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  1. fzambetta is offline
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    #1

    Relaxing when playing TT & breathing

    Ok, here it goes...I have started a thread on the importance of staying relaxed when playing table tennis, as promised 😅
    Please, feel free to contribute/discuss and, most importantly, add sources, refences and/or your own experiences.

    Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, let alone a sport psychologist hence take all this with a pinch of salt. However, I am very interested in the topic and due to my academic work (AI research), I have had several oppotunities to collaborate with psychologists and doctors. Therefore, I got accustomed to some of their medical literature and learnt to understand some of their jargon 😁
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    Just to get started, as I had highlighted in a previous thread that has got this one started, there is enough experimental support to the fact that breathing helps us staying relaxed.

    Now, this has two sort of implications for table tennis, as far as I can tell:
    1. Technical: Inhaling and exhaling correctly, will help you stay loose and channel your explosive power correctly, maximising weight transfer and minimising your likelihood of getting injured, etc. A good video on the matter is here.
    2. Strategic: Breathing correctly can help you modulate your emotions, turning anger, nerves and other negative feelings into more positive ones. A great source to read about this is Dora Kurimay's book (particularly useful is Chapter 3, discussing circle breathing). Many of the concepts in the book are also discussed in this podcast by Ben Larcombe (that's where I first heard of the book).

    Another interesting source for similar concepts, both technical and strategic, is this very detailed video.
    More general points on breathing techniques and their impact on our mental balance and sport performance are here and here,

    I hope this wets your appetite, and gets a good discussion started. Happy reading/watching!

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    Last edited by fzambetta; 09-27-2022 at 12:33 PM.

  2. IB66 is offline
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    #2
    It's interesting that the coach in Tom's video mentioned boxing, My old Pilates trainer told us that Pilates was designed for Boxing as part of the training. whether this is 100% true I'm not sure.
    These days many Pro's in Tennis and now it's creeping more into Table tennis GRUNT when playing a stroke. If a person is lifting a heavy weight, there is usually a subconscious Grunt, we all do it without thinking, this is your bodies protective measures to try and reduce risk of injury, maximise stability and power.
    when you Grunt your abdominal core muscles activated. Timo Boll rates this activation of the core muscles in the top 3 tips he has ever had!!!! Timo does it without much noise, Dima is much louder!!!
    During Pilates, the core muscles are activated ALL THE TIME, you have to hold them in constantly (imagine trying to pull your belly button into your spine and holding that) and breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. exertion with the exhale. When you think about it this is what a boxer needs, to protect his stomach from body shots all the time and still be able to move, relax the rest of their body. When you pull in the core muscles and breath out it feels like the core muscles tighten a little more.

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  3. Wrighty67 is online now
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    #3
    Quote Originally Posted by IB66
    It's interesting that the coach in Tom's video mentioned boxing, My old Pilates trainer told us that Pilates was designed for Boxing as part of the training. whether this is 100% true I'm not sure.
    These days many Pro's in Tennis and now it's creeping more into Table tennis GRUNT when playing a stroke. If a person is lifting a heavy weight, there is usually a subconscious Grunt, we all do it without thinking, this is your bodies protective measures to try and reduce risk of injury, maximise stability and power.
    when you Grunt your abdominal core muscles activated. Timo Boll rates this activation of the core muscles in the top 3 tips he has ever had!!!! Timo does it without much noise, Dima is much louder!!!
    During Pilates, the core muscles are activated ALL THE TIME, you have to hold them in constantly (imagine trying to pull your belly button into your spine and holding that) and breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. exertion with the exhale. When you think about it this is what a boxer needs, to protect his stomach from body shots all the time and still be able to move, relax the rest of their body. When you pull in the core muscles and breath out it feels like the core muscles tighten a little more.

    This is a great observation - makes complete sense.

    I know that for me, tension in playing matches is a real problem and I will tighten up mostly across my shoulders and arms/wrists and become less and less likely to complete my shot as intended. This can happen either if I am winning and wanting to close things out or if I am losing and becoming frustrated.

