Many of us have played table tennis (a.k.a. ping-pong) in school gym class or in our neighbor’s basement. But, are there any table tennis health benefits? I mean, you’re not exactly running and jumping great distances. You don’t have to lift a lot of weight to play table tennis. Is it possible such a compact game with equipment that can be wielded by practically any girly man out there could also contribute to your health? Surprisingly, perhaps, that answer is yes.
Table Tennis Explained
Table tennis is the diminutive cousin to the traditional game of tennis. It’s played on a table (d’uh!) rather than on a large indoor or outdoor court. Table tennis is played on a table that is 76 cm high, 2.74 m long, and 1.525 m wide. Table tennis tables are made from a wide variety of materials. Rules require that it be made of a continuous material that yields a bounce around 23 cm when your standard, everyday ping-pong ball is dropped onto it from a height of around 30 cm.
There is a 2 cm white line that wraps around the whole perimeter of the table with a corresponding line that dissects the table down the middle, stretching from end-to-end. Rather than a fuzzy ball like its bigger cousin, international rules require that table tennis uses a plastic ball with a diameter of 40 mm and a mass of 2.7 g. Table tennis rackets (a.k.a. ping-pong paddles) generally have a blade width of around 15 cm and are around 17 cm long. Table tennis rackets come with a variety of surfaces that help impart spin on the ball.
Table tennis is played either one-on-one or in teams generally of two players on a side. If you want to get crazy, you can play with more members on each team. I can tell you some stories about that being fun in college where… but I digress.
According to the Table Tennis Team USA website, the official rules of table tennis are as follows:
Games and Scoring
- Games continue to a score of 11 points
- A player completes two serves before service alternates to the other player. It’s not necessary for the person to be serving for them to win the point
- If a game is tied 10 each, a player must be ahead by two points to win. If this tie occurs, players will alternate serving until the game is decided
- Competition table tennis is played until a player wins best-of-five games (i.e. first player to wins three games) or it can be best-of-seven games (i.e. first player to win four games)
- Social games can be played best of any number of games but are most often played best-of-three (i.e. first player to win two games)
Making a Legal Serve
- From a flat palm, the player must toss the ball straight up at least 16 cm
- The toss and contact by the paddle must not occur above the table surface but behind it
- It’s illegal to use your body or any part of it to hide the ball during the toss and until it’s contacted
- A “let” occurs if during the service the ball hits the net. In this case, the point is replayed and there is no point deductions or limits to let services
See also: https://fitnessandhealthadvice.com/ways-to-maintain-an-effective-fitness-and-health-program/
Table Tennis Compared to Its “Full-Size” Cousin
If someone asked if you derive any health benefits playing tennis, most people would say “absolutely”. After all, a spirited game of tennis would have you running back and forth and across your side of the tennis court. You would have to track the tennis ball coming into your side of the court, move to intercept it, and hit it back into the other court. There are lots of muscles and your cardiovascular system in play.
As opposed to the traditional game of tennis, moving back and forth on your side of the table tennis table might involve a dozen feet as compared to DOZENS of feet in traditional tennis. Likewise, lifting and swinging a tennis racket involves moving more weight than a table tennis paddle. Finally, traditional tennis matches will generally take longer to complete than a table tennis match.
But, do those differences mean you do not derive any health benefits from table tennis?
Health Benefits of Table Tennis
Table tennis does have tangible health benefits. Whether it’s just a tame game with your decrepit old father or a no holds barred grudge match between college athletes, table tennis does have real health benefits.
First off, while the amount of movement is limited, you are still moving when playing table tennis. Side-to-side movements, back-and-forth movements, and movements leaning over the table can serve to increase your heart rate enough to derive a minimum aerobic benefit. The amount of benefit is going to be determined by the skill level of opponents. While your decrepit old father may be limited in terms of how much his play makes you move, skilled athletes make their opponents move side to side and front and back during each rally. It’s easy to derive aerobic benefit in those circumstances.
It might not seem like much, but swinging the table tennis paddle is one of the health benefits while playing table tennis. That benefit isn’t seen from the minimal weight being moved. Rather, the benefit comes from the use of your tendons and joints. Your movements to return the table tennis ball to your opponent’s side stretch and stress your tendons. With more advanced players, they will also benefit from the actions required to impart spin on to the table tennis ball. Spinning the ball can make it difficult for your opponent to return it and is an important aspect of advanced games.
Finally, one of the most significant health benefits playing tennis is the mental side of it. There is a strategy required to force your opponent out of position so you can hit the ball to win the point. That is also one of the health benefits playing table tennis. You must similarly exercise your mind to anticipate your opponent’s shots and to plan your next shot that will lead to winning the point. As your mind affects every part of your being, this aspect of table tennis shouldn’t be marginalized.
