There are a ton of badminton rackets out there and while you might already be familiar with Yonex, Victor, and Li Ning, most of the models have confusing technical names that look more or less identical at first glance.
That makes it surprisingly difficult to figure out how to choose a badminton racket. Just look at the Astrox series on Yonex’s own website. Can you tell the difference?
How about the Victor rackets?
This is the case with every single top producer of badminton rackets.
It’s confusing as f*ck, and I have no clue why it seems like you need a degree in “racket engineering” to figure out what’s what.
There’s a lot to consider before getting a new racket. Look at what these badminton players on Reddit think.
To understand what’s important for a suitable racket, I’ve broken down racket anatomy and designs in a way that’s easy to understand.
Any badminton racket can be divided into 3 sections.
1. Handle (butt cap + top cap + handle)
2. Shaft (shaft + heart)
3. Head (frame + string bed)
The way these three factors vary makes a difference in how a racket adds more power or control to your game.
Generally speaking, two parameters make the biggest difference in badminton racket designs – weight distribution and flexibility.
Weight distribution relates to the balance of the racket.
A completely evenly balanced racket will have no pronounced difference between the handle and the head. Others are balanced towards head-heavy (read: power) and head-light (read: control).
For example, a head-heavy racket assists with more power to your smash, drive, clear shots, and generally forehand play.
One that’s heavier in the handle (or head-light) will give more control and quicker movement in a lot of your backhand plays like lifts, serves, and close net rallies.
When talking about flexibility, it’s about whether the shaft of the racket is stiffer and less flexible, or softer and more flexible.
This translates to how much it will bend in your swinging power to help transfer energy into your shots. The softer the shaft, the less accuracy you’ll have in your shots (more on this later).
How to choose a badminton racket: simplify it with the racket matrix
In my articles reviewing the best badminton rackets for beginners and the best badminton rackets for intermediate players, I judge rackets by a matrix that goes from flexible to stiff and head-heavy to head-light.
A head-heavy racket has a weight distribution toward the frame, which lends more power and energy when you hit the shuttle at a downward angle, for example, in a smash or a drop shot.
For head-light rackets, the design favors weight distribution towards the handle.
As you can imagine, this gives quicker movements, which can be good for defensive reaction shots or close net play that requires more finesse.
Typically, all beginner rackets will fall on the flexible side of the scale with slightly head-heavy designs.
Intermediate rackets can be slightly flexible or touch the stiffer side of the scale, while they vary more wildly from head-heavy to head-light.
Finally, advanced rackets are often on the stiffest end of the scale, and also vary in head and handle balance. Of course, there will always be outliers and exceptions.
1. Stiffness and flexibility
A 2010 research study looked at the performance of badminton rackets to figure out what’s best for each playing style by comparing advanced players to recreational players.
Between the two groups, they found that no matter the type of player, a flexible racket will always generate higher speeds at impact – meaning more power. However, a stiffer racket gives players more control.
Here’s what the study says about the difference between the two.
This was true for both groups, but the main difference between the advanced and recreational players was that advanced players were able to maximize the control benefits of a stiffer racket better compared to recreational players.
The point is that skill determines more than racket design alone.
The better your skill is, the smaller the difference is to the extra power boost you stand to gain from a flexible racket.
By this logic, as you improve your skill beyond a beginner level, there’s more to gain from badminton rackets that offer better control aspects since you’ll possess the skill to generate power without the help of a flexible racket.
Besides, a racket being head-heavy has more impact on power whether they’re stiff or flexible.
For example, if you’re at an intermediate level it might be time to start looking at rackets with slightly better control aspects over raw power compared to what you’ve been used to with a beginner racket.
2. String tension
This is another important factor to consider when choosing your racket since this is the contact point with the shuttlecock and might be at least as important as the racket itself.
Generally speaking, the string tension is measured in lbs and ranges from 16-34 lbs – as with everything in badminton small variations can have huge impacts on performance.
Lower string tension means:
- Less control
- A bigger sweet spot (more forgiving)
- Lower risk of strings breaking (not as often)
Higher string tension means:
- More control
- A smaller sweet spot (less forgiving)
- Higher risk of strings breaking (more often)
Similarly, a thicker string means more power and a thinner string means more control.
