Why do table tennis strokes end at the forehead?

In a table tennis forehand, the stroke typically ends at the forehead. The full stroke is a bit like this:

  1. Stance
  • The ball is coming toward your forehand side; get in position early.
  • Your body is angled slightly to the right, e.g. forming a 15 degree angle between the back edge of the table and the line through your shoulders.
  • Your elbow is bent at 90 degree.
  • Your wrist is straight, so the paddle forms an extension of the arm.
  • Your knees are bent, butt out. You’re low to the table, at my height almost squatting.
  1. Ball incoming
  • As the ball approaches there’s a small setup phase, where you take the paddle back, and twist to your right a little to allow for a more explosive shot.
  1. Stroke
  • Soon after the ball bounces, say at the peak of the bounce or earlier, you move the paddle through the path of the ball toward where you want to take the ball.
  • Your torso rotates the same direction as your arm and paddle. The three have very little relative motion.
  • Your weight shifts forward at the same time.
  • You can accelerate your paddle during contact with the ball for a more powerful shot.
  1. Follow through
  • As you follow through the ball, your racket moves near your forehead.

When I, a new player, take a forehand shot, my racket often lands near my chest, not my forehead. This feels more natural. Why is it better to move near the forehead than the chest, and how do you achieve this?

Reason 1: Lower to the table is better

It’s better to be low to the table. Being low to the table lets you see the spin better, and gives more arm and leg mobility. It takes more energy though, being in a squat position. Too low, and the mobility decreases. When you’re higher, the follow through to a forehand is more likely to land at your chest, whereas when you’re lower, it’s going to naturally be closer to your forehead.

Reason 2: Each stroke should prepare for the next stroke

A mistake I make is to take a stroke and then bring the paddle back along roughly the same path of the stroke in reverse. Instead, it is faster to make strokes in a circular pattern. Hit through the ball, and continue hitting in an egg-shape pattern until your paddle is back where it started ready for the next stroke. This reduces the need to decelerate the paddle and re-accelerate in the opposite direction. On the other hand, when this isn’t practiced so that it’s second nature, this consumes extra concentration.

The forehead might be a natural place on the path toward setting up the next stroke. I’m not sure about this one. To me, the chest seems just as viable.

Reason 3: Don’t cut the stroke short

To get maximum power and control, you want to hit the ball toward a particular spot on the table. You want to follow through toward that spot, so that you’re hitting in the desired direction for the entire contact with the ball. If you cut the stroke short, aka “shorting the stroke”, you’ll impart some side-spin on the ball but won’t get maximum power or control. I guess it works out that moving from the stroke earlier shorts the stroke and ends with the paddle at chest height, but doing a full stroke ends with the paddle at forehead height. This is because the forehand should be moving forward and up through the path of the ball, and a longer time moving up takes you closer to forehead height.

You don’t want to move too far forward and up though. That would leave you with the paddle over the table and your elbow extended, unprepared for the next shot.

Reason 4: Balance many concerns

Ultimately we want to balance all of these concerns:

  • Staying low to the table
  • Hitting up and forward through the path of the ball
  • Hitting toward the target location
  • Keeping our balance
  • Preparing early for the next shot

Collectively, this leads to the classic table tennis shot, landing with a forehead height follow through and quick recovery.