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William Henzell Diary

by on May.21, 2013, under William Henzell

I let my strength work in the gym slip after the Olympics last year, which was partly deliberate and partly due to having less time available for training. I was mentally and physically drained after the Olympics (and 18 months of full dedication before it) and was not thinking about how to develop my game into the future. I don’t especially enjoy the gym and my main reasoning for gym work is to help my table tennis.

After my first round of tournaments in March this year, where I wasn’t very happy with my play or results, I realised how much my lack of gym work had been letting me down. I felt noticeably slower, that I was getting caught out of position with my forehand and that I was lacking the ability to rotate forwards with a stable controlled movement on my forehand topspin. So I decided to try to get to the gym 2 days each week for at least 30 minutes each time. Short sessions where I would try to target the most crucial few exercises and movements. I’d lost some of my previous strength: around 15 – 20% and I’m still working back towards where I was. I have a lean body type in general and find it difficult to put on much muscle.

Squats are the bread-and-butter gym exercise for table tennis players. Preparing for the Olympics, in Austria, my coaches introduced a new technique where I would go down to close to 90 degrees with my legs, pause, do a small lift (just a centimetre), back down and then power up again. I found this much harder than how I had been doing my squats before – which was just straight down to 90 degrees and straight back up. Pausing meant that I lost that momentum and ability to quickly reverse the movement upwards. I was doing 100 or 110kg on my squats before but had to drop back down to 80kg, and even found this quite hard. There is balance and technique involved, which my body had largely forgotten. It is painful to get back into squats after a long break and I so sore for days afterwards at the beginning. I’ve worked my way back to being able to manage 3 sets of 8 x 90kg and am on the verge of going back to 100kg. I’ve found that I have so much more stability in my footwork again and am able to maintain a lower body position for longer in general. I am better at stepping out of the way with my body when the ball comes to my middle and making room for a good swing.

Lunges are an important counterweight to squats. I have a 20kg bar on my shoulders and then lunge forward with one leg, keeping my knee at 90 degrees and dropping down low to the ground. A risk with doing a lot of squats but not much work on your butt is that your quads become too strong for their own good. The butt isn’t able to support your body well enough and the lower back takes the brunt of compensating. Many elite table tennis players have problems with discs in their lower backs because of this, including myself. I try to keep the lunges similar to table tennis movements, so lunge both forwards, and at outward angles simulating stepping forwards and wide, for example if you need to receive a short serve to the wide forehand. I then press hard off my forward foot while keeping my body in a forwards and stable position to maintain balance.

The next exercise is mainly for injury prevention for my lower back. If I keep up this exercise I have little or no pain in my lower back. If I stop for a month or two I run the risk of doing my back again. This is exactly what happened before the Australian National Championships last year. They were scheduled for early September which was a very poor time for me. I went on a long road-trip through Europe after the Olympics and didn’t do my exercises for 5 weeks. I got back a day before the event started and of course did my back that same day. It was as simple as bending forwards to put my track pants on and I felt a sharp jab in my lower back. It’s an awful feeling to get as I know that I won’t be able to bend forwards or sit down for some time to come. For this exercise, I use a Swiss ball (blow up plastic ball about 65cm in diameter). I lie on the ball face down with the ball under my stomach. I raise one arm and the opposing leg upwards so that they are both at the same height as my body. Then I do the same thing with my other arm and other leg. The exercise keeps the small muscles in my lower back activated and strong.

More to come…

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