    By breathing more fully I would hope to become more relaxed physically, but also more able to review and evaluate what is happening in time to make any changes required - mostly for me this doesn't happen until after the match when I am trying to sleep and I realise that I was repeating the same thing despite losing points.

    For example I recently played a long pimples teammate who I can normally beat 50% of the time - he was returning my underspin serve with a long pimple push and I was pushing it back - that push was popping up for him to kill. At the time I failed to breathe and realise that in fact his serve return was topspin and should have been my opening attack opportunity. We played 10 games and I didn't make the change...

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  4. IB66 is offline
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    #4
    I tense up when playing FH loop way more than I would like to admit!!!! 30+ years ago I can’t remember that happening, never found myself tensing up when I played badminton. But since I started playing TT again, it’s not so much crept in, i noticed it as soon as I started playing again and happens with similar regularity, when practicing, so not a pressured situation, when mucking about and in matches!!!
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  5. Gozo is offline
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    #5
    I wish to share my view of the lesson learned from my coaching session:

    1. When I am swinging to meet the ball, I am not tense but rather relaxed. The grip is relatively relaxed.

    2. At the moment of impact between the blade and ball, I squeeze my grip tighter and tense up my core muscle.

    3. At the moment of impact between the blade and ball, I will accelerate my swing and then follow through the motion. Then relax again.

    4. Quickly recover. One visualization technique which is helpful to me is to follow the trajectory of the ball. If the ball is accelerating away from me, my swing is going in the same way. One the ball has been impacted and is coming towards me, I am now doing my backswing and recovering back to my ready position. There is a rhythmic oscillation to get the best hitting sweet spot. This is of course not fool-proof and takes a bit of practice but is a good visualization technique to explore.

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    Last edited by Gozo; 09-29-2022 at 03:09 AM.

  6. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #6
    One of the complicated things about this discussion is, if you are thinking about how you are breathing while you are playing, you are going to be doing both things in a way that is in efficient. You could practice how to breath while playing if you feel what you do is compromised or in some way, inefficient.

    BTW: the correct terms for breathing in this scenario would be efficient or inefficient not right or wrong. There is no one right way to breathe for any circumstance and there is no wrong way to breathe either. There are just more and less efficient ways of breathing.

    The forced air on the exhale that can be done quietly or with a sound (grunt or other versions of phonation), if it is timed to just before the contact of your stroke, will help you add power to your stroke. That kind of forced exhale will make all of your muscles that you are trying to engage, contract more.....but you should not be thinking of the contracting of muscles either. That is another thing that should happen automatically based on proper training.

    So, if the exhale is forced through the mouth timed to just before the contact of the ball, this will help your power. Then the rest of the breathing during play should just happen naturally.

    If you wanted to use slow or deep breathing in between points to get you calmer you could. But trying this in the middle of a rally would not help you at all, and would actually do the opposite.

    The following is a video I made for someone on the forum several years ago about the subject of how to breathe during a rally. You will notice I show both a forced exhale without phonation (without using my vocal chords: that is the S sound) and also with phonation (using my vocal chords - the grunting sound) for both FH and BH timed to how I visualized when I would contact the ball for each stroke.

    Setup 1: Blade by Nate: Vortex Spin Machine, FH Evolution MX-K, BH Evolution FX-P
    Setup 2: OSP Virtuoso Plus, FH Rasanter R 48, BH Rasanter R 48
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  7. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #7
    Quote Originally Posted by IB66
    During Pilates, the core muscles are activated ALL THE TIME, you have to hold them in constantly (imagine trying to pull your belly button into your spine and holding that) and breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. exertion with the exhale. When you think about it this is what a boxer needs, to protect his stomach from body shots all the time and still be able to move, relax the rest of their body. When you pull in the core muscles and breath out it feels like the core muscles tighten a little more.
    What you are describing, done as an exercise, would strengthen the abdominal muscles (and also the deep muscles of the spine). But WHILE BOXING, you would not want to KEEP YOUR CORE MUSCLES ACTIVATED THE WHOLE TIME. If you did this they would become fatigued and would slowly lose the ability to really engage fully on command. It would also make you really tighten up and limit your ability to move.

