Imagine the scene. A young player is chatting to an experienced player at your club about racquets. Invariably at some point the discussion moves on to the subject of string tension. “My racquets are strung at 30lbs” says the experienced player, “the tighter the string the better – that’s what you want.”
Now this scenario has been played thousands of times in club and league badminton and it will continue. The question is, is it doing any damage?
There has been a huge amount written about racquet string tensions in badminton over the last few years. Forums are full of players quoting all sorts of sky high numbers. For those who are new to this wonderful game, or have limited knowledge of this critical element, it is very easy to be taken in by the confident belief that “the tighter the string, the better” or “the tighter the string, the more power you get.”
If you want a simple answer, then the above statements are untrue. It’s not quite as simple as that though. So let’s separate fact from fiction so that you can then make more informed decisions about your string tensions.
The string tension in your badminton racquet plays a major part in your ability to play shots well. If the strings are too slack, then they fail to perform at optimum level. For now, I’ll assume you are past beginner level and play in a club and you’re a senior (over 18).
Before I discuss what I consider to be “safe” string tensions, perhaps it’s worth getting some of the facts about string into the open.
- All strings stretch, like elastic, and therefore from the day your racquet is strung, the strings begin to lose tension (known as creepage in the trade).
- Every racquet has a “sweet spot.” This is an area on the strings which produces the best results from the contact with a shuttle.
- The lower the tension, the bigger the sweet spot. Consequently, beginners need to play with lower tensions as they are more likely to mis-hit the shuttle. The bigger “optimum hitting area” is therefore essential in their progress in the sport.
- As a player becomes more consistent, they do not require such huge sweet spots. Their needs change and they now require a faster “response” off the strings and more power.
- As tensions are increased, the sweet spot reduces. A highly accomplished player, who consistently hits the shuttle well, will generate more power and enjoy the benefits of the shuttle travelling faster off the strings. The tighter strings give them more control.
OK, so we’ve moved from beginner to highly accomplished player. I’m not talking about your first team player here because that will vary between leagues or clubs. What I mean by a highly accomplished player is someone who is representing the area, playing county badminton or even international badminton. They could be tournament players who are playing local and national tournaments. They play to a consistently high standard.
Whenever you increase string tension, there is a point when you do not get the same return in terms of power. So what is this point of “diminishing returns?” This will depend on the individual. A highly accomplished player may find that their tensions need to be 24lbs before they notice a leveling out on power. A lower level player may find that this is way too high and 20/21 lbs is a max. Whilst it may not seem a great difference in terms of numbers, I assure you it’s massive in terms of how the racquet plays and feels.
Whatever the range, please keep your ego at bay here as it’s so common for players to boast about playing with super-high tensions and yet their performance will be suffering as a result.
Once you have found your maximum tension for power, then you need to decide whether you wish to sacrifice some in order to improve the repulsion characteristics of the string, which basically give you more control of the shuttle. Let me explain…
As the strings are tighter and the sweet spot reduces, the strings do not absorb the shuttle and then propel it forwards as much (which is where power comes from in the string). Instead the shuttle moves off the strings quicker, instantly reacting to the movement of the racquet. This produces control.
The lower repulsion and higher control characteristics are what the top players are seeking in order to provide them with the greatest opportunity to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition. They already posses the power required to create openings and recognize that this, coupled with touch and speed form the basis for a top flight all-round game.
Every racquet manufacturer provides information on what they deem safe tensions for their racquets. Many players choose to ignore these “early warnings” and have their racquets strung considerably higher.
As you can imagine, exceeding recommended limits is potentially dangerous in two ways. Firstly, the racquet frame may crack or shatter due to the significant pressure on it. Second, when you increase tension, you also increase vibration through the racquet.
The loss of repulsion characteristics means the player may have to put more into the shot to get the same power. This may result in tennis elbow, shoulder or neck injuries, which are now becoming more common because of the higher tension requirements from players.
And that’s where this knowledge can be dangerous. These injuries are serious and can take considerable time to heal. You may need physiotherapy treatment which is costly. My concern here is that young players are being given the wrong information, backed up by over-zealous players in far-east who contribute to the badminton forums. Before you know it, our budding youngsters are sidelined with serious injuries and could easily miss a season.
