For any activity you decide to try, learning the right technique can often give you the upper hand against a naive opponent.
Because table tennis is such as a popular activity, players can often fall into bad habits from the get go. When they first pick up a paddle for a recreational game, they would simply hold it in a way that is comfortable for them.
This can not only slow their development but can also be a critical factor between winning and losing crucial points.
No matter where you play, whether in your man cave or in the office with work colleagues, you need to know how to hold a table tennis paddle.
Here you’ll learn about the different types of grips for holding a ping pong paddle, the technique and some of the pros and cons of each.
The shakehand grip is the most popular and easiest to learn grip for holding a paddle. It resembles the grip of shaking someone’s hand and has been adopted by players in many western countries.
If you live in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom and you’ve played table tennis, you’re likely to have used the shakehand grip.
While it’s easier to learn, the shakehand grip has some downsides. The biggest being the impact of the crossover point, which is the time a player takes to decide between hitting a backhand or forehand stroke. Due to the positioning of the hand and fingers, the shakehand grip increases this time which may be the difference between returning a ball in or out.
Paddles with longer handles are suited for players that prefer the shakehand grip. You can read our reviews of some of the best ping pong paddles for the shakehand grip.
There are two variations of the shakehand – the shallow and deep grips.
- The blade (part of the paddle with the rubbers) goes between your thumb and index finger
- Next wrap the middle, ring and pinky fingers around the handle as if you’re holding on to a baseball bat.
- Rest your index finger against the outside of the paddle. Like your holding a gun and the index finger is on the trigger. this helps stabilise the paddle
- Next is the thumb placement, which determines which shakehand grip you will use:
- For shallow – Curl thumb back towards the middle finger and rest it on the handle.
- For deep shakehand – Take your thumb and rest it on the rubber, on the opposite rubber of where your index finger is.
Shallow Shakehand Grip
Having the thumb curled back towards the middle finger gives players using this grip more wrist flexibility. This allows a player to reach harder to get balls and helps vary their shots.
For instance, if you like playing flat, hard shots as well as spin, then this grip is for you.
Deep Shakehand Grip
With the thumb positioned on the rubber, this grip reduces wrist flexibility but provides more paddle stability.
The deep shakehand grip is suited for players that are aggressive and like hard hitting play.
- Easy to learn and comfortable grip
- No need to change grip for forehand and backhand during play
- Power distributed equally across forehand and backhand
- Provides options for more or less wrist flexibility between deep and shallow
- Weak crossover point
- Common and somewhat predictable
The other popular way of holding a ping pong paddle is called the Penhold grip. It gets its name from the way the paddle is held, resembling holding a pen.
The Penhold grip is the most dominant technique in Asia where it originates from.
It’s much harder to master, yet those than can are able to display elegant and effective play.
Players using this grip tend to use only one side of the paddle for both backhand and forehand strokes. They tend to also use specific paddles that have shorter handles.
Like the Shakehand, the Penhold grip also has some variations in the grip which we highlight below.
- Rest handle between thumb and index finger
- Grip the handle between your thumb and index finger, forming a loop around the handle. Like holding a pen
- Your finger and thumb should not touch
- Other fingers to be placed on the opposite rubber in a relaxed position
- To get more power, straighten the middle, ring and pinky fingers.
The oldest form of the penhold grip is dubbed as the Chinese grip. As the name suggests, this form of penhold originated in China and is still quite popular with players there.
The main difference for this grip is the placement of the middle, ring and pinky fingers. In the Chinese penhold grip, these fingers are spread out across the rubber.
This provides a wider support area and gives more stability for the player holding the paddle. It allows for more power and is best suited for players that stand closer to the table.
Japanese or Korean Grip
The Japanese or Korean penhold grip will offer more precision and control over the Chinese grip.
The difference with this grip is the middle, ring and pinky fingers are straight, rather than curled. These fingers should remain close to one another while resting on the rubber. Some players even rest these fingers on top of each other.
This grip restricts blade movement due to the placement of the fingers so close together. This means that it is more difficult to return balls in hard to reach areas than you would using a Shakehand grip.
Another form of Penhold grip but not as popular is the Reverse backhand.
Unlike the Chinese and Japanese/Korean grips that use the same side for both backhand and forehand, the reverse backhand uses both sides.
The finger positioning is exactly the same as the Chinese grip. Although, rather than using the front rubber where the thumb and index finger are, they also use the back rubber to play the ball. Players using this grip often interchange between the Chinese grip and the reverse backhand.
This is much harder to learn and likely the reason it has not gained much popularity. Although those that can learn it will have a stronger backhand stroke.
The one negative for this grip is that it has the same crossover issues as shakehand grip. So it increases on the decision time for selecting which stroke to play.
- More wrist flexibility than the shakehand grip
- Allows players to generate more spin
- Allows players to return balls on the backhand side easily which reduces the crossover point
- Much more difficult for your opponent to predict
- Makes it hard to play consistent spin strokes using the outside part of the paddle, such as backhand topspin strokes
- More intensive movements required by twisting your arm to get into position
- Is much more difficult to learn than the shakehand grip
We’ve covered the two forms of grip which are the most popular in table tennis. There are some other styles of holding the paddle that players choose to use which are worth mentioning.
- Seemiller Grip
- Pistol grip
They haven’t gained much widespread use so we will not be covering them in detail here. But if you’re interested feel free to do your own research to check them out.
Tips for choosing and mastering your grip
So you now know the different types of grips that you could choose and how to apply them. The most important piece of advice we can give is to try them out and see what feels right for you.
You will likely find the penhold grip is more uncomfortable in the beginning. Depending on your skill level, you might want to master the shakehand grip first and then attempt the penhold. Just allow a good amount of time to practice before you make your decision.
When practising the different grip styles, it’s useful but not necessary to have the correct paddle. Paddles suited for the penhold grip have a smaller handle whereas those made for the shakehand grip are longer. Don’t forget to checkout our review of some of the best ping pong paddles for shakehand grip.
Another important point is to keep your grip loose. Holding the paddle too tight will limit your flexibility and restrict movement. Your grip shouldn’t hamper your movement as you manoeuvre the paddle.
You should also avoid having loose wrists during your swing. This will result in poor accuracy and your returns flying everywhere! Keep them stable and treat the paddle as an extension of your arm.
Finally, practice makes perfect. There will be ups and down along the way, but if you stick to it you will develop your technique and become a feared opponent!