Penhold vs. Shakehand: Full Explanation for Two Table Tennis Grip Types
Table tennis players have a variety of grips to choose from, but most players want between two main grip types, the shakehand and penhold grip.
These are the two grips that are best for beginners and are also the grips you’ll see most top level players using.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages along with their variations to help you get more from each grip.
Here, you’ll find information on each grip and its variations to help you become more familiar with each one.
The Penhold Grip
The penhold grip is aptly named because you hold the paddle in the same way that you hold a pen when writing. To do this, position your thumb and pointer finger at the top of the handle near the paddle face with your remaining fingers gripping the rest of the handle for support. There are three variations of this grip, the Chinese grip, the Japanese/Korean grip, and the reverse penhold backhand grip.
The Chinese Grip
The Chinese grip is the traditional penhold grip described above and is the most popular of the penhold grip variations. You can modify this slightly by holding your thumb almost parallel to the blade of the paddle while curving your pointer finger. You can spread your thumb and pointer finger to different degrees and even have your pointer finger overlapping your thumb slightly. Your back fingers can also have different positions including touching the blade of the paddle if you like.
The traditional Chinese penhold grip is great for free wrist movement (more so than the other grips). This will help you perform better forehand strokes and also give you more power on your serves. Blocks and pushing are also easier with this grip because it allows you to make forehand or backhand blocks. There is no crossover point with the penhold grip as there is with other grips, too. This means that you always use the same forehand side for attacking, counterstriking, and defending shots.
The downside to the Chinese grip is that it can be difficult to get consistent topspins on your backhand shots. This is because you’ll have to contort your arm to an unnatural angle to get that spin on the ball. It also takes away your flexibility to cover both sides of the table properly. You’ll have to cover the table with forehand attacks instead which can drain your energy quickly. Players, therefore, choose to stay close to the table so they can attack with forehand strokes and block and push with their backhand.
The Japanese/Korean Grip
This is the second most common variation of the penhold grip and is referred to frequently as the Japanese grip or the Korean grip. This grip is similar to the Chinese grip as your thumb and pointer fingers grip the handle in the same way, but the difference comes in the back fingers. Instead of curling them around the handle, you stretch them out onto the blade. You can further modify this by keeping your ring, and pinky fingers fanned out on the blade of the paddle, or you can keep them close to your middle finger.
The Japanese/Korean grip gives you attacking power in your forehand as your extended fingers will give you additional support. It still gives you more wrist mobility and also helps you get a stronger spin on the ball.
The disadvantage to this variation of the penhold grip is that the actual movement of the blade from the top of the paddle to the handle is a bit restricted thanks to your extended fingers. The positioning of your fingers stops you from adjusting the paddle’s angle for your backhand. It also poses a problem for backhand topspins, as the Chinese grip does. You’ll also need the same stamina required for the Chinese grip to cover the whole table properly.
Players that seem to like this variation are those who like forehand attacks. They also tend to stand further away from the table than those who use the Chinese grip. Blocking and fishing are done with their backhand while quick footwork allows them to make powerful forehand shots, so they aren’t always playing defense.
The Reverse Penhold Grip
This is the final variation of the penhold grip. Here, you similarly hold the paddle to the Chinese grip but you hit backhand side balls with the back of the penhold. In addition to the actual grip technique, a lot of players who use it choose to also utilize inverted rubber for their backhand in order to achieve better topspin balls.
The reverse penhold grip has the same advantages as the Chinese grip, but it also gives you a more powerful backhand. This is different than the weak backhand of the traditional grip. You can use this backhand to attack short balls, achieve better topspin balls with your backhand stroke, and have a wider reach. It can also be used along with the Chinese grip in a game since it’s not difficult to switch between the two.
There are a few disadvantages, however. One is that this grip creates a crossover point—where you need to switch from backhand to forehand. This decision usually has to be made quickly which can present a problem for some players, especially beginners. This is why more experienced players are better suited for this grip. Another downside is that it’s hard to create backhand side topspins with the reverse penhold grip if the ball doesn’t have some sidespin to it.
Wang Hao is a former famous star used this technique:
The Shakehand Grip
This is a very popular grip that most people see characters in movies using when playing table tennis. As the name suggests, this grip is basically what happens when you “shake hands” with your table tennis paddle. To properly achieve this, the blade of the paddle should rest on the “V” shape that your thumb and pointer finger creates. Your pointer finger will be parallel to rubber’s edge at the paddle’s face.
Like the penhold grip, there are variations of the shakehand grip, too. These are the shallow grip and the deep grip. At first glance, they look identical, but the main difference is that your thumb sits in a different position in each variation. In the shallow grip, your thumb will rest on the blade while the deep grip has your thumb resting on the rubber of the paddle.
The shallow grip’s advantage over the deep grip is mainly that you can adjust the paddle’s angle quicker since the grip is looser than the alternative. You’ll also benefit from more wrist movement which allows for more power and spin. The deep grip’s advantage is that you have more control over the paddle since it requires a tighter grasp on the handle. However, you won’t get as much wrist flexibility so your power will decrease. Both variations allow you to switch from forehand to backhand easily.
The shakehand grip, in general, has a notable disadvantage, however. This is the crossover point sometimes called the playing elbow. As mentioned earlier, this is the point where you have to choose whether you’ll use a forehand or backhand on an attack. This has you thinking quickly on your feet during the game to make the best decision for each attack. As discussed in the previous section, the penhold grip doesn’t have this crossover point in most variations.
The shallow shakehand grip is best for players who like topspins, loop drives, and loops when playing. Players who like smashing the ball like this grip, too. In contrast, players who prefer backspins for their attacks choose the deep shakehand grip more often.
While these are the two main grips there are also other rarely used grips including the V-grip, the pistol grip, and the Seemiller grip. Since these aren’t used by many top players (if any) there are few examples of these to cite and less information on them.
Now that you have essential information about two of the most popular grips you can decide which one is best for you based on your level of play and what feels comfortable for you. If you are a beginner, take the time to try out the different grips and see what you like the most. Once you decide, hone your skills using that grip and see how it improves your game.