When it comes to badminton strength training, we all assume that Hulk or The Rock can smash like hell — and they probably can — but do we really need to look like them in order to have a powerful shot?
A couple of years ago, Viktor Axelsen landed a smash at 419 K/H, which is among the fastest shots recorded in a professional match.
He doesn’t look anything like either Hulk or The Rock, and the same goes for other top players in the world.
In this article, we’ll look at which badminton muscles correspond to what part of our game on the court as badminton strength is a bit different from the classic body builder-type. You and I will also look at specific exercises in strength training for badminton that the pro players use to improve their own game.
Before we dive in, I’d like to point out that it’s smart to start small, go slow, and practice proper technique to avoid risking injuries.
You should seek professional help if you have any problems or pain, rather than attempting to self-diagnose or listen to a random person online who doesn’t know your situation in detail (like me for example).
Badminton muscles and playing style: is viking power or agility like a cat more to your taste?
Strength training for badminton is not to be confused with stamina and flexibility training. It’s useful for us when combined with explosive movement in order to reach a corner faster than the shuttle or to generate enough power that the shuttle reaches the ground faster than the opponent can get it.
Just like it can seem as if smashing is the end-all-be-all for success on the badminton court, when it comes to badminton muscles, it’s logical to assume that biceps make for a powerful smash.
But it’s not that simple, and in fact, we don’t need strong biceps at all.
The first step to a beautiful jump smash is creating a steep angle which is done through the jumping power we create with our legs. Adding shot power and creating the pleasing “snap” sound requires training forearm- and hip rotation along with slamming power which makes the shoulders particularly useful to train.
But a single smash can only win a rally, not a game, so we need endurance to keep hammering away if the opponent is lifting, and that is also trained through the shoulder and upper back.
It’s a well-known tactic to defend your way to success by lifting on smashes until the opponent gets too tired to continue, as we know from Watanabe and Endo.
If you have plenty of time to train during your week, it makes sense to go deep on all items. The problem with focusing on the badminton muscles necessary for particular shots is that each shot is somewhat isolated, meaning that we are spending our limited time training for one or just a few shots that don’t happen that often.
Compare that to footwork and mobility, which is less sexy but required of us during every single shot and can help place us better on the court, such that we can play an aggressive overhead shot rather than a semi-weak backhand.
When we are defending a smash or drop, we often need a deep lunge where especially the recovery tends to be a slow movement compared to many others we do around the court. That means we have the highest chance of losing time and getting caught off guard (when we push off the ground and move back in anticipation of the next shot).
We also need it when pushing off the ground explosively during the split step to travel sideways or to the corners at high speed in order to place ourselves well to return the shot.
Naturally, your choice should come down to how strong your footwork is compared to your other strengths and weaknesses. If your footwork is good but you can’t clear to the backline, that might be a bigger hole in your individual game (more on that later).
Badminton strength training: where the pros focus their energy
You and I are lucky that several pro players have shared some of their badminton weight training methods online.
I have taken the liberty of gathering a list of exercises performed by them. It’s not exhaustive but intended for both myself as a reference point, and for you as a good starting point when putting together your own program.
This list is broken down into three areas but some of the exercises naturally target more than one body area, which is handy for us but it makes it difficult to categorize them in isolation.
The three areas are:
- Leg workout
- Core workout
- Shoulder and upper body
Let’s dive in.
1. Leg workout
Here’s a clip from the Malaysian Badminton Association with their coach and Lee Zii Jia showing us how to perform the squat correctly.
Next, Viktor Axelsen shows how to perform the jump squat on sand.
Here he is again showing the side lunge.
This is a fundamental part of reaching the far net drops in badminton, and explosively returning the cover the next shot.
Here Greg and Jenny from Badminton Insight show us how to train the calves by jumping on our toes while avoiding the heels hitting the ground.
And, finally, a list of similar alternative exercises that don’t require you to go to the gym.
2. Core workout
Anti-rotation cable side step
Axelsen performs something similar to crab walk-by-side stepping while pulling the cable to add resistance. This exercise is good for both the legs and core.
