Do you look at other players during social matches and deep down feel like you’re the only one who wants more? Maybe you dream of becoming world-class and want to put in extra work but feel like it’s too late.
Training for badminton tends to have a frustrating lack of structure for adults who seriously want to improve but are not professional and aren’t able to go all-in just yet: it’s difficult to find a good way to train consistently on top of weekend games.
A one-on-one coach is expensive and group classes are inconvenient if you have a demanding career. It’s challenging to regularly persuade higher-level players to a game when the skill difference is too great, and even if we do, how much do we really learn when we are swimming in the deep end?
Not to mention that it gets boring for the better players if the intensity of the game goes down significantly. It’s what makes it fun.
Badminton exercise is all about developing good habits that’ll kick in on autopilot when shuttles are flying around your ears like bullets out of a machine gun. For players who seriously want to improve, matches are the time to put the training to a test, not to improve upon existing skills.
So we get stuck in a catch-22.
In order to get better, we need to learn from better players and in order to learn from better players, we need to get better to play with them.
So where the hell do we go from here?
A case study in training for badminton: going independently like the pros
If you have a job with an inflexible schedule like me, it can be hard to consistently find partners to practice with during the odd hours before or after work. But there’s hope.
The pros increasingly “go independent” as it’s called in badminton when players take charge of their own training, hiring their own team of coaches, as opposed to having everything organized by the official badminton organization of the country they are representing.
Viktor Axelsen famously went independent a few years ago, as the top player in men’s singles. Lee Zii Jia describes his independent setup in more detail in a recent podcast interview with Hans-Kristian Vittinghus and Anders Antonsen.
He discusses how he works with a private agent, training and stretching coaches during his weekly training program that is customized to maximize his performance. I was surprised to hear how little time he spends on match analysis prior to playing certain opponents but it just goes to show that there are many different ways of doing things, as he’s clearly doing well in the rankings (he’s the world number 3 in men’s singles at the time of writing this article).
His setup sounds like a dream but unless you can quit your job or have plenty of spare time and are loaded with cash to spend on training for badminton, going with a full setup like this right away is overkill.
The pros like to say they focus 110% on just one thing, which isn’t realistic for those of us who didn’t get on that path early in life and now have other commitments, even if that’s what we dream about too.
Instead, it’s more realistic to start small and scale it up over time. We can create our own simpler version of their independent setup and suit it to our personal goals and lifestyle in order to level up.
To give you a specific example, my own simple week of badminton exercise looks like this:
- Monday: upper body and arms workout at the gym
- Tuesday: leg day
- Wednesday: cardio, swimming or freestyle fun day
- Thursday: footwork day
- Friday: rest
- Saturday + Sunday: 2h on-court match sessions per day
I’m in the odd situation that I haven’t played for 15 years, so my program is in part intended to get back into the rhythm, part relearning habits without getting injured.
The Monday gym-session isn’t super badminton-specific but to maintain some of the muscle mass I’ve built up over time and to keep my back healthy as I work at an office and sit down a lot during the week.
Tuesday is leg day, where I do a short run and work on my lunges as we use those on court all the time. I intend to add more variety, such as squats, over time.
Wednesday is generally intended for cardio which can be circuit workouts for the core, swimming, a run or even something experimental depending on what I feel that day. The idea is to keep it less structured and allow for trying new things if I get inspired.
On Thursdays, I work on my footwork with shadow drills at home or rent a court and play non-intense games with a friend while I focus on implementing new habits. Notice that this, like the rest of my weekdays, doesn’t require anyone else and is totally flexible.
Friday is my rest and recovery day.
My biggest challenge is that it’s difficult to get on court due to work. That’s why my on-court sessions are on the weekends when there are more players available and my schedule is more flexible. I wish I could spread those sessions out during the week but it’s simply not realistic right now.
There are apps like ReClub or RacketPal to help find other players or organized match sessions near you. I’ve found that to be a good place to start and if you aren’t able to find any that fits your schedule and technical level within your neighborhood, you can always create your own and invite other players within the apps to join.
Ideas for your own program: the best exercises for an already busy schedule
The following ideas assume you have a general badminton level somewhere around intermediate with a fair bit of technical stroke skill. Depending on whether you’re less or more advanced, different parts might suit you better. If you have little technical skill on court I’d prioritize that above all since being the fittest person doesn’t matter if you can’t hit the shuttle and keep rallies going.
Many of us tend to focus on technical skills such as precision shooting or techniques like the backhand smash. They are the most challenging to practice on your own but if you can get access to a court that fits your schedule, and are ok buying a feeding machine, it’s definitely worth considering.
If that isn’t an option for you, the easiest and most effective badminton exercise is working on the off-court elements. They are not as much fun as playing the game itself but some are surprisingly effective for your matches.
Training for badminton: off-court examples
- Wall drills for drive shots
There are different ways to decide what to work on. One is to break down what happens the most in your games and work on that, since the chance that you’ll use it is high as statistics are on your side. For example, how often do you smash compared to using your footwork?
