One Exercise to Improve Your Smash: Pull-Ups

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A man performing pull ups in a gym

A badminton smash is the fastest shot in all racket sports, known for its power and precision. It’s an offensive shot played from the back of the court, aimed in a downward trajectory. Unlike a drop shot, a smash is all about power, making it a potential rally-winner. Even if your opponent returns it, it’s often a weak shot, giving you an advantage. However, weak or poorly executed smashes can leave you out of position.

If you’ve ever yearned for a faster, more powerful smash, you’re not alone. In this article, we’re diving into a simple yet effective solution to improve your smash: pull-ups. We will explore what muscles are used when performing a smash and discover how this exercise can take your game to the next level.

What muscles are used during a smash

Let’s first look at the muscles that are involved when performing a smash.

First the player lifts, flexes and stretches the arm back. This involves the trapezius, biceps brachii, deltoid muscles and Latissimus Dorsi.

Second, the triceps brachii, biceps brachii, deltoid muscles and Latissimus Dorsi extend and rotate the arm and body to hit the shuttle.

Third, the deltoids along with trapezius muscles medially rotates the arm downwards to perform a smash. The biceps brachii also helps with the deceleration of the rack after the smash.

Throughout the whole of the smash motion the trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles help keep the body stable and contribute to the power of the shot.

Other muscles that are involved indirectly when hitting a smash are, forearm and wrist muscles  (Flexors and Extensors) which help with wrist control and racket maneuverability and enable the player to make precise adjustments to the racket. And hand and finger which are involved with grip strength and are crucial for controlling the racket and maintaining a firm hold during the smash.

Trapezius (Traps)

Origin: Vertebrae
Insertion: Clavicle
Main Function: Stabilize and move the scapular
The trapezius muscle is a long muscle fiber that spans across the upper back. The muscle is divided into three parts: descending (superior), ascending (inferior), and middle. One of the roles of the trapezius is the movement and stabilization of the scapular which is in turn crucial for optimum shoulder movement such as bringing your hand over your head, a movement essential to a smash.
Trapezius

Biceps Brachii group (Biceps)

Origin: Scapula
Insertion: Humerus
Comprises of two muscles: Short head, long head
Main function: Twist or turn the forearm and flex the elbow
The Biceps are a large, thick muscle on the front or top side of the upper arm and is composed of two parts, a short head and a long head. The biceps play a key role in flexing your arm at the elbow.
Biceps

Triceps brachii group (Triceps)

Origin: Scapula
Insertion: Ulnar
Comprises of three muscles: Long head, Lateral Head, Medial head
Main function: Fixate the elbow joint when the forearm and hand are used for fine movement such as writing
The triceps are large, thick muscles on the back side part of the upper arm. They are called triceps as they are composed of three muscles, the Medial head, the Lateral head, and the Long head. The triceps also play a key role in extending your arm at the elbow. The biceps and triceps work together in opposite directions to move the arm.
Triceps

Deltoid

Origin: Clavicle
Insertion: Humerus
Main function: Abduction and adduction
The Deltoid muscle is a very important muscle for all shots in badminton. A large and powerful triangular-shaped muscle that lies over the shoulder joint, the deltoid is involved in moving and stabilizing the shoulder.
Deltoid

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

Origin: Vertebrae
Insertion: Humerus
Main function: Adduction, Extension, and Internal Rotation of the Humerus
The Latissimus Dorsi, often referred to as the "Lats," is a broad, fan-shaped muscle spanning the lower and middle back. This muscle plays a vital role in badminton, primarily during the smash shot. The Lats are responsible for the adduction, extension, and internal rotation of the humerus, making them essential for the powerful and controlled motion required in a smash. Strong and well-conditioned Lats contribute to a forceful follow-through and a more effective smash technique.
Lats

Pull-ups: Technique and their Benefits

A pull-up is a strength training exercise where simply put, you hold onto a bar and pull your body weight up. A pull-up targets so many different muscles in your upper body, especially your back and shoulders, making them a fantastic exercise generally and specifically for badminton players. All muscles that are strengthened by pull-ups are used when performing a smash, making pull-ups an essential exercise for badminton players who want to strengthen their smash. 

