Power and Relaxation: A Counterintuitive Combination


As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m back playing Table Tennis. The group I’m playing with now is the best I’ve ever been exposed to, and my drive to improve my game has never been stronger (it’s hard to get motivated to excel at technique when no one can even return your serve). With this group I get beat more often than not; it’s an excellent environment for me to grow in.

Anyway, my main focus now is on properly generating power, i.e. using the correct technical movement to do so. The study of how to do this is precisely why I love the sport so much. Effectively generating speed (and especially spin) is euphoric.

My latest realization, or re-realization actually, is that tension kills power.

This is a “re-realization” because this is the sort of concept that I already “know”, but am unable to transfer into action. Basically, when I see my serve come back long with underspin (just how I wanted it), I immediately tense up as I get into position to loop.

After I execute I realize immediately that my shot was neither that fast nor that spinny. Why? Because I was all tight and restricted. I know this, I kick myself for it, but the next time I get back a return where I want it I do the same damn thing.

I have the same problem in Golf, actually, which makes this more than a post about Table Tennis. It’s natural for people to associate power with tension. I find with my Golf shots that when I “don’t try” — especially with my short irons — I can hit some incredible shots. I am at the point now where I tee off for most par 3’s with no more than a pitching wedge. That’s roughly 150 yards or so (the tee helps) with ease. I am not tight, I don’t swing hard, I just do the motion.

When I do this it feels absolutely amazing. I get the perfect Titleist click with no vibration in the club and my ball goes flying like I wound up and swung as hard as I could. Of course when I try to swing hard, I can’t get half of that power. But over and over I have to remind myself of this. I go for entire days struggling with consistency and power until I force myself to “start over” with the basics and relax.

So that brings me to Table Tennis. I am doing the exact same thing there, only my loop form probably isn’t even as good as my 9 iron shot — which is sad since TT is my favorite sport.

Ultimately the problem is simple — I’m still associating power with tension.

Once I can break this mental link I’m going to become very dangerous. I am starting to see the power of a relaxed grip in practice, but once I get into a match I tighten up to generate power. I simply have to figure out how to make a full turn, a full uncoil motion, and remain loose during the entire process.

The frisbee throw is really a good analogy for the backhand. Imagine trying to throw a frisbee a long distance if you kept your throwing hand tight and controlling. You couldn’t. The power of the throw comes from the ability to release fully from the coil. Once I subconsciously make that connection in Table Tennis my rating’s going to jump by a few hundred points almost overnight.

Related posts: