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Getting Started With Ping Pong (For Fitness!) [Beginner’s Table Tennis Guide]

There are fitness zealots who just love to work out.

They get a rush from putting their bodies to work, from molding them into strong, toned pillars of power.

You’ve heard of a runner’s high, right?

Yeah, of course you have!

Ever experience it? Yeah… me neither.

For most of us, good fitness takes effort, and a hardcore fitness routine that is solely results-oriented (losing weights, building muscle, etc.) can be difficult to maintain.

Sure, it helps to see results, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hit the gym or treadmill day after day. 

That’s why, when you’re trying to create a fitness routine you can stick to, it’s important to incorporate activities that add to your daily movement, but don’t feel like work.

These “fun workouts” are great activities for “off” days, whether they’re days of rest between heavy-duty workouts or days when you simply don’t feel like doing anything. (And those days are perfectly all right! Everybody has them!)

Ping pong (or table tennis) is one of the “fun workouts” you can add to your rotation.

It’s a game, and it feels like a game, but it’s got a lot more fitness components than you probably realize.

While it won’t replace regular exercise – ping pong won’t sculpt your body or provide enough cardio – it does a little bit of everything, getting you moving, increasing your calorie-burn, and engaging your muscles.

Plus, it’s fun, which is a seriously underrated part of any long-term fitness routine.

What is table tennis (ping pong)?

Ping pong is a table-top racket game where two players (or four players on two teams) knock a ball back and forth over a net.

It’s actually a lot like real tennis, just on a much smaller scale, and is played similarly with only slight variations to the rules.

man and woman playing ping pong

Ping Pong vs Table Tennis

The question many people have is ‘what’s the difference between ping pong and table tennis?’, and it’s a good question to ask because the two terms are often used interchangeably.

The basic answer is, nothing really.

In most ways, ping pong and table tennis are the same game.

Table tennis is the more formal term (and the one used at the Olympics), while ping pong is the more colloquial term you might use when challenging a buddy at the pub.

But the rules of play are the same no matter what you call it.

Is ping pong a sport?

It is if you agree with the International Olympic Committee.

So yes, ping pong is a sport.

Benefits of Ping Pong

The benefits of ping pong are more (and more intense) than you might think.

Some benefits, once you get beyond learning and improve your playing ability, include:

  • Improved strength (especially if you are starting from a sedentary lifestyle)
  • Improved joint health (low-impact)
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved balance
  • Improved coordination (mainly hand-eye coordination)
  • Improved reflexes (especially fine muscle movements)
  • Improved motor skills
  • Improved endurance
  • Improved heart health (including lower blood pressure)
  • Improved sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Overall brain stimulation, which leads to:
    • Increased alertness
    • Better cognition
    • Improved memory (including the potential to prevent or delay dementia)
  • Pure joy, which:
    • Lowers stress
    • Boosts immune system
    • Increases life expectancy

Another great benefit of ping pong, especially for older people, is that it is a group activity which increases social contact, a major factor in reducing depression.

Is table tennis good exercise?

Whether you think of it as a sport or not, there is no question ping pong can really get you moving.

Ping pong, or table tennis, is listed as a 4.0-MET (metabolic equivalent) activity in the Compendium of Physical Activities.

This makes it a moderate exercise roughly equivalent to a brisk walk.

However, research has found the energy expenditure for table tennis may be severely understated.

A 2017 study of competitive ping pongers found players reached 4.5 METs during practice with hand and arm work alone.

When footwork was incorporated, METs rose to 9.5-11.5.

This puts table tennis more in line with other racket sports, such as racquetball and singles tennis.

Keep in mind, this study was on competitive athletes training for competition, but the take away is this – as you improve your ping pong, you can increase your speed and intensity, turning it into a better and better workout as time goes on.

It just happens to be a workout that’s a lot of fun and doesn’t feel like exercise.

Does table tennis help you lose weight?

Yes, it does.

If you’re increasing your MET, you’re increasing your energy needs and burning calories.

Table Tennis Calories Burned

How many calories you burn during table tennis or ping pong highly depends on your skill-level and intensity of play.

If we use the 4.0-MET estimate in the Compendium of Physical Activities, a 150-lb. person can expect to burn around 4.5 cal./min. or 273 cal./hr. (quite a decent, moderate calorie expenditure).

But if we base ping pong calories on the practice numbers of the college-level competitors in the above study, the calories burned playing ping pong increase exponentially.

The college-level athletes reaching 11.5 METs during practice are burning 13 cal./min, or nearly 800 cal./hr.

Does playing table tennis burn fat?

Yes. When it comes to burning fat, it’s all about using your muscles in an intense, rapid way.

