Probably the most asked question, the most search topic and the thing the majority of people fixate on when they first start playing badminton. It’s definitely the most exciting shot to play and watch in the sport, there really isn’t anything else quite like it. Seeing some of the greats play this iconic shot is jaw-dropping to say the least but how do they do it? What’s the key to a killer smash?
Look at the best smashers in the game like Lin Dan, Fu Haifeng, Goh V Shem, Tan Boon Heong to name a few, you start to see patterns in how they approach and execute the shot. Good footwork to get right behind the shuttle, power through the legs and jump to get up and meet the shuttle at the highest point possible, hit the shuttle just in front of your body line and push the shuttle down to get a steep angle, placement is as crucial as power but both are needed and finally keep a fluid motion and pronate the arm to get the last second whip-like snap to power through the shuttle. These are just the components of the smash, you need to practise all of this and then some. Mastering each of these elements of the shot and you’ll be killer on court. Having highlighted all of that, let’s go into more detail on each point step by step.
Badminton’s is all about footwork, good footwork will improve everything else along with it, poor footwork means you won’t be in balance or in a good position to play the next shot. If you watch Lee Chong Wei’s footwork, he’s one of the best examples, you can easily see how well he gets behind the shuttle. When the shuttle is traveling he never lets it go behind him so in practise he’s never trying to catch up with the shuttle instead he’s ahead of it.
Getting behind the shuttle provides the opportunity to be able to strike the shuttle above your head and slightly in front of you which makes it easier to hit the shuttle steeper. If your leaning back trying to reach the shuttle behind you, it will be so much harder or even impossible to get the racquet over the shuttle to bring it down. If you watch the professionals, especially players like Fun Haifeng, you’ll see how they almost come over the top of the shuttle.
Getting behind the shuttle fully also allows you to transfer your body weight forwards adding more momentum to your shot. Naturally letting your body follow through means you’ll hit with a lot more force rather than falling backwards or being stationary when hitting the smash.
Often overlooked in this aspect is not just how getting behind the shuttle improves the smash but also how you’re able to recover after the smash if the other player/players get the smash back. You’ll be in better balance and be able to follow up on the smash to continue or finish the rally. This is so important especially in singles where opportunities arise when the opponent can only make a weak reply.
It’s often seen on promotional material and posters around the world wherever the sport is played, the big jump smash and the poise and technique needed to hit an incredible smash. Taking Lee Chong Wei as an example again you’ll often see him as much as 3 feet off the ground, leaping into the air to hit the big winner. The reason the jump can be so important is for angle and placement. If you just wanted to hit the fastest smash you could do that whilst standing but you’ll most likely hit a very flat smash and the opponent would only need to be able to react to the right direction to return the smash. Jumping up on the smash allows for a steeper angle so that it can be hit with speed and placement, just try getting a smash back that is low down near your feet and then try and get a smash back which is near your mid-drift and see which is harder to return.
Taking the shuttle early provides lots of opportunities for variety as well which is why you see players really rush back when the shuttle is lifted. Meeting the shuttle early leaves the opponent with more shots to worry about, you could smash it or just as easily drop it or clear it or any variety of shot.
There are times when getting up to the shuttle really high can be a disadvantage, if you’re suspended in the air for a short time you’re recovery time for the next shot will naturally be slower, so if you hit a poor quality shot and the opponent gets it back it could be difficult to reach the next shot depending on the return. You see it a lot more in singles that the players don’t always go for the biggest jump when hitting from the back of the court to avoid exposing themselves in their recovery from the shot, instead waiting for the right opportunity where they are most likely to be able to inflict damage to the opponents defence with a killer smash.
As we mentioned in the previous section getting up to the shuttle early is vital in hitting a killer badminton smash, the steepness in angle you can create by doing this makes it harder for opponents to return as they have to get down low to reach the shuttle and naturally from there they can only play an upwards shot giving you a more favourable return. Creating angle along with proper placement and power in the smash can make all the difference, so let’s go over placement and power.
When we talk about placement we mean where you aim your smash at the opponent or opponents. In singles, it is more common to smash down the line (the inner sideline used to mark the boundary for singles) and to cross smash (smashing the shuttle cross court from your position). The reason for placing the smashes like this in singles is because your opponent is only one person it’s more difficult to cover the width of the court and hence there is more space to attack them down the lines. It is not often seen but the other smash variation is a body smash, often referred to as “smashing into the body” where you aim directly at the opponent often targeting their racquet arm hip or shoulder. There are times when smashing at the opponent in singles is beneficial, either when the player is constantly expecting the smashes to go down the line and your smashes need some variation to keep them guessing or against tall players smashing at the body can be quite effective as it’s harder to move longer arms and legs in a smaller confined space.
