Everyone I’ve ever met in badminton always asks the question; “how can I get faster” or “how can I go faster to the shuttle” and I really believe that one of the keys to great speed in badminton is practising footwork. A lot of coaches go over the various movements that get you to the shuttle in a certain way, either by moving backwards, forwards or sideways, slow and fast movements etc. One of the key technique which isn’t given enough focus is the split step. So what is it and how can it help to learn this technique?
The badminton split step, also known as the split drop, is the technique of widening your stance to get ready for the next shot from the opponent. It’s a short, sharp and precise movement that widens your stance and gets your centre of gravity lower. Doing the split step allows you to change direction easier and get continuous fluid footwork. It’s an essential piece of footwork so let’s look into this vital technique in more detail.
Coaches teach the split step in various ways but the majority if not all agree that the split step is a lowering of your natural stance. Standing with your legs shoulder width apart and slightly bent you then want to jump slightly off the ground, no more than an inch or so, so both of your feet leave the ground and then land with your knees bent and your legs further apart just enough so that you can bounce off in any direction straight away.
The idea is to load the legs and knees with kinetic energy from the slight jump and landing so that you spring back and are able to push off from the ground in the direction you need to move next. Don’t go too deep with the split or you’ll find it difficult to push off quickly but widen and lower your stance enough so that you get the push in the legs, you can’t push off if your legs are already straight.
You use the split step every time the opponent is about to hit a shot. Using the split step allows you to time your footwork to the shot of the opponent so you can move quickly to wherever they place the shuttle.
One important thing to note is that the split isn’t exactly the same all the time. There are times when the position and the way you split is slightly different. If the opponent is attacking you then you are on the defensive and most of the time you’re worried about covering the width of the court. You’ll want to stand to face the net with your legs aligned to the left and right of the court. This keeps your legs in line with the direction you’re most likely going to be needing to move towards which is sideways.
If your attacking and the opponent is about to lift the shuttle from the net then you’ll still want to do the split step but you’ll want to have your legs one in front of you and one behind you because you’re more likely going to need to move either forwards or backwards.
Most people make the mistake that the split step is only for when you’re defending but the truth is that you need to do it for every shot to keep your timing. The opponent can still deceive you when playing from a defensive position so don’t fall into this common pitfall.
When we talk about timing the split this often matters more than getting the split right itself. If you have a good split, you get low in your stance and push off with good force but aren’t able to time it to your opponents next shot you’ll find yourself getting stuck stood still or reacting too late to get reach the next shot effectively.
The timing of the split is crucial and is probably the hardest thing to get right. You want to time your split just as your opponent is hitting the shot and finishing the split just after they’ve hit the shot. Splitting too soon and you’ll have to pause ever so slightly to see where the shuttle is going next before you can move. Split too late and you’ll find yourself rushing your footwork or not being able to reach the shot.
Finishing the split just after the opponent has played the shot allows you to push out of the split to where you need to go as your eyes have seen where the shuttle is going. It needs to be explosive and you need to push up from the floor straight away.
You might think that this technique will make you slower, if you only start moving after they’ve hit the shot then you’re going to be slower getting there, correct? This is what I often hear but people forget that badminton is a game of speed and deception. If you try and time your split as the opponent hits the shuttle you are more likely to be deceived as you have no time to be able to see where the shuttle is going next before you need to move off.
The split step is the key to joining up all the other pieces of footwork on the court. It’s how the best make it look so easy as they glide around the court from shot to shot with barely a break in step. If you can master the split step then you can get into a good rhythm of footwork. You’ll stop feeling like you’re chasing the shuttle all the time and start to feel like you’re able to start to take charge of the rallies.
Training the quick twitch fibre muscles in the legs and in the core will all help in a better split step. You should focus on exercises with explosive movement as you only need to use the power in the legs for a brief period for the split step you want the power to push off with great speed.
Some free and easy ways to increase power in the legs and core to improve the split step are:
1) Burpees, a great all-around exercise that every athlete should have in their training
2) Jumping/knee highs
3) Squats, pistol squats and jumping squats
4) Lunges and jumping split lunges
5) Climbers and mountain climbers
These are just a few you should try that require no equipment and can be fit into any training schedule. Some exercises that require equipment are:
1) Romanian deadlifts
2) Barbell squats
3) Lunges holding dumbells
4) Box jumps
5) Clean and presses
6) Medicine ball throws
Building a routine out of these exercises will improve the power in your legs to be able to push off quicker and take a bigger first step after the split to get a good head start.
I always recommend watching the best f the best for anything but the top three players I would watch for good footwork you should try and mimic are Lee Chong Wei, Nozomi Okuhara and Lin Dan. No two players are exactly alike, we all do the same things slightly differently, it’s impossible to be exactly like any of these players or anyone else. The important thing to note is what the best share in common.
Lee Chong Wei has beautiful footwork and he flows from one shot to the next with ease and seems to float around the court. He’s also able to inject pace very suddenly and has very explosive movement when he needs to take advantage in the rally. Nozomi Okuhara is one of the fastest players I have ever seen on the court, if not arguably the fastest! Despite her short stature, she covers the court and then some! She rarely lets off the pace and is most often the one taking charge of the rallies. Lin Dan used to be much like Lee Chong Wei but as he has gotten older has adapted his game to rely more on his amazing shot quality and variation. His footwork is less explosive and speedy now compared to his earlier days but what he lacks in pace he makes up for in efficiency and anticipation.
If you watch all three players you’ll see that they all share similar traits in their footwork but most noticeably is their split step. This is the key to being able to lead the rally and always be looking to take the next opportunity. They get out of the blocks quickly and are able to cover the court efficiently and effectively.
I hope this information will serve you well, the split step is one thing I’m still working on as a player even after all these years and everything always has room for improvement. Learn the split step, it’s a fundamental technique in Badminton and practice, practice, practice till it becomes second nature.