Generally speaking, the higher your skill, the higher string tension you’re able to command.
Unless you love to geek out on this, here are simple rules of thumb to get you going for string tension:
- Beginner players: 16-20 lbs
- Intermediate players: 24-28 lbs
Fortunately, most rackets will come with a recommendation for string tension which you can use to determine if it fits the level you play at. Simply stay within the range and experiment as you go.
3. Weight class
Different brands have different classifications for their weight scale but the most common ranges from F to U, which is the one we’ll be using here. The system feels counterintuitive as the higher the number, the lower the weight as you can see in this table.
Generally, we can consider anything above 3U to be lightweight rackets (that are prone to movement speed and quick reaction), while 3U and below are considered heavier rackets (that are prone to power and shuttle speed). However, this can vary depending on the brand.
You don’t want to wield something as heavy as a battle-axe, but you also don’t want something that feels like waving a peacock feather around.
Racket weight is always listed BEFORE any modification (even before adding strings), so expect it to be slightly heavier depending on how much you modify your racket.
I’d recommend staying in the weight class of 3U and 4U. That roughly puts the weight range from 80-90 grams, although some brands have different gradings.
Don’t worry, all rackets list their weight in grams, so this isn’t hard to figure out.
Of course, it’s not a hard rule, but staying in this range is a good idea since most rackets (when you improve) are generally in the 3U to 4U weight class – you might as well get used to how these feel.
4. Playing style
I decided to break down playing style into three categories – attacking, defensive and balanced.
Maybe you deliver great shots from the back of the court and have crushing smashes.
Perhaps you’re fast and agile at the net with great finesse or maybe you don’t feel super pronounced in either direction.
Either way, you’ll probably feel more comfortable in certain aspects of your game than others, and you can decide whether a racket should complement your strong sides or, perhaps, give yourself a reason to start leveling up on weaker parts of your game.
Attacking playing style
Attacking players will typically have their most comfortable game using drive shots to push their opponent back and around the court and set up smashes to keep the rallies short.
Rackets that benefit this style will typically fall on the head-heavy end of the scale to complement powerful and accurate shots.
You would also look at rackets in a heavier weight class since this leans towards generating more power and momentum in your swing rather than quick reaction and agile racket movement.
Defensive playing style
A player who likes to set up in a more defensive style will typically have a lot of patience in their game. They might use their opponent’s attack to set up their own attack or counter-attack. For example, hitting short drops and drives that might force the other player to return an awkward less powerful shot which they can then attack on.
Rackets that pronounce this style are often lighter and fall on the head-light end of the scale for quick and agile movement and control.
This is kinda self-explanatory since it falls in between the two previous ones, but some players don’t have a strong preference in any direction and like to play a mixed style.
Typically they’ll confuse their opponent and switch their game around to figure out what works best against that player.
Rackets that express this style will typically not go too extreme on the head-light or head-heavy scale but can vary in stiffness and flexibility.
A quick word on doubles
In general, doubles players tend to have faster rallies. Since each player has less court space to move around on, it’s often helpful to have lighter rackets and rackets that are in the head-light direction of the scale to be more agile with super-fast reaction shots.
How to choose a badminton racket: your secret racket weapon
Another thing to consider when you’re buying a new racket is the strongest part of your game – your secret weapon.
Your secret weapon is that one shot or combo that you can execute better than any other aspect of your game to steal points and deliver devastating pressure on your opponent.
Maybe you only need a little opportunity to hit hard and accurate smashes.
Perhaps you have a deadly frontcourt game with enough finesse to send shuttle after shuttle just above the net.
Maybe you’re excellent at setting up a combo (for example, a precise drop shot to the front to set up a drive or clear to the very back).
Whatever it might be, some racket designs will give your secret weapon an extra edge and make your smashes harder or your net game faster and more accurate which could ultimately win you more points.
- When you look at how to choose a badminton racket, the technical terms can give you a headache with all the different options available
- One important aspect to consider is whether you’d like the racket to compensate for your weaknesses or make your strengths even better
- Simplifying it with just a few metrics such as its flexibility and weight balance can make the decision easier. You don’t have to make the perfect decision now as your racket choice will change in the future as you develop our game
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