When playing doubles it’s more common to either smash down the middle (in between the two defending players) or body smashing more. Hitting the smash down the middle takes the angles of reply away from the defenders, the reason doubles players try and do this is to try and give their partner who should be at the front of the court the best opportunity to intercept or kill the next shot, let me explain further. If you smash down the line in doubles with two players on the other side standing side by side you don’t get much advantage from aiming down the line because all they need to do is reach with their racquet out and they can get it and good players will be able to drive the shuttle back bypassing your partner at the front of the court. If you smash in between the two players not only can you create confusion between the two, as they might think the other one should retrieve it, but the shuttle will have to travel from the middle of their side which cuts out the opportunity to cross the shuttle or play it back down the line. In doubles, the aim should always be to set up the front player to finish the rally. It is much easier to kill the rally from the net from a weak reply then to try and completely smash through a pair waiting for exactly that, a smash!
Smashing at the body is also useful in doubles for the same reason, when you smash directly at the opponent you should be aiming for the racquet hip (the hip of the side of which they hold their racquet, right-handed player hit the right hip etc), the racquet shoulder and down by the feet. Aiming for the hip and shoulder is effective because it forces the player to sway their body to one side in order to be able to defend the shot, pick up and racquet and try playing an imaginary defensive shot aimed at your hip or shoulder and notice how you can’t angle the racquet without moving yourself first. If the opponent doesn’t react quick enough they simply won’t be able to play a shot back and if they do react they’re more likely to make a mistake. Smashing down near the feet makes it harder to reach the shuttle, the other pair is covering the width of the court but if your smash is steep they’ll struggle to even reach it before it hits the floor. If they manage to get it back the shuttle has to go up giving either the front player a chance to intercept of you a chance to attack again.
Personally I think smash power should be the last thing to think about when trying to improve the smash because if you could smash at 400kph like the professionals but couldn’t control the placement or the angle then good players will simply feed off of that power and use it against you, having said that it is important.
A lot of people think hitting the smash as hard as you can everytime is what you should aim for and that’s simply not true. Watch Lin Dan play at any point in his career and you can definitely tell that he doesn’t always hit his smashes as hard as he can 100% of the time he more than not waits for the easy opportunity to go full pace with the smash because he is most likely to win the rally at that point and can afford to commit to following it up and in doubles you can see the likes of Lee Yong Dae and Hendra Setiawan don’t often play as rear court players in doubles but when they do they’re calculated in picking and choosing when to smash with full power. Opponents can get used to the speed of the other players smash as the game goes on and develop a sort of rhythm on when and how to expect the smash so disrupting that rhythm can be very effective. If you want to learn how to improve the power of your smash then keep reading.
Racquet technique is so important of badminton as it is a game of small margins so having the right technique can make all the difference to getting a better smash. Looking at Lin Dan, one of the best technicians in the game, he’s the prime example when looking at the actual technique of hitting the smash. The technique of the smash has three parts:
1) Push the racquet shoulder back and turn the body side-on
2) Reach up high and forwards with the non-racquet hand to the space where you will strike the shuttle along with raising the racquet up making sure the racquet is above shoulder height
3) Swing through with an overhead action and focus on pronating the forearm
If you’re aware of who Bruce Lee is then you probably know what the “one-inch punch” is. The one-inch punch is a punching exercise from the martial art form called Kung Fu but was heavily popularised by Bruce Lee and comprises of delivery a punch without a big windup and instead over a very short distance, as short as one-inch. The idea behind the technique is that you should be able to deliver the same amount of force over a shorter distance if the force is applied in a focused and accurate way. This relates to the badminton smash wherein the majority of the smash power is achieved in the last part of the technique, the forearm pronation.
The forearm pronation acts like a twisted elastic band in which it tries to get back to its original shape. When the elastic band is twisted it becomes tight and creates elastic energy which is then released when the elastic band is released from the twisting. The same thing happens when you pronate your forearm, your muscles are twisted slightly and that creates elastic energy in your muscles that want to get back to a resting position. This all happens in a very small space when you look at it in the big picture of the entire shot. The better you can master power in the forearm the better your smash will become.
Newton’s second law is simple, force: mass x acceleration, in the last section the majority of the acceleration part of that equation for the badminton smash is in the stroke and some of the mass comes from the racquet but even more mass can be added into the equation if you follow “through the shuttle”. This simply means to make sure you are least traveling forward slightly when you hit the smash and not falling backwards or remaining stationary during the shot. If you hit the smash whilst traveling forwards as you hit the shuttle you’ll be adding some of your own bodyweight into the shot, you’re adding more mass into the equation.
Following through with your body gives you more balance and more momentum so is important not just for the smash but for the next shot you might have to play as well. You see it time after time in Lin Dan’s hay day where he’d hit a big smash and follow it up by killing the returned block at the net.
After reading all of this there is nothing left to do but go out there and practise. I would always recommend finding a good coach who can coach the fundamentals extremely well. Practise is only worth doing if it is good quality practise, spending hours and hours practising something the wrong way won’t improve anything. Practise with purpose, practise with patience and an open mind and practise with 100% effort and enjoy it, it’s proven we excel more easily in the things that we enjoy then the things we don’t.
Keep watching the best in badminton and try and pick out some of the things mentioned here, learn from them as they’re the best for a reason.