Blazing balls of fury
Published Thursday, 23-Sep-2010 in issue 1187
The tension is high, the room is hot, the crowd watches anxiously as sweat drips from the players’ foreheads and puddles on the floor, creating a smell reminiscent of a high school boys’ locker room after gym class. Bloodthirsty athletes with their souped-up, hard-hitting paddles show off their mind blowing skills as onlookers cheer them on in awe and admiration. These warriors of the rectangular table are fierce and are in it to win it! It’s official, ping pong fever has struck the masses.
What was once considered a “geeky game” is now a full blown hipster sport, and an Olympic one at that. Yes, unbeknownst to many, ping pong (also known as table tennis) has been an Olympic sport since 1988. Although the game seems to be dominated by the Chinese, and considered by them to be their national sport, it was actually invented by the British in the 1880s as an after dinner indoor relaxation game, mimicking outdoor tennis. In preparation of the hosting of the Olympic Games in 2012, London recently set up 100 ping pong tables all around the city in hopes of enticing more British people to play the sport by the time the games arrive.
Ping pong’s popularity in the States is on the rise. HBO’s pop culture series Entourage featured the game in a recent episode at Los Angeles’s trendy new table tennis social club, SPiN, (which is co-owned by Susan Sarandon). SPiN’s LA venture is actually the first expansion outside of the company’s original location in New York. Here in San Diego, ping pong is the new draw to several downtown hot spots. Game ON! Tournaments are held the third Tuesday of each month at Quality Social, downtown’s newest “quality dive bar”. Players battle it out for their chance to win generous bar tabs.
For those who have not participated in, or witnessed, a battle of the blazing balls, the idea may occur to you that ping pong is just a simple paddle game. For the novice, it may be just that, but for the athletic ball busters out there, it’s much more.
Ping pong is fast and it demands quick hand-eye coordination and rapid reactions. Ping pong professionals practice relentlessly to improve their skills and their ability to master some of the basic biomechanical principals of all strokes, including: the application of force and friction (how to touch the ball), timing (when the racket’s energy is transferred to the ball) and where to contact the ball (always in the front).
For those who have not participated in, or witnessed, a battle of the blazing balls, the idea may occur to you that ping pong is just a simple paddle game.
Although ping pong may not be as physically grueling as other sports, it still requires regular, intense training. Professionals, and the truly competitive amateurs, spend hours doing drills to master different serves, returns and strokes, and they must keep their bodies in good overall condition. Being in good physical shape is important to play at your best level, and can be the difference between two players with the same technical ability. Sometimes form and footwork can decline after several matches when a player is not physically conditioned to endure the stamina required for long play.
To improve your stamina, which is also known as your aerobic conditioning, you need to perform some kind of aerobic activity. You can take a cycling class, run on the treadmill, go swimming, jog the neighborhood, jump rope or anything you choose that raises your heart rate and gets your blood flowing, and you should do it at least 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 45 minutes to really produce results.
Ping pong keeps you up and moving the whole game. It will be important to have strong legs and abdominals to support you through and extend play time. Incorporating squats, walking lunges and powerful plyometric drills into your workout will help prepare your legs for the shifting and bouncing around ping pong requires. Likewise, focusing on simple abdominal exercises such as crunches and planks can help strengthen your back for a lengthy, intense game.
We have ping pong tables at Fit that are always occupied with enthused, competitive players before and after their workouts. I might add, we do have some of the best competitors in town dropping sweat on our floors on a daily basis.
Regular ping pong play keeps you mentally sharp and since it’s a non-contact sport, it’s gentle on your body. Unless of course you play with a sore loser, then it could get physical and become a whole new kind of paddle crushing event.