Here are some tips for improving your technique, so that you can get more power in your clears and smashes.
Make sure you’re confident with the basics before moving on to these details.
Better footwork: the scissor jump
When describing the basic hitting technique, I gave you a temporary footwork pattern (the step-through). This pattern is easy to learn, but it’s rarely a good option.
Instead, you should try using a scissor jump when you hit your clears and smashes. Scissor jumps get both feet off the ground, which allows you to use body rotation more effectively. Keeping the left foot on the ground is less effective, because it inhibits your hip rotation.
Try to get your right hip moving forwards fractionally ahead of your shoulders turning. It should feel like you’re leading the shot with your hip, as opposed to following the shot with your hip. By leading with the hip, you can transfer power from the lower body into the upper body, and ultimately into the shuttle. If the hip follows rather than leads, then the lower body rotation is too late to help power the shot.
Make sure you establish a wide base (feet at least shoulder-width apart) before hitting the shuttle, giving you a solid platform for the jump and body rotation. Land with a wide base too.
Get behind the shuttle
Smashes and clears are much easier if you can get into a position slightly behind the shuttle. This allows you to make the best use of body rotation for power.
The ideal contact point for a smash is farther in front of the body than for a clear (high clears are hit more directly overhead). Consequently, it’s especially important to get behind the shuttle when you want to play a powerful smash.
It’s still possible to play both clears and smashes when the shuttle has travelled behind you, but it’s more difficult and you won’t get as much power.
follow the shuttle; get there first!
A common error is to
follow the shuttle as you move backwards to hit the shot, so that you stay underneath the shuttle at all times. As a result, you will reach a hitting position with the shuttle level with you or even behind you.
Players do this because it helps them
track the shuttle and move to the right place. As you get more experienced, however, you can learn to know immediately where the shuttle is going, based on its speed and trajectory.
As you get better at judging where the shuttle is heading, you can move faster and get there first. This will help you get into a hitting position behind the shuttle with enough time to play a powerful shot.
When travelling, be prepared!
When you’re travelling towards the shuttle, you should already be in the
ready-to-hit position (sideways-on posture with the arms elevated).
This means you should be moving with your right leg behind the left leg, and in a position where you would be ready to hit the shuttle immediately. Doing this has several benefits:
- When you arrive at the hitting position, you are ready to play the shot.
- It encourages a compact, explosive hitting action.
- It helps you move backwards and stay balanced.
If you don’t do this, you will probably make a larger, slower swing, with less arm rotation.
Keep the swing compact
Even the most powerful smashes use a relatively compact swing. Don’t believe me? Then watch this video of Tan Boon Heong’s smash, which set a new world record of 421 kph (262 mph).
Most people find this counter-intuitive: our intuition says that a big smash should use a big, powerful-looking arm swing. It turns out our intuition is wrong.
Using a compact swing, you can concentrate all your power at the moment of impact. An expansive swing looks more powerful, but that’s because the power isn’t being transferred into the shuttle.
Getting the follow-through right
After you hit the shuttle, your follow-through should initially be in the direction of the shot. A common mistake is to follow-through across your body, which causes you to lose power and hit all your smashes off to the left.
There will often be a visible rebound action at this point, where the racket briefly
bounces back in the direction it came from. This rebound is more pronounced for half-smashes (or stick-smashes), but can also be seen in full-power smashes when you watch them in slow-motion video.
After this initial follow through, allow the arm to relax. At this point it’s okay for the arm to move across the body.
By controlling the direction of your follow-through, you ensure that the power is concentrated in the direction of your shot. If you’re hitting a straight smash, for example, then you want all your power to be directed straight, and not cross-court.
The worst kind of follow-through is a huge across-the-body swipe, where the racket ends up behind your body (on the left side). As well as wasting power, this kind of follow-through will reduce your balance and make you slow to recover.
Keep the follow-through compact!
Players often tense up when they’re trying to hit a powerful shot. This ruins your muscles’ ability to generate explosive power: if your arm is tense, then it won’t transfer the power.
Try to stay relaxed, and aim for a smooth, flowing action with a whip-like feeling. Don’t try to force the power, as this will cause you to tense up.
In other words: don’t try to make a powerful swing; try to make a fast swing instead.
It’s often difficult to stay relaxed under pressure. This even affects world-class players, who sometimes tense up in a difficult match. Your state of mind can easily affect your hitting technique!
Use the left arm correctly
Don’t ignore your left arm!
As you turn your shoulders, bend your left elbow and tuck the left arm into your body. Do not allow it to swing out wildly behind you, as this will upset your balance, rob you of power, and lower your point of contact with the shuttle.
Your left arm and shoulder should start moving momentarily before your right. Use the left arm to start the shoulder turn, with a rapid
left-right rhythm. Remember: for the shoulders to rotate effectively, the left arm must be leading the motion.
Don’t bend the wrist too much
Many players, and even some coaches, are confused about the role of the wrist in badminton.
It’s often said that the wrist generates most of the power for badminton shots. This simply isn’t true: most of the power, especially for smashes and clears, comes from body and arm rotation.
For a normal smash or clear, your wrist should stay relatively still during the hitting action. A common error is to bend (flex) the wrist forwards on impact with the shuttle, so that you complete the shot with the wrist bent forwards at up to 90 degrees.
Avoid bending the wrist this much, as it prevents you from using arm rotation effectively. For a full-power smash, your wrist should stay relatively neutral.
See this slow-motion video of Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei smashing, and note how the wrist stays relatively neutral, whereas the arm rotates a great deal.
It often looks as though the wrist is bending a lot, but the eye is easily deceived by fast motion. Watching carefully in slow motion replays, you can see that it’s really arm rotation.
Half-smashes and deceptive clears
The wrist plays a greater role in half-smashes (stick-smashes), and deceptive attacking clears. These are less powerful shots, where you’re more concerned with angle and placement. The wrist is great for altering angles.
We’ll look at these shots in later articles.