If you play league table tennis, you’ve probably encountered this scenario. You’ve had a hard day at work. You rush home. You grab something to eat. You rush out again. You travel to your match (car, bike, tube or bus). Sometimes the traffic is heavy, sometimes not. By the time you get to the venue, you only have five minutes to warm-up with your team-mates, and then it’s straight on with the matches.
Your first match isn’t great. You’re a bit tight and tense and you don’t play anywhere near your best level. You moan to yourself about the fact that you haven’t had a proper warm-up.
What can you do about this situation?
In an ideal world, you would have at least 30 minutes to be able to warm-up properly with your team-mates. But in 10 years of league table tennis, I have very rarely had to the opportunity to warm-up for 30 minutes.
Far more common is only having five minutes. This is clearly not ideal, but it’s the reality most of us face. One solution is clearly to try to get to a venue earlier for a longer warm-up. But this isn’t always going to be possible.
So you have to accept that sometimes – many times – you’re only going to have five minutes to warm-up with your team-mates.
Rather than feeling overly negative about this, you should switch your focus to how you can make the most of these five minutes to get ready for the league match.
The five minute warm-up
Here’s three suggestions on what you should do if you only have five minutes to warm-up with your team-mates.
1. Limit static cross-court knock-ups
I’m guilty of this and I’m sure many of you are too. It’s very easy to waste five minutes just playing forehand to forehand (or backhand to backhand) to the same position for five minutes. This doesn’t really help you prepare for a match.
When you first start warming up, it’s ok to play the first few balls to the same position, just to get your timing right. But don’t do this for too long.
Once you’ve hit a few balls, start varying where you place the ball, so you and your team-mate have to move to play shots. This will get your feet working and help you get energised.
2. Warm-up your biggest strength
You want to make sure your biggest strength is warmed-up and ready to go for the start of the match. Even if you’re a little off pace with some of your shots, at least you’ll have confidence in your biggest strength working.
So for me, I make sure I hit a few forehand topspins. If I can get this shot working in the warm-up, then it should be in good shape for the first game of the first match. I may only have a minute to do this, but I can hit plenty of topspins in a minute. Not only do I get the shot working, but it also helps me get body loose.
3. Do some service and receive
Every single point in table tennis starts with a serve and return of serve. This is where a lot of points are won or lost. So it’s worth spending a minute or two doing serve, receive and then playing out the point. This will get you match ready.
Again I like to focus on my favourite serves and 3rd ball attack routines. This helps me shake off some of the pre-match tension. Usually the first couple I mess up. But I’m happy with this. I’d rather get the mistakes out of the way in the warm-up than at the beginning of a match. If I get my serve and 3rd ball working in the warm-up, I start the match much more confidently.
Same thing with receiving. During the warm-up I often make mistakes with the first few receives, but then it starts working and I feel in good shape for the start of the match.
So this is what the timings of this warm-up looks like:
- Rallying warm-up (cross-court or down the line) – 1 minute
- Strength warm-up (player A) – 1 minute
- Strength warm-up (player B) – 1 minute
- Service and receive – 2 minutes
When you look at it like this, you can clearly see how you really don’t have much time. But at least you’ll be using what little time you do have wisely. You’ll get your feet moving. You’ll get your best shot working. You’ll get match-ready and focused with some serve and receive. This is much better than just aimlessly knocking up to the same position for five minutes.
You’ll need to have buy-in from your team-mates. It won’t work if you don’t discuss it beforehand, as you’ll be doing one thing and your team-mate will be doing something else.
And you need to be fair. It’s not all about you. You have to consider your team-mate too. So spend a little bit of time warming up your strength and little bit of time warming up your team mate’s strength.
Off the table warm-up
Finally, even if you’re not at the table, you still have the opportunity to warm-up your body and get rid of some pre-match tension. Dynamic stretches are good. So is shadow play (going through the motion of your shots without the ball). Or just some simple footwork exercises, e.g. sidesteps or fast feet running on the spot.
I remember one league match in London, where the traffic was horrific. I was very late. I decided to jump off the bus and run the last mile. As soon as I got to the venue it was my turn to play. I had no time for a warm-up, but I played one of my best matches of the season because my body was completely warmed up, free of tension and ready to go.
Give my warm-up a go
The next time you play a league match and only have a few minutes to warm-up, give my warm-up routine a go.
I’m realistic. There’s only so much you can get warmed up in five minutes. And even if you do all of what I suggest, you’re probably still not going to feel fully warmed up.
But you’ll be in a better position than if you warm-up with no plan in mind. You’ll start your first match playing better, which will hopefully give you a better chance of winning.