Monday, July 21, 2008

the swing -steph

I gotta say, I'm in a pretty good mood. The Yankees just swept the Oakland A's and have just clobbered the Minnesota Twins. I figure now is a good time to talk about another connection between baseball and table tennis: the swing of the bat and the swing of the racket. The biggest aspect the swings share is this: the key to a perfect swing is not your arms. What people often don't realize is your arm strength is not the most important factor in hitting the ball solidly. It's really all in the combination of your legs and your waist. Shots' power comes from effectively shifting your weight from your back leg (plant leg) to your front leg, and the torque in your waist and hips. To make comparisons, there will be photos of a good, fundamental baseball swing (our lovely model is my good friend, Reynold Graham) and forehand (modeled by my dad, Santos Shih).

For both swings, you begin with your weight on your back leg (right leg for righties, left leg for lefties). You should be the most relaxed at this point. Note that in the following photos, his front foot (circled in red) is off the ground, showing that his weight is on his back foot.

However, there is a major difference: in table tennis, the backswing is critical. Without a good, full backswing, for forehands and backhands, you will not be able to generate any power on or have any control of your shots; imagine trying to knock out someone's teeth without pulling back your fist. The timing of your backswing should match the timing of the oncoming ball- in other words, if the ball is coming toward you slowly, your backswing should be slow, if the ball is coming quickly, your backswing should be fast. When you hit a solid shot in both baseball and table tennis, it should feel as if the ball was holding still and just waiting for you to do whatever you want with it. The following photos show a full, sufficient backswing for a forehand from the back, side, and front. Note that his weight is clearly on his right leg.

The next part of both swings is turning/contacting. Before you actually contact the ball is when you start generating power, but you should still be relatively relaxed. As soon as you make contact, that's when you really uncork it and let it all go in a compact burst. To do this, you have to shift your weight, rotate your hips, and push off of your plant leg. Again, your arms aren't doing the work, and it absolutely does not matter how hard you swing; it is a matter of how suddenly you can unleash the power of your stroke. You know you've made a quality shot when the ball appears to explode off your bat/racket and you don't have to swing very hard; everything seems like it's in slow motion except for that half-second that you contact the ball. Your plant leg does the majority of the work, supporting the weight of your whole body, and your obliques/lower abs do the rest, turning and giving momentum to your upper body and arm. The common misconception in both sports is that the harder you swing your arms, the harder you're going to hit the ball. In reality, your timing and the momentum generated by your legs and your body are what make a good shot; your arm just controls the direction and angle of your shots and follows through. For those table tennis players whose shoulders and/or triceps are always sore or in pain, you overwork your arm and aren't using the rest of your body- if you are doing a forehand correctly, your lower back, quads, and maybe your butt should be sore, NOT your arm.

Notice in the first two photos that his back foot is "squishing the bug" (for anyone who remembers little league softball/baseball!), meaning that he is pushing off his back leg and driving all his momentum into his swing. In the second two photos, you can see that his hips are "opened up" and are now facing us, meaning that he has shifted his weight and carried all his power and momentum into his swing.

In the first two photos, you can clearly see him shifting his weight from his plant leg to his left leg, and the third photo shows him bringing all of his momentum into his stroke.

The final part of the swing is the follow-through. At this point, you should have shifted all of your momentum onto your front leg. The follow-through completes the stroke, ensures that you've used all the power you can, and directs your shot in one clear direction. Note that for both swings, their weight is clearly on their left legs, and their waists have twisted as much as they can.

The biggest difference between the baseball swing and the table tennis swing is that in table tennis, you're constantly in motion; you don't just take one swing and wait 10 seconds for the next shot, you have to link all of your swings together for a continuous rally. Therefore, shifting your weight back onto your plant leg is a crucial part of your stroke. Immediately after your follow-through, you have to bring your momentum back to your plant leg. The ball travels too fast for you to be able to stand still and admire your shot, so you have to assume that your shot is coming back. As soon as you follow through, your hips and waist go to work again. In the photos, he pushes off his left leg and turns his body directly to the right, keeping his arm as parallel to the ground as possible. You have to turn your hips to the right so that your weight comes back onto your plant leg, and guides your arm into another backswing all in one smooth, relaxed motion.

And that's my 10 cents for the day. Here are just some videos of the forehand so you can see everything in continuous motions instead of in frames. In the first two, pay attention to the explosiveness of the shot that can only be achieved when the timing of your shot is right and when you use power (发力) just when you make contact with the ball. In the second two videos, pay attention to the continuousness of the strokes, and to the shifting of his weight from right to left and back. The weight shifting is the most important part, because that's what allows you to be able to repeat the motion over and over again with no breaks.


Dennis said...

Hi Steph,
Dennis Davis here! Atha sent me an email today and told me about your blog. Great Stuff! Keep it up! Say hi to pops for me. (not sure why you had a penholder demo the shakehand stroke!;-) )