Table Tennis Grip: How to Choose the Right Grip for You

Charlie head image

Charlie Nguyen, Ping Pong Professional & Site Founder

A veritable ping pong master, with 20 years of experience, Charlie strives to educate and empower people through getting the right sports gear and skill

Choosing the correct table tennis grip might initially sound like a simple process. You just hold the handle and swing, right? While not entirely wrong, this is an oversimplification of the process. There are quite a few distinct grips, though they largely fall into three to four distinct categories, making it easier to try different things out and figure out what kind of grip works best for you.

game start serve

Hammer Grip

This is less a viable grip, and more a tutorial on how not to hold your paddle. However, it bears mentioning because it’s by far the most instinctive way to hold the paddle, gripping the handle firmly with all your fingers, the same way you’d grip any hand tool.

doing a hammer grip

The drawbacks here are extensive, and the benefits minimal. You get a very firm grip…too firm, in fact. Your wrist flexibility is impacted, and it’s difficult to return many standard serves, particularly ones with spin on them (as all high level players will be serving).

In general, you should move away from the Hammer grip and well as stop yourself from making common ping pong mistakes, and you’ll be a pro player in no time.

Shakehand Grip

This is the natural evolution of the Hammer grip. In concept, it’s much the same, with the exception that you extend one finger to touch the rubber of the paddle rather than just the handle.

This is a very popular grip worldwide, though particularly among players in Europe and the Americas. It’s a versatile grip in its standard form, but also has a few permutations, like the other of the two biggest and most popular grip styles does.

Particularly there is the Shallow Shakehand grip (the one already mentioned; your index finger alone on the rubber), as well as the Deep Shakehand grip (add your thumb to the rubber as well on the opposite side), and of course forehand and backhand variants of both.

The Shallow Shakehand grip is perfect for added flexibility to your playstyle, allowing you to easily serve and return with both forehand and backhand stroke, and flex your risk for tricky plays. However, it suffers from what is referred to as the “crossover point”, where it may be difficult to decide in the moment whether to return a serve with a forehand or backhand; you need to practice a bit more to get the hang of and make the best use of this added flexibility.

it’s also important to know that your fingers play a role in the grip

The Deep Shakehand grip has a similar issue, but has different upsides. You trade flexibility (and the decision points it provides) for raw POWER in your serve, making it perfect for aggressive plays. However, your options when returning a serve are a bit more limited as you’re more choked up on the paddle; slightly less reach, and significantly less flexibility.

Both styles are perfect for both beginners and professional players alike.

The Seemiller grip is a final, but rarer permutation of the Shakehand, where the thumb and forefinger are both placed on the paddle (similar to the Deep grip), but more rigidly, and both parallel to each other. This gives a bit of added flexibility, eliminates the crossover point, and allows for tricky maneuvers where you flip the paddle to confuse your opponent. However, you lose backhand flexibility, making it difficult to return shots near your elbow, making this a more niche style.

Penhold Grip

The Penhold Grip is popular primarily in Asia specifically in China. It could even be the reason why Chinese are good at playing ping pong. Asian style of play has evolved somewhat differently from the Western style, where Shakehand is almost considered the ONLY viable grip. While Shakehand is also somewhat popular in Asia, the penhold is still a bit more prominent over there.

Both of the major styles of Penhold share the same basic properties; you’re holding the paddle upside down, with the rubber being perpendicular with your forearm, and facing the ground.

The Penhold grip in general increases the flexibility of your wrist even further than the Shallow Shakehand can allow. This allows for more flexibility in plays as well, giving you immense control over how much spin you can put on the ball.

The primary difference is regional, here.

The Chinese Penhold grip keeps your fingers curved and fairly loose for added flexibility. More flexibility equals more spin, as we’ve established. This style also completely eliminates the issue of the crossover point, as you can strike equally well with both forehand and backhand strokes.

However, the Chinese Penhold grip does make one important thing harder: due to the position, backhand topspin is hard to impart. As this is one of the bread and butter techniques in ping pong, your style needs to adjust significantly to this drawback, using that kind of topspin sparingly lest you tire yourself out too quickly with contorted arm movements.

The Japanese or Korean Penhold grip is more popular in those regions, as the name implies. The only real difference is your fingers are held straighter. Similar to the difference between Shallow and Deep Shakehand grips, this trades a bit of flexibility for power. The primary drawback is in that reduced flexibility. Combined with the inherent drawbacks of the Penhold grip, it can make tilting the paddle at certain angles quite difficult, restricting your options. This is one of the most difficult playstyles for beginners to learn.

Similar to the Seemiller grip, the Reverse Backhand is a more niche, less common variant of the Penhold that is designed to eliminate some of the problems with the Chinese grip. It allows for better backhands and an all around better defense position, but makes it difficult to get balls over the net line; in essence it’s better all around in some cases, but is more easily “trapped” and prone to flubs.

Final Remarks

Keep in mind one important thing as you mull over these different grip types: they are all (save the Hammer) viable options. While you shouldn’t take the time to master each, taking the time to get a feel for every one of these grips and learn which you’re most comfortable with is well worth your effort. This is applicable especially when you’re just beginning to play ping pong.

When you try out the different grips, you should use the right standard racket as well as practice only with top rated ping pong tables to get the right practice. It pays well to acquire skill and search for the playstyle that fits you, and while doing it the fascinating benefits of ping pong is that you get fit over time.

Tom Erickson