    While boxing, or making a shot tennis, TT, or while hitting the ball in baseball, you would want to be as relaxed as possible until just before the impact and for any of those, if you have that forced breath just before the impact, it will cause the muscles that should kick in for the impact to engage WITHOUT you needing to think about what should contract or engage.

    Being hit, you would resist just after impact so you have absorbed a small amount of the blow before you resist it.

    Here is a story. I was with two friends. We were hanging out on the street several years ago. One of the guys is 6'4" (193cm), 280 lbs (127kgs) and in decent shape. The other guy is 5'7" (170cm) and 180lbs (82kgs). The smaller guy is in decent shape as well and has been doing martial arts since he is a kid, teaches martial arts, is a real badass in martial arts. They are talking smack at each other and the little guy says, "I tell you what, we will go punch for punch. You take your biggest punch at me. Hit me on my shoulder and then I will do the same to you."

    The big guy takes a running start and does a giant overhand right to the little guys shoulder. The little guy is standing their, with his side to the big guy and he is standing upright and relaxed. Right on impact, you could see the little guy's legs start working and then the rest of him. But really, right before the impact. The big guy hit the little guy's shoulder, bounced back, grabbed his wrist and said, "F-ck, my wrist," really loud as he held his wrist and shook. The little guy did not budge but once the big guy had that reaction, the little guy just laughed and said, "now I don't even have to throw my punch. I just won."

    He could not have done that if he was tensing too long before the impact and if he had been, he would have gone flying instead of absorbing the blow and resisting it on impact.

    For working those muscles to strengthen them, keeping them engaged for extra time could help strengthen them. But you don't want to do that while you are playing.

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    Setup 2: OSP Virtuoso Plus, FH Rasanter R 48, BH Rasanter R 48
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  8. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #8
    One more detail: breathing for calming the nervous system so you are more relaxed.

    If the breath is long and slow, especially on the exhale, that will calm the nervous system. When the breath is long and slow on the exhales that will actually slow your heart rate and done for an extended period of time could lower your blood pressure. Breathing fast will cause your heart rate and your blood pressure to go up.

    When you are breathing slowly, the exhale does more to calm your nervous system. If you took several long slow breaths with your eyes closed and paid attention, in that scenario, the exhales will feel calming and the inhales will feel energizing. With that kind of breathing, the exhale will slow your heart very slightly and the inhale will cause the heart to beat very slightly faster.

    So, while breathing about the same amount of air in or out, if you could make your exhales twice as long as your inhales, you would calm yourself more and you would lower your heart rate more, than if the inhale and exhale were about the same rate.

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    Setup 2: OSP Virtuoso Plus, FH Rasanter R 48, BH Rasanter R 48
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  9. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #9
    One more detail: breathing for calming the nervous system so you are more relaxed.

    If the breath is long and slow, especially on the exhale, that will calm the nervous system. When the breath is long and slow on the exhales that will actually slow your heart rate and done for an extended period of time could lower your blood pressure. Breathing fast will cause your heart rate and your blood pressure to go up.

    When you are breathing slowly, the exhale does more to calm your nervous system. If you took several long slow breaths with your eyes closed and paid attention, in that scenario, the exhales will feel calming and the inhales will feel energizing. With that kind of breathing, the exhale will slow your heart very slightly and the inhale will cause the heart to beat very slightly faster.

    So, while breathing about the same amount of air in or out, if you could make your exhales twice as long as your inhales, you would calm yourself more and you would lower your heart rate more, than if the inhale and exhale were about the same rate.