Mobility (staying low and moving from side to side on court)
Notice how Axelsen does this exercise on sand while keeping low to make it extra difficult.
Here he shows us side planks.
Alt. arm leg plank
Next, Axelsen is doing alternate arm and leg planks from dog (or cow) position while moving one arm up along with the opposite leg before shifting to the opposite side.
3. Shoulder and upper body
Here Axelsen shows how he uses battle ropes to build upper body endurance to keep smashing his opponent in the ground. I’ve always thought that these ropes look cool in action.
Next, he shows how he uses the Romanian deadlift exercise to train his back and legs at the same time.
Medicine ball slamming
This exercise is great for the shoulders and core and comes in two variations: one where you throw the weighted ball into the ground to build shoulder endurance (so you can keep smashing), and another where you throw it into the wall to gain rotational power for your smash.
Single dumbbell arm row
This exercise is used for your backhand and to decelerate your overhead shots. The key is to use the back of your shoulder to lift rather than the triceps.
Powerful smash and defensive shots
Thomas Laybourn gives examples on how to get a more powerful smash along with defensive shots like blocking and drive shots. It’s done by training the forearm rotation both with a heavier power trainer racket and by using weights.
Power trainer example:
Hand weight example:
There is a never ending list of exercises we can do but at some point, we don’t need a long list of ideas, but rather to get going and commit to making it a part of our badminton training routine.
I’ve found that the best place to start is to get a sense of where you lose the most points in your own game and reverse engineer your way to what that requires to improve. For example, if you find yourself struggling to reach fast shots in the corners, you might benefit from training footwork. If you struggle to clear from backline to backline, you might need more rotational power.
The psychology of strength training for badminton: the secret ingredient
Understanding which badminton muscles are used the most, which exercises we need to use to train them off-court, and what the pros do is all good fun.
But there is a secret element that makes all the difference and is arguably harder than what we’ve covered up until this point: actually giving it 100% during those less exciting training sessions, even if you’d rather be on court.
That’s one of the key ingredients I’ve noticed making a difference between casual social players who play far more often on-court and are more skilled, and us improving enough to beat them consistently. They stay the same while we’re able to make rapid improvements through targeted work.
This comes down to both volume (not just reps of exercises but also days of training) and quality. It’s one thing to show up for the training sessions, which can be a challenge in itself, but another is doing something meaningful with the time we spend there. If we don’t get quality reps in, it’s all for nothing.
One of Viktor Axelsen’s secrets is his work ethic. He takes the training very seriously whether it’s off- or on-court, even if it’s just the daily stuff that we all need to repeat again and again to improve. In his book, he explains how he likes to arrive to training early in order to settle in properly before starting, so he can get his mind in the right place.
What to do if you’re struggling with consistency in your strength training for badminton
We sometimes see people spend hours at the gym and at a very advanced level that might be necessary, but for most of us, I’ve found that the big wins can be done in 30-60 minutes per session.
If you struggle to get started, I’ve found that an effective approach is to put your gym clothes out in advance of the session so you can’t miss it. For example, put it on the table before you leave for work if you intend to go after work, or the night before if you intend to go in the morning.
Then, at first, simply make it a goal to go for 5-10 minutes and do one or two exercises and let that be it. It seems silly on the surface but the idea is to build the habit over time, as habits are more powerful than motivational sprints.
This might sound crazy if you’re dreading going but if you continue, you’ll eventually lose the emotions towards it and it’ll just be something you do — a natural part of your life. And as you get more confident, you can dial up the difficulty to make it, say, twenty minutes and five exercises, and eventually go further from there.
- There are several badminton muscles we benefit from training, none of them being the biceps for raw power but rather legs for footwork, shoulders for smash endurance, forearms and hips for rotational power, along with core for mobility and flexibility around the court
- One of the most important aspects of badminton strength training is giving it all when showing up at the gym, and making the time count
- If you struggle to stick to your gym plan, focus on building the habit at first by going for a short period of time and dial it up as you gain confidence