Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Barefoot Badminton

For the most part I play badminton with bare feet. This may draw gasps of horror from some players, who question whether I end up with blisters and burns and twisted ankles, but I have never had any of those things. In fact, the last time I put my badminton shoes on, I quickly ended up with a sprained ankle due to the higher centre of gravity and less-stable platform provided by padded footwear.

At the risk of stating the obvious, playing badminton barefoot is not the same as playing with shoes.

It's not possible to simply plant a foot and rely on the mechanical grip of the sole to begin a change of direction. It's also imperative to keep legs flexed and weight forward so that contact with the floor is primarily through the forefoot, as landing on, or striking the floor with heels is not to be advised.

A light step and swift footwork are required to move effectively around the court. While sliding and heavy landings are precluded, jumping and agility at the net are greatly improved. I am completely free of ankle or knee pain after badminton, which can be a common complaint from those who land heavily in shoes.

Last night, I decided to play a few games in my Vibram FiveFingers, about which I wrote recently.

I have a few observations:

Firstly, the degree of grip with the floor is definitely improved, but I'm not entirely sure that this is a good thing, as it encourages actions that place a great strain on the lower legs and knees, as the momentum of the body is arrested in an artificially rapid manner by the contact with the floor.

Secondly, even though there is almost no padding in the FiveFingers sole, the lack of sensation from the floor into the plantar surface seems to convince the mind that there is a degree of padding available, and as a result I found myself landing much more heavily in the Vibrams than I would normally expect when barefoot. While I think I was still relatively light-footed, I could see a potential situation where this false sense of security could result in injury to the foot, perhaps even stress fracture in extreme cases.

The sensation of playing badminton in Vibram FiveFingers is comparable to playing with bare feet, but it's not a switch I would make permanently. For the time being, I plan to limit their use to a few games per session.

To anyone thinking of shedding their shoes to play badminton, I would certainly commend you to do so and experience the benefits - it's a great way to teach yourself to stay light and agile on court. It may not be suitable for very high-speed competitive play, but for club nights it has served me very well for several years now. It may be a bit of a system shock the first time you play barefoot, so take it easy and stay on your toes, but with a few games' practice you'll be in the swing of things.

Yes, the soles of you feet will end up black by the end of a session, but that's why we invented soap, right?


  1. Its quite interesting to read about barefooting along with badminton. Although I do not generally barefoot unless I am around the house, I do enjoy the game of badminton very much. I can see both advantages and disadvantages to the grip improvement. This did however make for an interesting read :).

  2. Thanks for this post! I've been playing badminton with friends for fun the past year now, and I am a real rookie. I did however start plaing from day 1 in my FiveFingers KSO. I didn't have any other indoor shoes at the time and I have been using them together with my new balance minimus trek while running so I like the light feel on my feet. Sadly my KSO are now starting to break down, so I went in search for information on what I should get instead which lead me here.

    I never even considered playing badminton fully bare feet, which is something I might want to try. I've always had problems with weak ankles, but never had a problem while wearing my five fingers. Which FiveFingers were you using while playing? Bikila? Been wondering which ones I should get for indoor sporting, Komodosport seems popular for that.

  3. I don't play badminton, but I do indoor circuit training in a sports hall and always train in bare feet. Personally, I like the sensation of it and I get a good "connection" with the floor as I can use my feet to feel which improves balance. At least, that how it seems. Yes- I get some funny looks- but the instructor lets me me train like this. I would also do squash and badminton without shoes if i was playing. Unfortunately, some sports centres dont let you train like this which is a shame. I have FiveFigers but they do not give the the same sensation as bare skin.

  4. I have never tried playing barefoot, because we don't get that grip that we really needed at the time of playing. I also think that most sports training centers won't allow you to play barefoot because that can be a little troublesome. That can even turn up with hurting your angles and foot. Therefore It is good to have a pair of shoes for any kind of sports. I have some good pair of Li-Ning badminton shoes that my dad got it online. They are very comfortable while playing. Thanks

  5. One thing you may want to be aware of is that your feet are on a floor that has been sweated on, along with other fluids emitted by players during the day... HPV, staph, fungus and even e-coli have been found to linger. A Google search will lead to enlightening results and maybe there are footwear to make it almost barefoot...

    Hope this helps!

    p.s. http://www.mensfitness.com/training/pro-tips/7-grossest-gym-germs

  6. Since young, kids would have picked up the basic techniques. When they grow up, they'll find their group of friends to play badminton. swingitbig