Here’s how it to actually perform a pull-up:

  1. Starting Position: Begin by hanging from a horizontal bar with your palms facing away from your body. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be fully extended, and your feet should not touch the ground.

  2. Performing the Pull-Up: To execute a pull-up, you pull your body upward by bending your elbows and bringing your chest towards the bar. Your goal is to lift your chin above the bar. Your back and shoulder muscles are doing most of the work during this phase.

  3. Lowering Phase: After reaching the highest point, slowly lower your body back down to the starting position with your arms fully extended. This phase engages your muscles in a controlled manner.

  4. Active Hang: When back at the starting position, don’t just release your muscles. You should still be tensing your back muscles as this will help you pull back up on your next repetition. This is called an active hang.

  5. Repetition: Repeat the pull-up motion for the desired number of repetitions.
A man performing pull ups in a gym

Pull-ups can be a difficult exercise when you first start off, but trust me you will quickly progress. If to begin with you can’t pull yourself up, the best way to start is to grab a resistance band that you can wrap around the bar, like these. These bands help take some of your weight enabling you to pull yourself up.

After you get the hang of it you can begin to up your repetitions to 3 sets of 5 pull-ups and then beyond. This should take you 2 – 5 mins to complete, so really easy to fit in! If you get one in your doorway, you can even do a set everytime you walk under it.

Pull-ups are a highly effective exercise for building upper body strength, improving posture, and targeting the muscles in your back, shoulders, biceps, and forearms and improving the strength of your smash.

Here’s how pull-ups strengthen each muscle:

Posterior Deltoid
The posterior deltoid is the rear part of your shoulder muscle. During a pull-up, when you pull your body upward, your shoulders go through a range of motion that engages the posterior deltoid significantly. This engagement is essential for the lifting phase of the pull-up.
Trapezius
The trapezius muscle, often referred to as the traps, runs down the back of your neck and upper spine. It also extends out to your shoulders. When you perform a pull-up, especially in the upper portion of the movement where you bring your chest toward the bar, your traps work hard to stabilize and retract your shoulder blades. This action targets the upper trapezius and helps improve shoulder strength and stability.
Rotator Cuff
While pull-ups primarily target larger shoulder muscles, they also engage the rotator cuff muscles, which are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff muscles help keep your shoulder joint in the proper position during the pull-up movement, preventing injury and enhancing shoulder strength.
Latissimus Dorsi
Pull-ups primarily target the latissimus dorsi (Lats). These are the large muscles of the back responsible for the pulling motion. During a pull-up, as you lift your body upward, the lats contract to perform the pulling action.
Biceps Brachii
Pull-ups also work the biceps brachii, the muscles located in the front of your upper arms. As you pull your body toward the bar, your biceps are actively involved in bending your elbows and lifting your bodyweight.
Forearms (Brachioradialis and Forearm Flexors)
The act of gripping the pull-up bar and supporting your bodyweight engages the muscles in your forearms, specifically the brachioradialis and forearm flexors. These muscles are essential for maintaining a firm grip on the bar.
Core Muscles
Pull-ups require a degree of core strength to maintain proper body alignment throughout the exercise. The muscles of the abdomen and lower back engage to stabilize your torso and prevent excessive swinging or arching of the spine.
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Chest and Triceps (Secondary)
While not the primary focus, the chest and triceps also play a role in stabilizing the shoulder joint during the pull-up. They help in maintaining proper form and posture throughout the movement.
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Overall, pull-ups are a highly effective compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, making them a versatile choice for upper-body strength development. By regularly incorporating pull-ups into your fitness routine, you can build strength and muscle in your back, arms, shoulders, and core, all of which will help make your smash stronger.

One of the best things about using pull-ups to improve your smash is that they are a simple exercise that can be done almost anywhere, a park, a tree, or even in your own home with a bar between a doorway such as this one by FitBeast from amazon

A Woman doing pull-ups in the park with personal trainer
A black man doing pull ups outside from the underside of a bridge

Added Benefits of Pull-ups

Obviously, one benefit from doing pull-ups is increased strength, but there are also some overlooked benefits that can be gained from pull-ups.