Table Tennis Organizations
Due to its popularity, there are table tennis organizations at many local, state, and national levels. There is even a world body for table tennis – the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). The ITTF sets standards for equipment and play, ranks players, and sponsors international table tennis tournaments. The ITTF website also documents the history of table tennis tracing it back to the 1890s. It notes that early versions of the game used a rubber or cork ball which had distinct problems. The rubber ball was too unpredictable and the cork ball had too poor of a bounce. It wasn’t until the invention of the celluloid ball around 1900 that the game began to flourish.
In the United States, the sport was initially organized under the United States Table Tennis Association (USTTA). It was first chartered in 1933. The name was changed to USA Table Tennis in 1990. Besides organizing tournaments, ranking players, and providing support to table tennis clubs nationwide, USATT also offers memberships. These memberships run from basic, to pro, to lifetime memberships with each having its own benefits. For example, becoming a Pro Member of USATT makes one eligible to participate in all USATT sanctioned tournaments, provides access to participation/accident insurance, instills voting privileges for USATT matters, and makes one eligible to receive the USATT newsletter.
Some may wonder why these organizations aren’t named something with the more familiar name for table tennis of “ping-pong”. That’s because Parker Brothers trademarked that name in 1901.
Other Pong Related Games
I know I just wrote that “ping-pong” is a Parker Brothers trademarked name. So why is the title of this section “Other Pong Related Games”? It’s probably because I believe any article which discusses “table tennis” would be remiss if it didn’t also mention that other, popular, “pong-related” game especially popular with the college crowd. I am of course speaking of beer pong.
I don’t know when beer pong was invented and whether it has any standard, international rules or not. Frankly, I don’t think it matters. The beer pong game popular at my Alma Mater (Michigan Technological University) had some simple rules:
- Teams consisted of two players each located at opposite ends of the table (preferably a table tennis table, but any longish table would do)
- Each team would fill six standard Solo or similar cups at least half full of the designated beverage. Beer is standard, but the game can also be played with shots of whiskey, vodka, etc. I don’t recommend using shots. Ask me sometime and I MIGHT tell you why
- The beverage containing cups are arranged in a triangle with the top point of the triangle pointing at your opposition’s end of the table
- Before play begins, teams must agree on rules to designate the team that goes first. At MTU, we had a couple of standard rules to decide: 1) the person with the lowest total found by adding the first two numbers of their driver’s license and the last two numbers (this worked great for me because my numbers were 10 and 21 for a total of four) or 2) the first letter of the color of their underwear (this rule worked out well when ladies were involved because dudes often wore tighty-whities forcing the ladies to show their black or blue or pink or purple panties)
- Once the order was decided, the play would alternate between teams who would alternate between players. The player whose turn it was would throw a ping-pong ball at the other team’s cup configuration. If they got the ping-pong ball in an opponent’s cup, that team was forced to slam the beverage in that cup and the cup was removed
- The game ended and the winners declared when all of one team’s cups had been removed from play and their contents consumed
- We also had a local rule at Michigan Tech that members of a losing team were required to get drinks for the winners for the duration of the night. As you might imagine, this rule was adopted so that dudes might be forced to interact with the ladies all night and/or ladies forced to interact with the dudes all night leading to potential “future interaction” if you get my drift
A special note for parents or graduates reading this article, you can’t do much better than Michigan Technological University if you are searching for a college. MTU offers a first-rate education and a much better price than many schools out there. Please check it out if appropriate.
Playing Pong Pays
Whether you call it by its official name, table tennis, or by its more common moniker, ping-pong, the game offers a lot for the effort. More advanced players can get a cardio workout while chasing after the ball as it’s returned by their opponent. Moving left and right, forward and back, and leaning over the table to seek out and hit the ball over the net requires use of your arms, legs, brain, and cardiovascular system.
Players of all ages and abilities use their joints, tendons, and muscles in the process of playing table tennis. They also must plan and execute a strategy if they desire to win the game. This might include putting a spin on the ball to make it more difficult for their opponent to return it. This mental benefit should not be easily dismissed. What with the near-epidemic levels of age exacerbated diseases like Alzheimer’s, engaging an elderly parent or acquaintance in a game of table tennis could pay big dividends. These health benefits of playing table tennis are inherent to the game.
Between table tennis health benefits and the social benefit of playing games like beer pong, a person couldn’t go wrong by engaging in an occasional game. But, trust me on this, if you play beer pong, stick to beer. Doing shots can lead to all sorts of bad outcomes.