Footwork in badminton is an often overlooked secret to effective gameplay. The pros are so smooth that they make it look like they’re floating on air as they move around the court.
Just notice how quick, superstar Lee Chong Wei, is to reach the shuttles as they cross the net in this old clip.
His speed is beautiful to watch, it’s damn effective… and probably took him twenty years of hard work to master.
The amount of work he’s put in can feel overwhelming for us casual players who aren’t young anymore but still want to be quick on court.
The good news is that you don’t need to become a 1% of all players to see results in your own games.
Unless you’ve practiced footwork extensively before, you’ll improve substantially in just a few months as long as you practice it seriously. That, even if you only play on weekends.
It won’t be as pretty or as effortless as Lee Chong Wei, but it’ll be worth it. Here’s an example of how even footwork as basic as mine can help you get difficult shots and stay in the rally.
If you feel that there are too many shots out of your reach when you play, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll love the intense rallies you’ll get as a result of moving around the court faster (not to mention that you’ll probably win more games).
Badminton footwork is a huge topic to cover in just one guide. Instead of sending you on your way with a generic list of things you should know, this guide is a practical approach to improving your games specifically for regular beginner players.
It’s broken down into three different stages of beast mode.
In the first stage, you’ll find the two — just two — components that have helped me the most on court. If you’re not already using them, I bet they’ll transform your game. They are easy to get started with and don’t require you to hire a coach to practice.
At the second stage, you’ll pick the next item to practice once you feel confident using the items learned at stage one.
Finally, you’ll find a footwork drill shared by the pros to test yourself at stage three.
Let’s dive in!
Beast mode stage one: the two badminton footwork elements you can’t live without
If you have access to a coach that’s terrific. The reality is that most of us don’t, which is why I wanted to provide an alternative that you can follow yourself while still making meaningful improvements to your game.
I’ve found that when learning footwork, the most important part is covering the whole court effectively.
The goal is getting into the corners and recovering between shots rather than running around like a headless chicken. That’ll prolong your rallies beyond just the first few shots as you’re better able to counter a strong return of serve to the front corners.
It all starts with lunges.
Reach the corners effortlessly with lunges
Besides tight returns of serve to the front corners, a simple tactic to win points is moving your opponent between the front- and backcourt until they are too exhausted to keep up. Lunges help us effortlessly get into position for the shot in both areas of the court.
There is plenty of material on the technical aspects of lunging specifically in badminton but it often covers an entire sequence starting at the midcourt and moving to a corner before completing the lunge.
It works well as an illustration but can feel like a lot to master at once, which is why I’m only honing in on the lunge at first. Those other aspects are important too but it’s hard to see rapid results if you spread your energy out across several things instead of getting confident with one first.
My point is that if you’re using free material online to practice, you might wanna ignore anything that isn’t the lunge itself for now.
Here are the pointers we need to remember:
- Lunge with your racket leg as you can cover more distance and reach further with the racket
- Keep your legs bent
- Land on the heel first and then toe (instead of at the same time)
- Use your non-racket foot as a break to control the timing and speed
- Use your non-racket arm for balance
- Push off with the lunge-leg when recovering
If you’re excited about using lunges in your game, I’ve written a separate article covering them more in-depth.
When we know what to do in the corners, our best next step is moving faster between them. This is where things become more complex as there are several different types of steps to master.
Let’s focus our energy on the one you’ll use the most: chasse steps.
Move swiftly between corners with chasse steps
Especially, in doubles where we often don’t run diagonally from one corner to the opposite, we can use chasse steps to reach the corners before executing the final lunge and hitting the shuttle. Here’s a short video to illustrate.
You can ignore the points about lunging and running steps in this video but the important pointers are:
- Think of chasse steps as one foot pushing the other to move as it touches it
- Don’t let your feet cross over each other
- Use your non-racket arm for balance
The lunge and chasse step makes up stage one of beast mode in this guide. The goal is to be in a good position on the court while anticipating what’ll happen next.
The trick is to make small adjustments to your position all the time during a rally. It’ll help you be closer to where the shuttle lands and you’ll have a slightly higher chance that just lunging will be enough to get it.
Beast mode stage two: your roadmap to footwork in badminton
When you feel confident in lunges and chasse steps, there are also running steps, split steps, net kill, china jump, scissor jump, better recovery, and a whole lot more.
It’s a lot.
In beast mode stage two, I’ll introduce other popular badminton footwork movements around the court (some players might call this badminton basic footwork). I encourage you to work on just one of them at a time starting with the one you think you’ll use the most in your games.