League clubs overall are suffering through falling numbers. Losing a player for weeks or months through injury can be a major blow to the club. Promotion, relegation or even winning the league may depend on fielding a fully fit side week after week. It would be tragic to lose a key player through injury at a critical time.
I’ve been stringing badminton racquets for over 20 years. This has included string for beginners to international players. Having seen the changes in technology from two piece racquets, to one piece composite frames, nano technology and isometric heads, I’ve pretty much seen it all over the years. The development in racquet technology has brought us lighter and yet stronger frames.
This development has also generated a significant amount of testing by international players, looking for competitive advantage. Tensions have been pushed higher and have now entered those usually seen in squash racquets. Bear in mind squash racquets are significantly thicker and heavier than badminton racquets and therefore they are designed to withstand these tensions.
So here’s my guide to racquet tensions. As with all guides, there are players who will not wish to be classed as a beginner or low level player (there’s that ego again), and therefore dismiss my recommended tension. Also, tensions are so personal. We all play a different game, some are power players, some are great tacticians, some have a very broad range of shots, others have limited shots but have mastered them. Essentially we’re all different. You need to experiment to find the optimum tension for your style of play.
- Beginner – 16lbs – 18lbs – especially if playing with plastic shuttles
- Beginner – 17lbs-19lbs if playing with feathers
- Intermediate – 18lbs -23lbs
- Advanced – 23lbs-28lbs
- County/International – 26lbs – 32lbs
As I said previously, this is a guide. I know county players who are happy playing with 22lbs and I also know some who play with 27lbs or more.
Whilst stringers will string your racquet beyond the manufacturers recommended tension, expect them to stipulate that they will not be responsible if the frame breaks.
Whilst playing with plastic shuttles is extremely cost effective compared to feather shuttles, please bear in mind that hitting these shuttles are a major cause of tennis elbow. Plastic shuttles do not fly like a feather. You generally have to put more effort into clearing the shuttle to the back of the court than you do with a feather.
As the saying goes you “stroke a feather and punch a plastic.”
Because there are significant flight differences between plastic and feather shuttles, it is recommended that you lower your string tension to get more repulsion properties from your string and less vibration. If you’re playing with a plastic shuttle and have your racquet strung at say, 24lbs, you may as well play with a board.
As with all sports, a modicum of common sense prevails. I’ve known players who play with both plastic and feather shuttles. Thankfully, they are fully aware of the increased dangers of playing with plastics compared to feather shuttles and use a different racquet, strung 2-3 lbs less than their racquet for feathers in order to compensate.
Generally, the better players are opting for thinner gauge strings like Yonex BG80. It’s a great string, can be strung to high tensions and the players like the “feel” and control they get with the combination of a favoured tension and this string. As it’s thinner, the string will not have the same durability as a thicker gauge string and therefore the racquet will need to be strung more often.
Again, string choice is personal. Beginners need string with durability rather than feel and control because their focus at this standard of play is all about getting the shuttle back and playing rallies.
As the player develops and skill increases, the need for durability reduces. Control and feel become more important. There are strings that bridge the gap between these two opposing needs, namely Yonex BG65Ti, Ashaway Rally 21 and many more.
To find what works for you, you need to speak to your stringer and ask them to record your tensions and chosen string so that you can eventually find the right combination for you. If you change racquets, you may need to adjust again, but generally you’ll only be making minor adjustments to suit.
Hopefully you now understand that a higher tension does not necessarily equal more power and generally it’s actually the opposite. Please do not be fooled by those boasting of extremely high tensions, they may already be feeling the pain from this and yet don’t wish to tell you about it!
There are definitely dangers in exceeding racquet manufacturer recommended tensions. Beware, you could soon be ending your love affair with your favourite racquet if you choose to exceed the recommended tension. Check your frame for stress lines frequently or you may be in for a shock.
Test to find your optimum tension and string choice. Remember, this is personal to you and you alone. What’s right for you may be detrimental to your club colleague or partner.
Please, do not be lead by others and some of the foolish comments on the badminton forums. Test any changes in small increments of 1lb. Bear in mind that each string is individually tensioned when stringing a racquet, so a 1lb increase is enough to notice a difference.
When you’ve found the right tension for you and the right string, you can then concentrate on enjoying and improving your game without having that little niggle in the back of your mind that you’re missing something.
Enjoy your testing and feel free to email me if you want further clarification on any of the points I’ve raised – it’s always good to hear from you.