This is the first in a series of articles covering aspects of badminton that separate the best players in the world, from everyone else.
The best players play a lot. Lin Dan doesn’t just play the occasional tournament, he plays lots of tournaments. However, you are not going to win if you aren’t at your best, and that means being fit, healthy and injury free.
With the level of intensity that the best players are playing at, it’s very likely that if you don’t take good care of yourself you will injure yourself. It’s one thing to do a good job of treating your injuries, but the key is to train in such a way that you prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Once you injure something the likelihood of you injuring the same thing again is very high. Peter Gade will always need to pay close attention to his knee after having surgery on it years ago. Wong Choong Han will never have the same achilles tendon that he had before he tore it (I sat five feet away from the court when it happened by the way). So, don’t injure yourself, easy right? Not if you want to play at the highest levels.
There are a number of key components to injury prevention:
• Muscular Balance
• Training Volume Tolerance
• Training Intensity Tolerance
• Listening To Your Body
You need to warm up and stretch before you play, and before you work out. You also need to stretch after as well. Then you need to stretch before you go to bed, and pretty much every chance you get. For more on what types of stretches to do, and how to do them check out our stretching section.
Badminton is a very imbalanced sport. We lunge almost exclusively with one foot, and we swing our racket using only one arm. This develops our muscles in an extremely imbalanced way. This means the more we play the more imbalanced we are going to become, and the more we need to do to combat that. When we allow ourselves to become imbalanced we are putting a great deal of stress on our body. For example, badminton players will develop very strong quadriceps, but their hamstrings are comparatively under developed. This can lead to a whole bunch of problems with your knees and other areas as well. What also tends to happen is your outer quadriceps will be stronger than your inner quadriceps. This means you need to do weights or other strength training exercises to balance out your body. I know some of you may argue that you don’t want to carry the extra weight, but trust me it will be worth the effort. I have personally always struggled with muscle imbalance, and as a result, lots of injuries.
Training Volume Tolerance
This may in fact be the most significant difference between the national level and international level players as far as I have witnessed. When I was playing on the national circuit I trained quite often, but nothing like the international players I saw when I was Denmark, and waaaaay less than the Asians (I’m assuming). The top players train upwards of 20 hours per week, that’s more than 3 hours a day if we assume one day off per week. You have to gradually build up the ability to handle that kind of volume, and that’s over the course of years, not months. If you play 10 hours a week, and then you try to up that to 15 hours on week, you are at considerable risk of injuring yourself. The same can be said of training or playing any individual day, and to tournament play as well. If you can’t handle much volume, and then suddenly you have to play a tournament where you play 3 matches a day (or more) you are putting your body under stress that it has not previously been under. Build up your body’s tolerance to heavy volume of training over time, plan it out too, and you’ll see fewer injuries.
Training Intensity Tolerance
Just because you can train 20 hours per week doesn’t mean you won’t get injured. Once you increase the intensity of your training/playing outside of your comfort zone you are increasing your risk of injury. Much like volume you need to gradually increase the level of intensity you can handle. This generally means how fast you are capable of playing, how hard you hit shots, how often you jump and basically how hard you are pushing yourself at any given moment. The best players play at a very fast pace. This is what you’ll notice most when you play someone at an international level, they play really fast. So this is a two part demand in a way. If you can handle training at a high intensity, you will be able to compete at a high intensity, and you’ll also suffer fewer injuries.
While you’ll never need to be able to carry anything much heavier than 90 grams on the badminton court, it doesn’t hurt to be able to handle a heavy load. You need a balance between strength and being light on your feet, and you need to be able to handle the extreme positions that you find your body in. For example, if your core is strong you’re less likely to injure your back, and if you’re legs are strong you’re less likely to injure you knees, this is of course common sense, but you need to make a point of developing your body’s weaknesses, it won’t happen by accident.
It’s helpful to be strong on court, but if you don’t have the endurance to keep on going you will eventually injure yourself as your body gets tired. This has generally when I have been most prone to injuring my back for example. You’ll see it when players lunge at the net, their body slumps over because they’re tired, and it’s only a matter of time before they hurt themselves. Increase your cardiovascular and muscular endurance and you’ll hurt yourself less often.
It’s impossible to ignore the influence of genetics and just plain luck (or more correctly, bad luck). Sometimes you land awkwardly and your body just can’t handle it, and you get hurt. Then, there are some players that just have good joints, and strong muscles naturally. They rarely get hurt, and they have an ability to put themselves through extreme training without any trouble. There isn’t much you can do about this, either you have it or you don’t.
Listening To Your Body
When you’re first starting out in your competitive training you may not fully understand what your body is telling you. You might not be able to tell the difference between muscle pains caused by hard work, and pains caused by injury. Take it easy if you’re not sure, but inevitably you need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone if you intend on becoming a great player. Every successful badminton player has had to battle with injuries throughout their career, but it’s the ones who have done the best job of staying healthy that will reach the highest levels of success.