The importance of posture

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Joined: 03/20/2011


When I was younger I never thought about posture, regardless of the sport.  As I have gotten older there has been a marked decrease (a loss) of flexibility especially in my spine.  As I got more serious into golf this increasing loss of flexibility caused several problems but the most serious was the difficulty I had in holding / remembering the proper posture.  

In the golf swing there is no end of possible swing tuning opportunities but for each individual there is only a small subset of those tuning possibilities that matter.  For my swing, it was all about the posture.  Despite the skilled words of my swing coach I would over time start to bend forward at the waste which completely changed my swing plane with some pretty disastrous results.  Proper posture is only maintained through constant vigilance (some core exercises don't hurt) or when it becomes pronounced enough for a swing coach to take notice.  So why am I talking about golf?  

I've been playing / practicing table tennis consistently 3-5 times a week but over the last few months my rating had plummeted.  I have no known infirmities that that might be to blame but the results were undeniable; my table tennis game was getting worse.  It all came to head at my last USATT tournament when the only way to describe my play was feeble.  There wasn't any one thing that I could "fix" it was as though I had lost my coordination and it was very difficult to transition from shot to shot (e.g. forehand loop to backhand counter)  I couldn't understand what was happening to me!

Last Tuesday I was practicing against a robot set to hit a fast topspin wide to my forehand and then wide to my backhand.  I thought it was a good drill since in a game I apparently had lost the ability to hit two different shots in the same point (3rd ball attack was pretty much all I had left in my game by this point).  Hitting against the robot started out just like every other time that I had played the last few months, I had difficulty moving to the ball, when I got there I didn't feel like I had the strength to accelerate through the shot with the results being awkward looking movements and jerky strokes.  Still, I persisted and continued to try and move properly and swing properly. I decided on this night that I would focus on moving as quickly as I could and ignore my strokes.  Suddenly I was fleet of foot, feeling on balance, my shots felt solid with good spin and much to my surprise they started consistently hitting the table.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it then realized that for the first time in many months the muscles in my body were working together and not against each other.

I went back out onto the table (this was all during a training session) and, nothing had changed.  I continued to flop about the table like a fish out of water drill after drill.  I was there to train but it sure felt like it wasn't going to do me any good, still I finished out the evening and headed home.  It was on the ride home that I got to thinking; what was different about those three minutes on the robot?  Thinking back about my golf game I remembered that my swing would degrade over time as my posture became worse; I thought to myself, could this be something as simple as bad posture?  Many months of suffering some very embarrassing table tennis defeats when all I had to do was throw my shoulders back and stop bending over (too far) at the waist?  

It's now two days later and I'm going to the "Super League", which is a ladder league of obviously super players.  My only thought on this evening was, maintain your posture, no mater what.  I warmed up with good posture and immediately felt a competence that had been missing for quite some time.  Throughout the night my physical play was significantly improved, to the point that I left that night knowing that I was back!!  

Two days later as I played in the local Saturday tournament I was again focused on maintaining posture but this time I was feeling more confident about my game.  The results were undeniable as I easily won my first round robin including defeating a ringer flown in from China (OK he was probably only 1800 but said he had intimate knowledge of Ma Long).  I then defeated the #1 player (2120) in my "A" round robin, lost a very close match to an up an coming 13 year old "B" player (1945) and soundly defeated another up and coming 13 year old "C" player (1850).  To put this day in perspective, as recently as a week before, I was struggling to beat *anyone* above 1400!  It wasn't just winning that mattered on this day, it was that my feeble play was all but eliminated.

I personally have not read much if anything about the importance of posture in table tennis.  Improper posture may only be a common issue as you get older but I honestly don't think so.  Improper posture is more likely to inflict older players of course but bad habits can creep into anyone's game regardless of age.  Not understanding the importance of proper posture cost me a lot of wins and took some of the fun out of the game over prolonged length of time.  Like my golf swing I will remain ever vigilante so I can avoid unnecessary losses in the future caused by improper posture but just as importantly; I now believe proper posture should be an actual check point for a coach when working with a student.  

My play, prior to the sudden decline was creeping up towards 2000 (USATT 1763 to 1945 over one year) but suddenly for many months, despite diligent practice, I could barely maintain a 1600 rating (locally) and it now appears that improper posture (and perhaps a lack of core strength to hold that posture) were mostly to blame.  

So please, remember; chest out, shoulders back and down, and if you need to get low, for heavens sake bend those knees, don't bend too much at the waist!  

Larry Hodges
Larry Hodges's picture
Joined: 11/19/2010
Re: The importance of posture

Hi Deriderj,

Posture, which is part of ready stance, is (or should be) a huge issue for coaches. It's one of the first things I look for when coaching new players. I'm glad this worked out for you! I have a similar problem - as I get older (51), I find myself standing up straighter and straighter, and this hurts my game. When I see tapes of my "best" matches in recent years, I'm not happy with how straight I'm standing. Sometimes I feel a bit looser (i.e. more rock-like instead of neutronium-like), and stay lower, and play better. Other times I feel more like an awkward skyscraper trying to rally with a ball that's way too low. (And I'm only 5'10".) 

Joined: 03/20/2011
Re: The importance of posture

Hi Larry,

Perhaps when I said a checkpoint for coaches I was making a point of it so that I would include the checkpoint for posture in any future work I do with a student.  I'm only a bit taller than you at 5' 11'' and my BMI isn't good (you look thin in your picture), so staying low using my knees is difficult (more tiring) despite the fact I have no problems with my knees.  

I think over time I found a way to get lower by bending forward at the waist.  Bending forward at the waist a little was good and helpful, so bending over further must be even better!  I'm being sarcastic of course because once my bending forward at the waist became too pronounced my body obviously (obvious now) could no longer compensate for the weaker posture.

Best thing for me will be to reduce my BMI, bend my knees to get lower and continue to work on keeping the proper (spinal) posture first in the starting position and then throughout the point.

It's good to have my game back!