Lunge technique is a boring topic, so most players ignore it.
Successful athletes, however, pay attention to the boring things as well as the fun things. If your lunge is slightly wrong, then your knees will suffer.
A good lunge will also help you reach farther and recover more quickly.
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The purpose of a lunge
Lunging provides several benefits:
- A good lunge absorbs lots of force, without hurting your joints.
- A lunge provides a balanced position from which to hit your shot.
- Lunges maximise your reach, so that you can take the shuttlecock earlier.
- After the shot, you can use your lunging leg to push back in the direction you came from.
Lunges involve making one final large step, so that you finish your movement with your foot well away from your body, in a low posture with the lunging knee bent.
In most situations, you should lunge with your right foot leading. This helps you to stay on balance, by keeping your arms balanced above your legs. It also gives you the maximum reach.
When lunging to your backhand side, however, it is quicker to lunge with your left foot leading. Nevertheless you will often need to lunge with your right foot, in order to reach backhand shots that are farther away.
As much as possible, keep your upper body upright throughout the lunge. If you fail to control your upper body movement, you will bend at the waist too much and will have difficulty recovering for the next shot. Avoid trying to reach the shuttlecock by bending at the waist; make a deeper, lower lunge instead.
Protecting your knees and ankles
If your lunge technique is slightly wrong, you are at risk of damaging your knees or ankles. There are several important points to follow:
The foot must point in the direction of the lunge
Whatever direction you are lunging in, your leading foot must point that way.
For example: if you are lunging towards the right tramlines, then your leading foot must point towards the right tramlines when it lands.
It’s common for players to make a sideways lunge with both feet pointing forwards. This is a dangerous habit and must be corrected at once.
Years ago, I severely sprained my right ankle because of this footwork error; at the time, I was unaware of the correct method. I wish I had been taught the correct method; instead, I learned about this by injuring myself — permanently.
The foot and knee must stay in alignment
When you lunge, a large force travels up your leg. This force is supposed to be absorbed by your muscles; but if you get the technique wrong, it will go into your joints instead (that’s bad. Really, really bad).
The knee must be lined up with the foot. Ideally, the knee should stay lined up with your second toe (the one next to your big toe).
If the foot is turned in or out, then the knee is placed in an unstable position and is susceptible to damage. This typically leads to patello-femoral pain syndrome (runners’ knee in the US).
To maintain ankle stability, however, some players choose to turn the foot out very slightly. This is an acceptable compromise, but should be kept to an absolute minimum in order to safeguard your knees.
The knee must not travel beyond the foot
As you complete a lunge, your forwards movement will cause the knee to move towards the foot.
This movement must not continue beyond the point where the knee is directly over the foot. The angle under the knee should be more than 90 degrees throughout the lunge.
Naturally you may ask,
What if I need to lunge farther? The solution is simple: get lower down. The longer your lunge, the lower it must be. This allows you to keep the knee behind the foot, while still gaining maximum reach.
That’s why these types of lunges are called deep lunges.
The heel must strike first
Another common error is to contact the floor with your toe first, or all of your foot together. You must make contact first with your heel, and then roll onto the rest of the foot.
Using this heel-to-toe contact absorbs a surprising amount of force. If you land flat-footed instead, guess where that extra force is going? That’s right: into your joints!
You can imagine that you are stepping on the brake pedal of a car. The heel-first contact acts as a braking mechanism.
In order to make this heel-first contact, you must deliberately throw your lower leg out in the direction of your lunge, so that your toes are pointing somewhat upwards. This requires a conscious effort at first, but should eventually be drilled into you so that it happens automatically.
(Making an effort to throw out your lower leg has another benefit: it helps to ensure that your knee will remain behind your foot.)
The backwards foot
The backwards foot should also be used as a brake (the more force-absorbing components, the better!). Turn the foot outwards so that the inside side is dragged along the floor, and allow it to drag forwards towards your front foot.
As well as providing a brake, dragging in the back foot reduces the width of your base. If you don’t do this on deep lunges, you will finish with your feet too far apart (an excessively wide base), and it will be difficult to push off again for the next shot.
If you do this properly, your left badminton shoe will develop a distinctive wear pattern on the inside side wall. This will eventually become a hole. This is perfectly normal, and actually indicates that this element of your footwork is correct.