It’s like being let loose in candyland, you can choose exactly where you want to go next, except it’s badminton and virtually guaranteed to improve your game if you put in the practice.
First is the running step, which is probably the easiest one to learn as it resembles normal running at a fast pace. It’s often used in singles if your smash is blocked with a cross net shot that forces you to run diagonally across the court.
You’ll typically finish this with a lunge to hit the shuttle back over the net.
Net kills are fun but don’t get deceived by how easy they look. They are jumps we make to kill the shuttle at the net and win the rally.
You commit everything to it and there is no recovery, so you better not hit the net!
The China jump and scissor jump tend to look similar. The big difference is that the China jump doesn’t have rotation to generate hip power used in a smash.
It’s more of a jump outwards to get the shuttle early in shots like the flat clear.
On the other hand, in the scissor jump we rotate our body to generate power used when smashing.
When you think of a jumping smash, this jump is used.
The split step is a little downwards “jump” we can make leading into any other movement when retrieving the shuttle in order to move faster and more explosively around the court. It doesn’t look like much but even with my limited training, it works wonders for my speed and I’m able to reach shots I simply didn’t expect.
Working on split steps will be a good next step for many players who are ready to move on from lunges and chasse steps.
Here’s an article diving deeper into split steps.
Those are the core pillars of footwork in badminton and to get as fast as Lee Chong Wei, you’ve gotta train a lot.
One popular approach to mastering a skill like footwork is to systematically break it down into smaller chunks like those above. Then tear each of those apart and turn them into even smaller chunks. Continue until you can’t break it down any further, then optimize each small element.
Beast mode stage three: drill badminton footwork like the pros
After finishing beast mode stage one, you’re slowly entering territory where a coach becomes more and more handy if you want to learn fast.
In the name of making this practical and less dependent on a coach, it’s worth experiencing a drill session like the one the pros do regularly. It’s not only a great way to hone in your movements on a court to become more precise but also to practice speeding up the habits you’ve already learned.
It can be hard to judge how fast you really are on court, especially if you compare with the top players on TV as the angle on those matches isn’t the best.
Here’s a clip that shows a singles rally with Nhat Nguyen at a better angle to give you a sense of how fast the game pace can be.
Here’s a real-world footwork session performed by the pros, courtesy of Viktor Axelsen and Hans-Kristian Vittinghus.
He described the session as follows:
“After warm up we did 8×15 secs footwork with focus on defense. Followed by:
Approx. 40 mins of:
1vs1 30-45secs exercises with focus on change of pace during rallies.
2 times of 3min 3vs1 defense:
First one was 2 feeders in front, one in the back attacking.
Second was 2 in the back, 1 in front.”
In one of the comments, he dives deeper based on Hans-Kristian Vittinghus’ description of a footwork session they did together:
“Usually start out every morning practice with 5-8mins short duration footwork to get 100% warmed up.
– Then every monday during WC prep we do 60 mins footwork session. Hans-Kristian Vittinghus did an update last year:
The footwork session consisted of 4 “sets” of different exercises:
1st set: 10 x 45 seconds work/30 seconds break, 5 times offense and 5 times defense and each time with one change of pace for two shots going from either offense to defense or vice versa.
2nd set: 12 x 30/30, with individual focus. Three different focuses four times. This is what the uploaded video shows. My focus in the video is on defense to the sides and at the net and then making an explosive move to the back to attack and follow up, then back into defending, trying to stay low. The clip is from my third rep with this focus. Sorry about the video quality btw, looks a lot better on my phone, but you should still be able to see what’s going on…
3rd set: 12 x 20/25, partner pointing to all four corners both offense and defense plus sides for defense. High speed, correct movement.
4th set: 10 x 10/10, free choice of exercise and focus.
All four sets were done with a heart-rate monitor – all worked with an almost constant heart-rate between 90% and 95% of our max all the time. This should give you an idea of what kind of intensity this was done with.”
This is a good example of what a footwork session might look like!”
Here’s another example from the two but with a video included.
You and I have looked at different stages of badminton footwork but at some point, we don’t need more information. What are you waiting for? New badminton shoes?
- Badminton footwork is unavoidable. We use it for every shot, rally and game — it’s one of the hidden secrets we so easily overlook in favor of strokes and shots
- Mastering the footwork at a slow pace first before speeding it up is hugely beneficial as you’ll learn the correct habits the first time
- It’ll be tempting to skip the footwork in badminton and go directly to practicing smash or backhand shots but it’ll give you trouble later