That’s what makes high-intensity interval training – HIIT – such a powerful fat-burner.

The more muscles you involve at the same time, the harder your body has to work and the more fat you can burn.

That’s what makes calisthenics such a good fat-burner.

Ping pong uses the entire body, requiring rapid arm movements, core movements, and footwork all at the same time.

When you become skilled enough to rally back and forth for extended periods, you’ll be putting your muscles to work at a rapid pace while also reaching cardio levels.

This is a perfect recipe for fat-burn.

Can you build muscle with ping pong?

You might, a little, but more likely not.

While it burns fat and helps tone your muscles, ping pong isn’t much of a muscle builder.

Though it’s a weight-bearing exercise, like any exercise done while standing, it’s only your own weight that you bear and you don’t put your weight to use as resistance the way you do with exercises like jumping jacks or squats.

A ping pong paddle (and ball) is also very lightweight, so you don’t get any resistance while serving or striking the ball either.

The arm movements and footwork in table tennis do put your muscles to work, but in a way that tones, instead of builds muscle.

Muscles Used in Table Tennis

The muscles table tennis puts to work include:

  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Wrists
  • Hands
  • Core (Abs and Obliques)
  • Glutes
  • Legs (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves)
  • Ankles
  • Feet

Basically, the swings, twists, and footwork of ping pong involve the entire body, and, as much as it seems like a game, you CAN get injured while playing table tennis.

Common ping pong injuries include:

  • Hand sprain
  • Wrist sprain
  • Forearm sprain
  • Knee sprain
  • Torn meniscus
  • Ankle sprain

If you overdo it playing table tennis, you can also develop common overuse conditions, such as:

  • Carpal tunnel
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Tendinitis
  • Strains
  • Back pain

When you first start to play, it’s important to keep in mind that ping pong really is a moderate to vigorous exercise, so you should stretch out and warm up accordingly before and after you play.

Table Tennis for Beginners

The best thing about ping pong may be how easy it is to get started.

The rules are simple and the equipment inexpensive.

For the basic rules of ping pong, check out How to Play Ping Pong.

For how scoring works, check out Scoring In Table Tennis (Ping Pong Scoring Guide).

Table Tennis Clubs

If you prefer to learn with other people, get some coaching, or try a few games before investing in your own table, your best bet is a table tennis club.

Table tennis clubs are in most cities and provide all the equipment you need to play (often for a very nominal entrance fee).

While you can become a member, you don’t have to; most clubs accept walk-in players.

Table tennis clubs are a great place to find opponents and to get solid instruction.

Clubs often have owners or employees who provide paid lessons, but you can get a lot of free advice from your fellow players.

Even if you plan to buy your own table and start playing ping pong at home, a trip or two to your local club is an excellent way to learn the basics.

Ping Pong Tables & Sets

As far as ping pong equipment goes, the only items you need to get started are a table and a ping pong set.

Ping pong tables are ideal because they are crafted of proper materials at the right thickness.

These things influence the bounce of the ball, and, therefore, play.

Here are some tables we like for beginners (these aren’t the best tables available, but they do offer decent quality for their prices):

If you just want to get a feel for ping pong before you buy a table (and don’t want to visit a club), you might prefer to start out with a ping pong set, which you can get for a fraction of the price of a table.

Here are some sets we like for beginners:

When choosing a set, just make sure you get one that clamps to the table to ensure the net stays up during play.

Ping Pong Clothing

While you don’t need anything but a ping pong table or set to play ping pong, one more thing you might want to consider is what you’ll wear.

Professional ping pong players wear a uniform consisting of shorts (or skirt) and a short-sleeved shirt.

This is good guidance for home or club play.

The important things to remember when dressing for ping pong is that you need to be able to move easily, you don’t want anything in the way of your arm or paddle, and you will get warm if you play long enough. This makes the shorts/short-sleeved shirt combo ideal.

The only hard clothing rule in casual ping pong, though, is to wear a different color than the color of the ball.

If you are using a white ball, for instance, don’t wear white.

It makes it hard for your opponent to see the ball and is considered bad sportsmanship.

As for your shoes, sneakers or running shoes work well for most surfaces.

Just choose a shoe with a good sole that allows you to move easily, but still has enough traction to prevent slipping.

Why Ping Pong?

If you’re asking ‘Why ping pong?,’ the only possible answer is ‘Why not ping pong?’

Ping pong is fun, simple, and surprisingly good exercise.

It’s a great activity to add to your fitness arsenal, so you have something to do on those days when you’re looking for an option that’s low-impact or don’t really feel like exercising at all.

Need some inspiration before you hit the table? Check out Ping Pong Quotes for Inspiration.

Want more yuks with your ping pong content? Check out Ping Pong Puns.

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