Think about the peak display of agility…
For me, one of the first things that come to mind is always animals. More specifically, the cheetah.
If you’ve ever seen a clip from national geography of a cheetah chasing down its prey, you know what I’m talking about.
While most people are amazed by its speed alone, I find it even crazier how it’s capable of cutting and zig-zagging with incredible balance WHILE moving that fast.
I think that’s the perfect analogy for badminton agility.
While you’re not chasing down prey, you are chasing shuttles, and the way a badminton player is required to move around the court is very much about being as agile as possible.
A lot of players refer to this as being “light on your feet.”
This is why you often see badminton players who are on their toes, constantly switching in and out of stances, do well. While those that are more static – not so much.
When you reach the peak of how light you can get on your feet, all your movements and change of directions start to look like one fluid pattern.
It starts to look purposeful and intentional. Like a staged performance. That’s what we see when the pros are playing.
Needless to say, any badminton player could benefit from being more dynamic in this way.
But if you want to stop feeling locked up while you watch shuttles fly by – “Arghh!! I should’ve gotten that!” – it’s worth it to have a look at your agility.
What exactly is badminton agility?
If you look around on the internet for the definition of agility in sports, you’ll find a ton of studies referring to it as – “a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus.”
In badminton, we can translate that to the ability to rapidly change directions in our movement around the court when we react and adjust to different strikes and moves of another player.
It’s all about how quickly you can switch from moving in one direction and immediately start moving in another – just like that cheetah chasing an antelope.
That is what determines how agile you are.
Of course, the nature of the sport requires that you have some level of agility when you suddenly have to lunge forward while moving backward because your opponent hit a net or drop shot. Or you’ll have to backpedal without tripping yourself because of a clear or lift.
It’s a dance that constantly switches.
I’m always amazed by the excellent badminton agility of the pros and how effortless they make it look.
Let me give you a few examples. Try to only look at their feet and notice when they change direction or recover from a deep lunge.
They obviously have years of training and playing at the highest level to reach this performance.
Still, some of these moves just seem like instinctive superhuman badminton abilities that can’t be practiced – or can they?
Hint. They can.
All these impressive abilities that make some players look like they’re wearing Hermes’ Winged Sandals, and effortlessly move in any direction without ever losing balance, draw from both techniques and fitness components that boost your overall endurance, explosiveness, and flexibility.
You can’t talk about agility in badminton without automatically getting into the importance of footwork.
Footwork and agility go hand in hand because to develop better footwork is to become more agile.
Vice versa, by drilling specific agility exercises (more on that later), you’ll find that it makes some of the trickier aspects of footwork techniques much easier to master.
Even though the two are intertwined, I’m not going to open up the court on footwork here because that’s an entire topic that deserves attention in its own right (don’t worry, I’ve got you covered).
You can get everything you need on footwork in badminton, and learn about specific techniques, exercises, and how pros like Viktor Axelsen practice.
I’ve also written about the split step, which might be one of the coolest (agile) techniques that make you twice as fast as those who aren’t using it.
Now back to agility.
We all want to become FASTER.
But outside of technique and fitness, we need a third ingredient (that doesn’t get as much attention) to complete the agility that makes you faster on the court.
Expand your badminton agility with a nimble mind
In my experience, we can break down agility into three segments that make up complete badminton agility.
- Reactions (reflexes)
- Movements (planned-out)
- Decisions (nimble thinking)
If you want to get scientific, you can probably find more accurate breakdowns of agility, and analyze those.
We already went over the first two, but I’ve always found that a third element brings it all together whenever I’m super light on my feet.
That element is decision-making.
Fast thinking is essential to the game.
NOTHING in badminton happens slowly. Everything from your movement, striking technique, stance, and positioning on the court needs to work together in a rapidly synchronized symphony.
The better you are at not (only) reacting to your opponent but striking the shuttle back with intention and anticipating returns, the more likely you are to outplay them.
Just look at this doubles rally.
It’s so fast you’d think all there is to do is react – yet they don’t play randomly.
Every shuttle and movement have the intention to win back attacking pressure. You cannot play like this without making split-second decisions of incredible agility.
Quick movement and quick thinking are interwoven. If you need to change direction in a split second, your brain needs to send that signal before your body reacts.
One study, from basketball, showed that players improved their agility level by quicker thinking.
It’s my experience that badminton is very much the same.
Of course, the challenge is to know how agile your brain and body are together and secondly, how to make it better.
First, we’ll establish your current level.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to track and measure your performance with an agility test.
Two quick tests for badminton players
- SEMO agility test
In short, the test measures your ability to move forward, backward, and sidewards.
You move through a course that looks like this, set up in a rectangle with measurements of 3.7 x 5.8 meters or 12 x 19 feet.
You’ll need cones or some other form of markers to set up and someone to time how fast you move through the course.
Your starting point is on the right side of cone number 1, and you start the timer as soon as you make the first move on the course.
Your scoring will look like this.
Another option that’s easy to set up is the Agility T-test.
