I’m in a gymnasium. Laughter echoes off the cinderblock walls and shoes squeak on the hardwood floor. My heart’s racing and I’m squinting against the lights. No, it’s not a gruesome flashback to my Grade 9 gym class. Rather, it’s Tuesday night and I’m having a great time playing badminton. A friend invited me to join her at a free drop-in night at the local school’and I impulsively said yes. Much to my surprise, I’m getting a great workout, too: running, stretching, leaping and lunging just as fast as my 36-year-old reflexes will go. The 90 minutes fly past. When was the last time you could say that about an aerobics class?
‘I love the complexity of badminton,’ says Vancouverite Anna Rice, the current national champion, who represented Canada at the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. ‘There is always another dimension you can focus on, whether it’s physical, tactical, technical or psychological. Plus, you’re playing against a direct opponent so you’ve got someone who brings their own style to the game. It makes every match different.’
Playing badminton also carries loads of health benefits. ‘It’s a wonderful and fun way to get in shape,’ notes Susan Agrios, a fitness trainer in Edmonton who coaches and plays competitive badminton. ‘You have a short burst of activity, and then a bit of a rest, and then a short burst again to blast that heart rate up. That kind of interval training is a great way to strengthen the heart.’
Be-bopping around the court also helps tone your muscles. ‘It’s fantastic for the legs: the quads, butt, calves and hamstrings. Your core muscles get worked, too. And of course the arm and back muscles on the side you hold your racquet are getting a workout,’ says Agrios. The game also boosts your agility, balance and coordination, as well as strengthening your bones because it’s a weight-bearing activity. For a recreational badminton player, this all adds up to about 450 calories burned per hour (based on a 150-lb woman). An hour of walking burns just half that amount.
How to get involved
You can find a game just about anywhere in Canada. Many recreation centres and racquet clubs offer singles or doubles games for a small fee; my tiny hometown in northwestern Ontario offers a free, weekly pick-up session in the school gym. Larger centres also have badminton clubs that offer lessons and tournaments. You can learn the basic skills quite quickly, even if you’re a not-very-muscular beginner like me, and you don’t necessarily need to show up with a partner. Just check with the club beforehand to see if drop-in games are an option.
You will likely need your own racquet (starting at less than $20). Clubs sometimes supply the durable nylon shuttles, also known as birdies or shuttlecocks, which cost only a few dollars. (Advanced players tend to prefer more expensive and fragile feather shuttles, made with duck or goose feathers, because they are easier to control.) You can often play year-round, although if, like me, you’re playing in a school, the program may shut down in the summer’but that’s okay; it’s fun to whack the shuttle around on the beach or in the backyard. Like most sports, it’s best to play against someone who’s slightly better than you, so you can improve your game without getting frustrated.
Injury rates for badminton are pretty low’after all, it’s not a contact sport. ‘You will sometimes see knee, ankle or shoulder injuries, but if you learn how to swing and move your feet properly, you’re less likely to get injured,’ explains Agrios.
What about footwear? ‘You’ll be fine with a cross-trainer, but if you start playing more you should get court shoes,’ she says. A running shoe has a thicker, cushier sole, and it’s not designed for multidirectional movement, so you run the risk of rolling your ankle. ‘Court shoes have thinner, more flexible soles that grip the floor so you can easily move in different directions.’ Expect to pay about $50 and up for court shoes, and $70 and up for badminton shoes. Add a T-shirt and some shorts or track pants, and you’re good to go. Warm up and cool down with a brisk walk (or jog) and stretch. To be safe, if you have a heart condition, check with your doctor before starting.
This article was originally titled "Hit the courts!" in the November/December 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.