point. In any case, precision also comes with a lot of practice.
The Penhold Grip
This grip has traditionally been used by Asian players, although it’s now used by players all over the world. It’s a little more advanced than the shakehand grip, and it’s the most versatile of all, allowing for both a strong attack and defense. It can take quite a bit of practice to get used to for a player who has used chiefly the shakehand grip but once mastered, it offers excellent advantages.
In the penhold grip, the thumb and index come around, touching each other over the handle and resting on the rubber. The name of this grip references the way someone holds a pen. Also, the ping pong paddle’s blade is held downward, unlike the upward position of the shakehand grip.
Pros and cons of the penhold grip
This style of grip uses only one side of the paddle, which eliminates the crossover point problem of the shakehand grip. This kind of grip makes it easier to spin the ball, which is great for all kinds of players.
This grip’s weakness is that it tends to be more tiring than a shakehand grip since it’s not a very natural way of moving the arm. Also, it can be challenging to give the ball a backhand topspin since it’s not easy to use the paddle on that side with this grip.
Variations of the Penhold Grip
There are small variations of the penhold grip, traditionally used by different Asian countries. The common penhold grip is also called the Chinese penhold grip, but there is also a style called the Japanese or Korean penhold and a third variation called reverse backhand penhold.
The Japanese or Korean penhold is also used in other countries where ping pong is popular, such as Taiwan. In this style, the index and thumb are placed in the same way as in the common penhold style, but the other three fingers are placed straight against the back of the paddle. This allows players to hit the ball in a powerful way but demands extra footwork from the player.
The reverse backhand penhold style has the same grip as the Chinese penhold style, but instead of using the front of the paddle where the index and thumb rest, the players use the other side of the paddle.
A famous player of this style is Weng Hao, who retired in 2014 but was considered one of the world’s best players. When he first joined the national team, his distinctive style of using the reverse side of the paddle for all backhand shots was considered improper form.
Choosing a Grip
It’s recommended for most beginners to start with the shakehand grip. However, young players in Asia start directly with the penhold style. If it’s a style that catches your attention, go ahead and try it.
Any style has its own advantages and disadvantages. The western shakehand style has a weak crossover point, but it offers both power and control from all sides of the table. The penhold style eliminates the crossover point problem, but it can be hard to use the paddle on the left-hand side.