I can remember when I played table tennis in high school, my friends and I would sometimes play forehand-only table tennis for fun where we had to keep changing hands so that we only play forehand shots for the entire game. That got me thinking about whether we are actually allowed to use both hands in table tennis.
Players are permitted to hold a table tennis racket in both hands for all shots except the service where there needs to be a “racket hand” holding the racket and a “free hand”. Players are permitted to alternate their racket hand between points and even between shots in the same point.
Let’s take a look at the different instances where playing table tennis with two hands is possible and whether each of those is legal in terms of the rules of the game.
Can You Use Both Hands In Table Tennis?
When playing table tennis in the heat of summer it is possible that my paddle could become slippery from sweaty hands. My natural reaction if I feel my table tennis paddle slipping will be to bring my other hand to the paddle so that I can stabilize the paddle while playing the shot. It feels a little awkward sometimes but is better than dropping my paddle in the middle of a rally.
I have never had a problem in casual games where an opponent has called me out for playing an instinctive shot with both hands holding my paddle. The question is whether this is legal in terms of the official rules of table tennis and tournament play.
The good news is that in terms of the ITTF regulations, it is legal for me to hold my paddle in two hands while playing all my shots in the rally. The exception to this rule in the ITTF regulations is when playing the service. There are some really specific rules for the service in table tennis that impacts my ability to play the service in table tennis double-handed.
The one notable exception when it comes to holding the paddle double-handed when playing table tennis is when playing the service.
The rules for playing the service in table tennis refer to a racket hand and a free hand because you need to hold the ball with your free hand. Therefore, holding your table tennis paddle in both hands while playing the service is illegal.
The rules for the service in table tennis don’t stipulate that you must play every service with the same hand. So, if you want to play one service with one hand and then switch your paddle to your other hand for your next service point. That is because the term “racket hand” in table tennis is defined as the hand holding the racket and your other hand is called the “free hand”.
I am right-handed, so when I serve I hold my paddle in my right hand. This makes my right hand my “racket hand”. If I change over and play a service holding my paddle with my left hand, my left hand will now be my “racket hand” and my right hand will become my free hand.
When I played table tennis in high school there was a variation that we used to play for fun where we held a table tennis paddle in each hand and played that way. It was a lot of fun and it improved our dexterity with our non-dominant hand. However, looking through the rules of table tennis this may have not exactly been a “legal” way to play table tennis.
The way I interpret the rules of table tennis is that there must be a “free hand” when playing the service but it is legal to use both hands on a “single racket” or switch the racket between hands during a point or between points.
So, even though this variation isn’t legal for competitive play, it is a great training exercise for young players to improve their dexterity as well as their eye/hand coordination. Playing with two paddles is also great fun and points often end in laughter.
It is completely legal in table tennis to switch your paddle between your hands when playing alternate points or even do a hand switch in the middle of a point.
If you do try this, I would advise leaving it for casual games rather than high-level competitive table tennis. At the top level, the game is so fast that you won’t really have time to switch hands properly. You even risk not catching the paddle in your non-dominant hand and have it go flying across the playing area.
There is one notable exception, and that is three times world number 1, Timo Boll. Timo Boll is a naturally left-handed player but has developed a very strong forehand with his right hand. During a rally, if the ball is coming wide to his backhand he will switch hands instead of lunging out of position. The difference is that Timo is able to play a winner with his weaker hand as you can see in the video below.
[Caption] Timo Boll’s Best Hand Switch shots: https://youtu.be/BY_B0qKePic
There is speculation that Timo Boll might be naturally ambidextrous, but he has never confirmed this in any interview that I have seen. However, it is more likely a product of a training system that is commonly used at top-level table tennis clubs in Holland (where Timo started out).
If the coach notices your strike going off because your technique is starting to change in a wrong way and building a bad habit, you will be required to play 2 or 3 training sessions with your weaker hand only. Then when you switch back to your stronger hand everything normally falls back into place with your technique. It is also easier for the coach to make changes to your technique when “coming back” from playing with your weaker hand.