- Agility T-test
This is super easy to set up with four cones or markers on the court next time you want to get a quick assessment of your badminton agility.
It runs like this.
Here’s how you score on the T-test.
One thing about these tests is that we can’t rule out how other factors (such as better stamina) will help you move faster and score higher. Then again, endurance is a big factor in badminton, so some overlap is to be expected in these tests.
It’s also important to remember that agility is a technique you can learn. Better overall fitness will factor in to support agility, and strength training can help you become more explosive in your movements.
However, even though these tests can’t tell you everything about your agility, they’re useful to get a quick assessment.
Now that you have a decent base to compare yourself to, it’s time we look at agility training for badminton to develop a more nimble mind and body for complete agility.
Agility exercises for badminton to grow wings on your feet
When it comes to agility training for badminton, we often have to look at other high-agility sports for inspiration. Unless you have access to a coach or a club that schedule and organize these workouts for you, there’s a good chance this is something you’ll have to figure out on your own time.
Below is a broad selection of exercises you can use to improve and challenge your agility.
It’s not meant for you to follow every single one but rather to have something to choose from and experiment with.
- A mix of quick badminton agility exercises
We’ll start at the lowest amount of setup and effort for badminton agility training that you can do from home.
- Daily badminton agility for speed
This example from Badminton Insight is something you could put together for an agility regimen that would be easy to include in a warm-up session or just to practice on the days you don’t play.
- In-out fast feet (4×10-second sets)
This focus on your speed to switch in and out of stances and your split step technique which will also be the small twitch moves you need when you suddenly change direction to catch a shuttle you didn’t anticipate.
- Shuttle Chasse (4x forward and 4x backward)
This is a low agile movement that is versatile for your general movement on the court that keeps a stance where you can always explode quickly without tripping over yourself.
- 6 corner movements (8x repeat)
This agility exercise merges the two previous ones to mimic real badminton scenarios.
I think this is especially cool because the scenario they set up of smaller rapid movements while always returning to the same position/starting stance translates directly into on-court agility.
- Shuttle runs
Shuttle runs challenge speed, agility, and stamina. Essentially this drill will focus on maximum output and change of direction.
It can also be used as a test to see if the rest of your training is progressing and if you’re improving your overall agility.
You can do these anywhere you’d like (although a badminton court will give the most realistic results).
All you need is a handful of cones or anything else you can use as markers. You lay out markers in a straight line the same distance apart. To make it badminton specific, I’d suggest spacing them out with 2 meters (6.5 feet) between in a total of 6 markers.
The drill goes like this:
- Sprint from the starting marker to the second and back
- Then cut and sprint to the third marker and back
- You keep on doing this for all markers to complete one circuit
- Touch the ground at each marker to mimic the low stances in badminton
Your time is how fast you can complete a full circuit, and this is the time you can keep improving to see how your agility progress.
This image illustrates how the drill goes, but obviously, 60 meters is way larger than a badminton court, so it makes more sense if we make the markers shorter.
4. Plyometric box sprint
Plyometric training builds explosive muscle and focuses on quick reactions, which is what you use the second you cut and change direction to start your next movement.
There’s a whole world of exercises in this category that range across a broad pallet of sports, and a search on Google quickly sucks you into a wormhole. I’ve selected a few that translate directly to badminton, but generally, most of them are good for badminton agility training.
Here’s the box sprint exercise.
- Lateral plyometric jumps
This focus on the side-to-side movement, which we do a ton of in badminton.
You can do this with a box or a step platform or just lay out a piece of rope or some masking tape and jump to either side of the line if you have a hard time with a higher jump.
If you don’t have access to equipment, here’s a handful of exercises on plyometrics that requires minimal setup and have a lot of change of direction. This video also shows how you can start training the agility of your brain as part of your overall agility training.
- Speed ladder agility drills
The agility ladder is a piece of equipment where you can do a ton of different exercises.
However, if you don’t have one, it’s relatively easy to mimic if you get a little crafty and lay down a few sticks or pieces of rope.
These are all agility exercises beneficial to badminton, but some of the more notable ones to start with are:
- Fight shuffle (for moving in and out of stances)
- Skiers (for split-step reaction)
- Carioca (for sideways change of direction)
- Straddle squat hops (for changing in and out of stances)
- 180-degree rotation (for movement change to different strikes)
- In, in, out, out (for rapid footwork)
- Quarter turns (for seamless direction change without tripping yourself)
All there’s left for you to do is experiment with any of these and come back to your agility test to see if you improved – and hunt shuttles like a cheetah.
- Agility is interwoven with several crucial badminton skills including your overall fitness your footwork technique and how fast you can decide on every single play during rallies so most badminton practice will automatically incorporate aspects of agility
- However, there’s a variety of exercises that train agility isolated and with a much more intense focus. These can help you get more dynamic on the court and help you perform better in the rest of your training
- Within agility, you need elements from both technique, fitness, and decision-making. Keep in mind that you need all three to get the full effect of your agility
- You can use the SEMO and agility T-test to get an idea of your current agility level and keep them as a reference for how you improve with your agility exercises