    Between points you could use breathing to help get you calmer and more relaxed. But, this won't be what everyone should do. I know a guy who is pretty high level who, the angrier he is, the better he plays. Not everyone plays better like that. But he does and it works for him. So, he will sometimes do crazy things between points, throwing his racket, yelling, working himself up to a frenzy....and then he starts playing better. Now, I said he is pretty high level. He is a semi-pro and he is damned good. And that does seem to work for him. It would not work for me. I play much better when I am calm and my mind is clear. He seems to play better when he really wants to take his aggression out. Interestingly, when he is angry like that, he plays with more control.

    But learning how to get yourself to your optimal state of mind for playing TT at a high level would be a good thing if you are competing and playing for the competition.

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    #10
    Brilliant topic!!!! This is so important as I believe that a player with less table tennis experience with the right mental and physical mindset!!! Will beat a player with a lot more table tennis experience who can't control his mind or tension in there bodies!!!! I always think of a golf swing!!! They are totally relaxed until they strike the ball !!! The Same should happen when you are playing table tennis!!!! Easier said than done !!!!

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    #11
    Between points you could use breathing to help get you calmer and more relaxed. But, this won't be what everyone should do. I know a guy who is pretty high level who, the angrier he is, the better he plays. Not everyone plays better like that. But he does and it works for him. So, he will sometimes do crazy things between points, throwing his racket, yelling, working himself up to a frenzy....and then he starts playing better. Now, I said he is pretty high level. He is a semi-pro and he is damned good. And that does seem to work for him. It would not work for me. I play much better when I am calm and my mind is clear. He seems to play better when he really wants to take his aggression out. Interestingly, when he is angry like that, he plays with more control.

    But learning how to get yourself to your optimal state of mind for playing TT at a high level would be a good thing if you are competing and playing for the competition.
    Agreed, and while lots of what I had mentioned was along the lines of "using breathing to help stay relaxed" that is not the whole story.
    Many (most?) of us tend to tense up too much or be hindedered by negative thoughts hence why lots of literature and feedback by coaches and/or experienced players tend to gravitate around that.

    However, hyping yourself up can be important too and the longer video I had linked makes that point in fact (while noting that for most people this needs to be used sparingly to avoid feeling over tired/strained).

    Psychologists often talk about this notion of flow (or "being in the zone") i.e., an optimal psychophysical state bringing about peak performance..
    Quoting from the link:"flow experience came when the activity was difficult and involved risk. It usually stretched the person's capacity and provided a challenge to his/her skills.".

    Defining the mental states that cause one to flow is no easy feat, and that can vary across individuals since, among other things, we frame challenges differently (hence, for instance, some people may need to be more hyped up than others).
    Not to mention this state of full absorption may be likely helped by relaxing through deep breathing, etc.

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    Last edited by fzambetta; 09-29-2022 at 03:11 PM.

  12. UpSideDownCarl is offline
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    #12
    One more detail: It is possible to be high energy....like, hyped up....and be relaxed....not be stressed.

    So, worth separating head space for playing and having your body relaxed during strokes or you being relaxed between points.

    So, this thread is about several subjects at once.

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  13. IB66 is offline
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    #13
    With the activation of the core muscles, by a grunt or whichever way you choose, perhaps you will need to pick the moment, or be aware when during a rally you can do it.
    Time available is likely to be a factor in this. For Tennis players they generally have more time available between strokes, for single stroke sports, cricket, baseball, etc then it’s only one stroke to activate the core.
    When close to the table during a fast rally it’s going to be pretty difficult, this would need practice!!
    Serve receive, you can be ready and set yourself not only to activate the core during the opening stroke but also to be relaxed.
    Away from the table, when playing bigger strokes, loops, drives etc then you have a little more time.

    So a couple of questions-

    Can (or should) activating the core be used for every stroke? From a push, to a chop, or loop etc
    Is ‘time’ available really an issue?
    Is core activation more for those big high impact stroke?




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