Endurance 
Training to exhaustion with pull-ups can be good to work on improving muscle fatigue allowing you to carry on with your powerful smash even into the last set of a match.
Grip Strength
As we have already mentioned, the act of gripping the pull-up bar and supporting your bodyweight engages the muscles in your forearms and therefore your grip strength which is important in badminton.
Decrease Injury
Shoulder injuries are a very common issue when it comes to badminton and smashing in particular. The trapezius plays an important role in stabilizing the shoulder, so a stronger trapezius will equal a stronger shoulder that is less prone to injury.

Pull-up variations

There are lots of different variations to the standard pull-up. Including pull-up variations in your workout routine offers a range of benefits. It diversifies your muscle engagement, preventing training plateaus and promoting balanced muscle development. By targeting different muscle groups and movement patterns, you not only reduce the risk of overuse injuries but also build functional strength that translates to improved daily activities and badminton performance. Plus, the variety keeps workouts interesting and challenging, motivating consistent exercise while enhancing both physical and mental skills.

Here are some great pull-up variations:

  1. Chin-Ups: Chin-ups involve using an underhand (palms-facing-you) grip. They primarily target the biceps and lower lats.

  2. Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: In this variation, you grip the pull-up bar wider than shoulder-width apart. This targets the lats and upper back muscles more intensely.

  3. Narrow-Grip Pull-Ups: With a narrow grip (hands close together), you emphasize the biceps and lower lats. This variation is sometimes called “close-grip pull-ups.”

  4. Neutral-Grip Pull-Ups: Instead of a palms-facing-forward or palms-facing-away grip, you use parallel bars or handles with your palms facing each other. This variation places less stress on the shoulders and wrists. This is sometimes called hammer pull-ups.

  5. Commando Pull-Ups: In a commando pull-up, you grip the bar with one hand facing forward and one facing backward. This exercise targets the biceps, forearms, and obliques.

  6. L-Sit Pull-Ups: Perform pull-ups with your legs extended straight in front of you, forming an “L” shape with your body. This variation adds an extra challenge to your core muscles.

  7. Weighted Pull-Ups: For when you have completed pull-ups. Attach a weight belt or use a weighted vest to add resistance to your pull-ups. This variation helps increase overall strength. 

  8. Towel Pull-Ups: Hang two towels over the bar and grip them instead of the bar. This engages your grip strength and forearms to a higher degree.

  9. Muscle-Ups: A muscle-up combines a pull-up with a dip, where you transition from the pull-up to pushing yourself up and over the bar. It’s an advanced move that works the entire upper body. It also looks really cool.

These variations not only add variety to your workout routine but also target different muscle groups and provide a progressive challenge as you continue to build strength and skill in your pull-up exercises.

A man doing leg raises hanging from a bar out side
A man doing neutral grip pull ups from a bar in a gym
A white woman doing pull ups in a grundgy gym

The Take Home Message

  1. Badminton smash is a powerful shot from the back of the court, essential for winning rallies.


  2. Pull-ups are a simple yet effective exercise to enhance your smash, targeting key muscles.


  3. Pull-ups strengthen muscles like Deltoids, Trapezius, Latissimus dorsi, and more, improving upper body strength and posture.


  4. Additional benefits of pull-ups include increased endurance, grip strength, and reduced risk of shoulder injuries.


  5. Various pull-up variations diversify workouts, prevent plateaus, and target different muscle groups.


  6. Incorporating pull-ups into your training routine is a straightforward way to boost your badminton smash, leading to improved on-court performance.

Conclusion

In summary, if you’re looking to enhance your badminton smash, incorporating pull-ups into your training routine is one simple way to improve your smash. Pull-ups target the key muscles necessary for a powerful and precise smash, giving you an edge on the court. So, don’t wait – hit the gym, find a park or get a pull-up bar and start training today. 

Of course strength is not the only aspect to an amazing smash, technique and precision are also very important. If you want to learn everything about the smash, including how to hit a smash and the different types there are, then check out out article all about the smash. Already know everything about the smash, well then check out our article 7 Badminton Smash Drills: To Improve Your Smash if you’re looking for ways to improve your technique, precision and consistency.

For more from this series that we are starting, called One Exercise To …, check out our latest one, One Exercise To Improve your Movement: Sit-ups.

If you have any questions or want to see specific content on our website, feel free to contact us anytime. Your journey to a better smash begins now!

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