The holy trinity of badminton fitness
Hey BC, my first post on here. Wanted to talk about fitness for badminton, something that sometimes gets glossed over but is extremely important. As a badminton player and Olympic weightlifter, I believe I can provide a useful insight.
Badminton may get stereotyped as an ‘easy’ sport (in UK. I’m sure this is different in Asia), but we all know how physically demanding the sport is. I think everyone here can relate to this, and I know I’ve had plenty of gruelling games where each rally just gets tougher and tougher. And by the end you end up physically exhausted. Though these are often my favourite games.
And although we respect the importance of stamina, the general attitude to badminton conditioning seems to end there. I know several players who will spend time off court developing their stamina, maybe they go running once or twice a week. But I know very few players who have a systematic weight training schedule.
Take a look at this picture:
While Lin Dan’s ripped body may be the thing that stood out, I want to draw your attention to Lee Chong Wei quickly.
He is squatting 180kg. That’s 3 times his bodyweight. If you’ve ever tried back squats at the gym you’ll know how insane that is.
Clearly the pros are using strength training in a very major way, they know that running isn’t an all-in-one solution. Sure stamina is extremely important too. But I guarantee you LCW didn’t work his way up to 180kg by running laps a few times a day. No he has clearly spent a lot of time dedicated to building his strength.
At this point I’d like to make a distinction: Fitness for badminton can split into 3 separate categories. In order to reach your true potential you must develop all of them, not just your stamina.
I call these the holy trinity. Because there’s three of them. Ok that’s terrible…I’m here to teach you **** not make you laugh.
Let’s talk a bit about these three.
The most commonly discussed aspect of fitness. This is your cardiovascular fitness, defined as your respiratory system’s ability to maintain a moderate intensity for a prolonged period of time. For example doing cardio (running, badminton match) is reliant on your body’s stamina.
This is fairly intuitive and easy to understand. I’m sure everyone can appreciate how important stamina is for badminton – without it you’ll quickly tire out a few minutes into a game. Since most people already appreciate this, I won’t go into too much detail in this post.
Agility is your ability to move quickly and explosively. This is used in short bursts, for example a quick change of direction is an example of agility. Agility is linked to lower body strength, and is the most important physical aspect for developing swift footwork.
Each time you split step in anticipation for you opponents return or rapidly change the direction you’re moving in, you rely on your body’s agility.
If the only training you spend off court is cardio (running/swimming/cycling etc), you won’t be improving your agility. Cardio is a slow and steady type of workout, whereas agility is all about split second explosiveness. This relies on your fast-twitch muscles, not something that gets developed through cardio. Instead this is trained though speed drills and weight training. Speed training involves ladder drills and similar exercises. Weight training for agility overlaps a lot with lower body strength, you’d be doing things like power cleans, squats, box jumps etc.
Strength is the amount of force your body is able to produce. Unlike stamina, strength does not take place over a long period of time, is used to overcome resistance quickly.
For badminton it’s worth making the distinction between upper and lower body strength.
As mentioned, you lower body strength training will see a lot of overlap with agility. Both play a large part in developing good footwork. Strong legs will especially be what enable to to execute powerful leaps to the forehand corner, or recover effortlessly from a lunge. Whereas agility is more responsible for small, quick movements. It’s a subtle distinction to make, and I’m not sure if I’ve managed to articulate it well – let me know if that makes sense.
Though there are slight distinctions, generally you can hit these two aspects simultaneously within a single well developed weight training workout. Key exercises are squats (front and back), weighted lunges, cleans (power or full).
Upper body strength is less important in badminton, but still overlooked. It is important that we focus on upper body exercises that directly translate to badminton. The absolute last thing we want is to become bulky and slow, we’re badminton players not bodybuilders. For this reason it’s best to stick to explosive, compound movements: bench press, dips, military press, pull ups etc.
Small isolation movements such as bicep curls may be tempting (who doesn’t want big biceps!), but generally aren’t that useful. Don’t feel like you have to avoid them like the plague, but just realise they shouldn’t be a priority
I hope you found some value in this post. If you’re serious about badminton you should take the chance to evaluate your own training. Are you spending enough time off court? And if so are you taking the chance to build all three aspects?
As a competitive Olympic weightlifter with 10+ years badminton experience I believe I’m in a unique position to help. I hope this is useful, please ask additional questions or clarifications if necessary. I’ve never been particularly articulate in writing, so let me know if this is all a giant mess.