As National Team players were put through their paces in a number of training camps over the past year or so, there was one man standing among them directing the all-important physical training sessions which were apparently lacking among the nation's best athletes. Eric Gray was that man, and having been involved in a number of physical training sessions and athletic camps with the youth and senior national teams since becoming involved with USATT, he has some valuable insights into physical training needs for table tennis players.
Eric was drawn to the sport by business partner and table tennis Houston local, Manny Velasquez, who asked him to focus his attention on the sport of table tennis. Velasquez introduced him to Hoang and Ann Tran, the parents of US National Team members Daniel and Michael Tran.
"I began training Michael and Daniel at HITTA. Then Joerg Bitzigeio, at the time USATT High Performance Director, came to Houston and saw me training them and asked if I would like to do physical training at the athletic camp he had organized at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. My answer was YES," says Gray, who has since led physical training at a number of national team events and preparation camps across the country.
If anything, having the Chinese National Team in closed training here in the USA at UCLA showed clearly what was needed to compete at the highest levels of the sport, and really what it meant to transform good table tennis 'players' into athletes.
"Physical training is a “Huge Factor” in any sport today. Table Tennis players need physical training in their daily routine, to transform their bodies to the best of their ability and with less injuries. I think the US team are moving in the right direction," states Gray, who has been able to adapt his physical training sessions to the needs of the sport of table tennis.
"The major areas I see as far as necessary physical focus are more foot work and agility, exercises which build on improvement of side to side movements; and to be more relaxed. Everybody part has to move in rhythm with each other, so coordination exercises are important also."
Gray uses a combination of exercise regimes during the camps from explosive sprinting, resistance band training, agility, lateral movements and coordination and strength training.
When asked about which muscle groups are key focus areas for the sport of table tennis, he had this to say:
"Well the key muscle groups associated with Table Tennis is actually the complete body. Beyond physical aspects you have to start with mentality, that is the most important. Then you go with key muscle groups; shoulders, arms, core, lower back. The most strength or flexibility would be your legs. You have your, hamstring, quads, calves."
Most table tennis players commonly focus on the areas of quads/hamstrings and core as the two major elements, but it is becoming increasingly clear that many more muscle groups are engaged and need to be balanced to become a good table tennis athlete, and not only strength but explosiveness, speed, coordination and flexibility.
Without a doubt, physical training is an area which has a lot of room for potential improvement from our national team players, and hopefully Mr Gray has shone some light on the importance of such activities to help pave the way forward for the US team.