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Badminton: An interview with the bicep muscle who makes it all possible

With the summer going into full swing, the parks and streets are alive with the sound of people moving! This summer is particularly special as Toronto hosts the 2015 Pan American Games. In anticipation of the world’s third largest sporting competition, we were fortunate enough to interview Canada’s very own defending Gold Medalist in Badminton, Michelle Li—or more specifically her bicep muscle, who formally goes by the name, Bicep Brachii, to get the inside scoop on what it takes to make that game winning smash.

Science World (SW): Hello, Bicep! Thank you so much for joining us today, you must be extremely busy leading up to the games. I’ve recently read that badminton is the world’s fastest racquet sport, but how fast is it really?

Bicep Brachii (BB): Absolutely! Within the professional circuits, the shuttlecock can easily reach speeds of over 300 km/h (the world record holds at 493 km/h in a non-game setting) from a jump smash shot.

SW: Wow!  For our readers out there, here are some other sports statistics to give that context:

  •                 Fastest hockey slap shot: 183 km/h
  •                 Fastest tennis serve: 263.4 km/h
  •                 Fastest baseball pitch: 169.1 km/h
  •                 Fastest table tennis smash: 112.5 km/h

So what’s your secret? I can imagine you must undergo a lot of strength training to be able to hit the shuttlecock hard enough to reach such terminal speeds.

BB: The smash is undoubtedly one of the hardest shots to make but it’s also one of the hardest to defend against. It’s a pretty sure fire way in ending the rally and earning a point. Since it happens so quickly, it requires a lot of coordination of different muscles all over the body. That being said, a smash is more than just hitting the birdie hard enough.

SW: How so?

BB:  Recent studies have compared professional athletes to novice enthusiasts and found that both are capable of hitting the birdie as fast as one another. The real secret to speed was the racquet angle—a sweet spot of 71.6 degrees; which is something that differentiates professional athletes from recreationalists. 

SW: So we should all try and aim for 71.6 degrees (I say that like it’s an easy thing…)?

BB:  Haha in part! There’s a lot of physics behind that optimal angle but it’s just as the saying goes “No man is an island” and no lone muscle is an athlete. A smash shot happens almost at an instant, so even with getting the elusive angle, it’s a matter of choreographing the muscles in the legs, torso, shoulder and arm at the right time to transfer and summate the kinetic energy to make the game winning point.

But thanks to advances in science, the research into the biomechanics use tools like electromyography (EMG) and motion capture to track how muscles (not just myself) move. They can also see the timing for when contractions occur so we can tweak and train accordingly. 

SW: I guess I’ll need more than just a protractor to practice my smashes then! That’s all the time we have for now, but thank you so much Biceps Brachii, I’ll definitely keep my eye out for form and angles come July!

Here at Science World, we’re rooting for all our athletes and wishing them all the best. A big thank you goes out to Michelle Li for loaning us a hand, or rather a bicep. Good luck in Toronto, Michelle!

Are you keen on all things biological? Be sure to visit our BodyWorks Gallery soon, as the space will be under construction to make way for new innovations!