Get a Quicker First Step

A killer workout compliments of the U.S. Olympic badminton team. (Seriously.)
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A killer workout compliments of the U.S. Olympic badminton team. (Seriously.)
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Usually when you hear “explosive first step,” you think of LeBron or LaDainian. But some of the quickest footwork in sports comes from guys who whack their shuttlecocks all day: world-class badminton players. On the top courts, this seemingly lazy lawn sport becomes a brutally fast blur, with the shuttlecock shooting off the racket at more than 200 miles per hour, the fastest projectile of any sport (jai alai included). To perform—and win—at this breakneck pace requires some serious shuffling. “Our training is all about explosiveness and footwork,” says top-ranked Beijing-bound U.S. doubles player Howard Bach. We deconstructed Bach’s leg-blasting six-step speed drills so you can be the fastest in your sport— whether it’s ultramarathons or beer pong. Get ready to respect the shuttlecock!

1. Box Jump
Now you have a slightly less creepy reason to clock time in the aerobics classroom at the gym. Stand in front of a one- to two-foot-tall step box (two stair steps is its equivalent) with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Squat down, then leap up, landing on the box. Hop back down—that’s one rep. Do three sets of 20. “After a few that two feet will seem like 20,” says Tony Gunawan, Bach’s coach and a 2000 Olympic doubles gold medalist from Indonesia.

2. Ladder Laps
Use tape to make a “railroad track” on the floor with 10 one-by-one-foot boxes. Do high knees through the track, with each foot stepping once in each box. Jog back, then repeat four times. “Once you get the footwork down, keep your eyes and head straight ahead, chin up,” says Gunawan. This long spine-head position takes the strain off the lower back, saving you the embarrassment of telling people you hurt yourself during, um, a badminton workout.

3. Rope Jump
Lay a rope along the floor and stand six inches away with your right hip facing the rope. Jump sideways over the rope plus six inches. Bach says the key to making these boost your first step (read: kill your quads) is keeping your feet together when you jump and land—or else your just a dude prancing over a rope in the aerobics room! Once you land, jump back to the starting position as quickly and smoothly as you can. That’s one rep. Do three sets of 20.

4. One-Legged Jump
This one separates the badminton badasses from the busters. First, it blasts your legs and core and steels your balance. Second, it tests the mettle of your self-confidence, because if you do it right, you’ll look like nerve-damaged kangaroo. Stand on one leg, with the other leg bent behind you. Bend your standing leg to squat down so your thigh is parallel to the floor, then jump as high as you can. Land, switch legs and repeat. Do three sets of 12 jumps per leg.

5. Wall Sit
Place your back against a wall and slide down so that your thighs are parallel to the floor as if you were a human chair awaiting the backside of Adriana Lima. While lost in your fantasy, press the small of your back into the wall and squeeze your quads and calves. You’re doing it right when your thighs feel like they’re being blowtorched. Sit for one minute, rest for 30 seconds, then sit for two minutes, rest for 30 seconds, then sit for three minutes.

6. Stopwatch Suicides
“This sprint drill is all about reaction time and explosive push-off,” says Gunawan. Set a stopwatch to beep every 15 seconds and get into an upright starting position (knees slightly bent, one leg behind the other). At the first beep, sprint full speed for 50 feet. Gradually slow down, get back into your starting stance, and, at the next beep, sprint again. Do 20 sprints, exploding out of the start as quickly as possible. Congrats, you’re now a badminton bull!