The secret workouts of the best table tennis players in the American team

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Chen Wang plays a shot against Romania’s Elizabeta Samara during their women’s team bronze medal playoff match at the Peking University Gymnasium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 15, 2008 in Beijing.

When you think of a table tennis player, do you imagine someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator” or rather Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump”?

There’s a reason someone with big muscles doesn’t come to mind – and it’s because “if you have really big muscles as a table tennis player, it actually slows you down “, revealed the 2012 Olympic table tennis player Timothy Wang. But that doesn’t mean these athletes don’t train. So we asked Timothy and his American teammate, 2008 Olympic table tennis player Chen Wang, to share their exercise routines. You might be surprised how much they vary, but both are very important in helping them stay fit for their sport.

Timothy – who was the first (and only) table tennis player to join his performance gym for athletes in Atlanta, which caters mostly to professional baseball and soccer players – admitted that the reason they don’t don’t see more is “because there aren’t that many longtime table tennis players in the United States. There are a few more now, but it’s still very rare,” he said. “So they were a bit surprised when they heard what I did.”

Despite being unfamiliar territory, he said his coach, former NFL player Corey Bridges, spent time learning what it takes to work with a table tennis player.

“He went online and watched some of my videos,” Timothy recalled. “It takes a lot of communication to understand what is needed for me because he’s never worked with a table tennis player before.”

Another person who had to brush up on her table tennis was Chen, who had retired from the sport after the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But seven years later she decided to return to table tennis and credited her coach for his return.

“Yu Tian Wang is a very important person for me this time,” she said. “If he wasn’t here, I couldn’t train. Because before he came to my club, I didn’t have anyone to train with.

Chen plays table tennis with Yu five days a week. “He’s like the top 10 player in the country,” she said. “So he’s a really good training partner and he’s raised my level for competition.”

However, when it comes to exercise, she mostly trains on her own at a local gym near her New York home (along with her 4-year-old son, her reason for retiring).

Timothy and Chen revealed their training schedules to TeamUSA.org:

How often do you exercise?

Timothy: On the table, I train about five hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. But I train with my trainer in the gym for another hour and a half to two hours, every other day.

Chen: Usually I go to the gym twice a week and train for two hours. Since I haven’t played table tennis in seven years, the first thing I did to get back into shape was physical training to build muscle and lose weight.


What does your training look like?

Timothy: My trainer makes me do a bit of everything, but mostly cardio with some added weights. I also do free weights because my trainer doesn’t really believe in machines. We worked a lot on stability and balance, lunges with weights or lateral movements with a medicine ball. Every workout is different and it always challenges me until I can’t walk anymore.

Chen: I do one hour on the machines working my arms and legs, and the second hour I ride my bike. Cycling is my main exercise – it helps build my leg muscles. I also swim sometimes. I also lie down on the mat and focus on my stomach and back muscles. Because I had back pain before, and when I had back pain, I couldn’t do anything. So now I do a lot of sit-ups.


Is it more important to work the arms or the legs?

Timothy: I maybe focus a bit more on my legs, because in table tennis you have to be in a really good position to get the most out of a shot. Footwork is therefore very important. And since stability comes from the legs and core, we work a lot on those areas, which means a lot of deadlifts and plyometrics. And boards.

Chen: Because in table tennis you have to move a lot from side to side, the muscles start to hurt when you squat like that. So I do a lot of machines that help build upper leg muscles.


What are you doing for your arms?

Timothy: Lots of work on the shoulders, because in table tennis you always have to keep your arms up and ready. So we do a lot of movement with medicine balls. For example, the coach throws a medicine ball at me from each side and I move from side to side while spinning and blasting the ball towards the coach.


Do you practice yoga or any other form of exercise?

Timothy: In fact, my trainer has done a lot of things very similar to yoga with me. We’ll be doing stretches that have movements very similar to yoga but we’ll be using a bit of weight, like maybe 10 pounds as well.

Chen: When I’m not playing table tennis, I like to do a lot of things to stay in shape. I go ice skating, roller skating. I used to run. I used to love running in Central Park, but I can’t run now because my knee hurts.

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