Another approach is to start with the thing that you find more fun or think looks the coolest. Vanity might not be the most effective way to win points in games but if your goal is to get out the door more often, it’s ok to get you started.
Badminton exercise example #1: footwork, the secret to smooth gameplay
Footwork is among the best options overall because it’s extremely important and you’ll see the top players still training it regularly in this article on badminton footwork.
Think about it: we have several strokes we use to compensate when our footwork isn’t fast enough to position ourselves well. One is the late backhand.
We can’t be perfectly placed 100% of the time but if we were to choose, I bet that everyone would choose a forehand smash or drop if the goal was to score the point rather than looking cool with the backhand.
Something as simple as making a habit of using split steps helps me reach those particularly difficult shots that would normally be just out of reach. It feels like moving half a meter longer in the same amount of time or gaining an extra half a second to react, which is often the difference between losing the point or staying in the rally.
A lot of the meaningful footwork exercises are easy to train on your own, and some, even without a court. However, at times, I’ve found it difficult to test my training at high intensity without a sparring partner to see if the habits really stick. For example, against players at a lower technical level than I, the games are less intense and so I have more room to think and remember to do the habits in real-time, whereas when I’m evenly matched or the opponent is better than I, instinct kicks in and there’s no time to think.
For players at the intermediate level or below, this is where I would start training for badminton if you’re looking for exercises to do at home.
Badminton exercise example #2: serves and wall drills, the straightforward solo drills
If you’re somewhere around high beginner to intermediate, another meaningful thing to work on is the serve or drive wall drills.
Serving happens in 100% of the games and we can assume that 25-50% of the serves will be yours depending on whether you play doubles or singles games. Obviously, that statistic isn’t quite true since positions will change during the match but you get the gist.
Serving drills kinda require a court to work on precision but you don’t need other players in order to master each kind of service. It’s as simple as practicing a hundred of each serve for example.
Wall drills for drive shots are also a good option as the shots tend to be fairly regular in both doubles and singles but it requires a wall. An important part of the technique is using your fingers to push in order to generate power fast and without much racket movement.
If you have a good sized wall and something you can use to illustrate the top line of the net, you’re set. You’ll know you’re doing it well if the shuttle returns with enough power for you to continue without moving forward too much.
Training for badminton: what’s stopping you?
Now that you’ve seen an example program and gotten ideas for where to start, the next step is to remove the things that block you from starting.
Creating your own individual program sounds sexy but the challenge is going from a dream to a practical plan, and from there, getting out of the spreadsheet and down to brass tacks.
We all have different challenges. Years back, mine was to change my habits from working out every now and then, to doing it consistently over longer periods of time.
Later came the correct technical aspect but it wouldn’t have mattered much at first as I had trouble training consistently.
I’ve found that one of the biggest challenges with training for badminton on your own is getting out the door. On days when we feel motivated, it’s easy. On days where we don’t, it’s easier to skip since no one is looking and that’s when it counts the most both for improving your game and your confidence.
Motivation is fleeting, so we can’t rely on it although it’s good to take advantage of it when it strikes. A more powerful approach to making this easy is turning motivation into habits.
To turn the badminton exercises into a habit, I’ve found that the best lens to look at it through is whether we get out the door (on the days we are supposed to) or not. Even if we don’t do everything we had planned, the first step is feeling and thinking of ourselves as someone who trains seriously.
The best way to measure it is how difficult it is to get out there. After doing this for a while, I feel no emotion towards it and I don’t think about whether I should or want to do it. It just happens whereas before I made all kinds of excuses and was very inconsistent in showing up.
There are usually several smaller problems that make up the bigger problem of training solo such as getting out the door, figuring out what to train, pushing through when you’re tired and so on. Assuming that we should tackle each one at the same time and “just do it” is naive and a recipe for disaster.
Once that first goal of getting out the door is achieved, the next is to follow through on your plan for that session without stopping too early because you’re tired. The challenging part here is that you can’t work on your goal until you get tired. By then we can for example pull out a stopwatch and practice for a fixed amount of time longer before we allow ourselves to go home, and over time, we can move the bar further and further until we reach our goal.
That way, you both get a training session you can be proud of and you allow yourself to go home so you won’t die. The most common trap is training super hard for one day when motivation strikes, feeling sore and dead the next, only to never go again. It doesn’t work.
Before you know it, you won’t even think about getting out the door, you’ll remember your program by heart, instead of having to look it up, and you’ll power through when things get tough like you’ve done many times before. You’ll see yourself as an independent athlete.
- Going independent and putting together your own training program for badminton is absolutely a viable solution to improve your game
- There are certain aspects that are easier to train than others if you don’t have a sparring partner available and several make a meaningful impact on your games just like the strokes
- Training solo can be challenging at first but when we break it down into smaller problems and solve them one at a time, it’s more manageable