I must confess that I am by no means a squash fanatic. I actually haven’t played since my college phys-ed class in which we were briefly exposed to the main racket sports. I also recall not being much good at it, I did however, gain a respect the sport as I was surprised by the amount of conditioning and skill it did involve. Despite my limited success and exposure the sport, I do feel my experience as a trainer can lend a few tips about training for racket sports. Whether you’re a serious competitor gearing up for your next big tournament or just playing for fun, try including the following points into your training schedule.
1- The first point I would like to make, is the concept of specificity. If you are really serious about maximizing your sport, everything you do needs to be related, or specific to the task. If this is not kept in mind when training, interference, or competing demands could take away from what you are trying to achieve. One of the surest ways to ensure specificity, and thus constant improvement, is to actually play your sport on a regular basis. Be sure to include opponents of equal, or better skill than you, as well as different styles. No amount of agility drills, or strength training can simulate the tactics, skills, and conditioning required for a match! So playing your sport regularly should make up a great deal of your training.
2- For additional conditioning, be sure to be specific to the energy system required for your sport. For squash, although the cardiovascular system is required to recover from the agile rallies and sprints of the sport, long duration cardiovascular training is not the best means of training. Instead try anaerobic interval training. Interval training involves short and intense bursts of work followed by episodes of recovery (which is much more similar to a playing a match). This form of training has a carry over effect to improve the aerobic system, and is also very time efficient. Try running sprints, shuttle runs, or agility drills that involve a quick change in direction. The concept of interval training can also be applied to the bike, rower, or even swimming however these modalities are not the best choice as it isn’t specific enough to being on your feet like playing squash. These options would be a suitable choice if an injury has occurred, or your training environment lacks the space for running drills. Here’s an interval training program that outlines the work/rest progressions.
3- The best athletes tend to also be the strongest in comparison to their competitors. Therefore strength training should be included in all athletic programs. It is unrealistic for me to get into much more detail with this as too many variables are involved. Having said that, a few things you should include in your strength training are:
- Work on your grip strength. You are only as strong as your weakest link, and for many it’s their grip. This is especially important for racket sports, as a lack of grip strength could be detrimental to a strong swing. Grip training can be done at the end of your strength training session or simultaneously by using fat grips. Here’s a video demonstrating grip exercises.
- Train the entire body, especially the legs and core. Choose “bang for your buck” exercises like presses, squats, deadlifts, and chin ups. These have the most return on investment as far as the strength results you get for the time invested. These compound exercises are also the best way to condition the core. Leg training should also include iso-lateral work such as lunges, split squats, and calf raises. Training each leg independently not only trains the specific joint angles involved in squash movements but also corrects discrepancies in strength and mobility between each leg.
- Include pre- habilitation exercises for the shoulder complex before you encounter an injury. Many athletes endure shoulder injuries at some point in their career, often due to repetitive stresses in conjunction with bad bio-mechanics related to poor posture and muscular imbalances. This issue is highly individual of course, however, strengthening your scapula stabilizers to ensure good posture and doing extra rotator cuff training will help keep shoulder injuries at bay. These 3 exercises will get you started.
- Resistance training should be done primarily with free weights. This includes cables, barbels, and dumbbells. Dumbbells for the upper body are even more favorable in regards to injury prevention. Racket sports are uni-lateral, that is one side is chronically used more than the other. Using dumbbells is one way of correcting strength imbalances from one side of the body to another. Whether you realize it or not, pressing or pulling with barbels involves more force is applied with the strong side. You want your strength discrepancies to converge, not diverge. Dumbbells also provide a freer and therefore safer path of movement.
4- Do Soft tissue and mobility work before, after, and in between workouts.
This runs hand in hand with pre-habiliation work, don’t wait for an injury to happen before you start including it in your regime. As Physiotherapist Kelly Starrett says, “good mobility and proper movement are the keys to good performance and that all humans should be able to perform this basic maintenance on themselves.” Kelly’s site has a tone of videos to help you figure out your bodies weak links and go after them. It may not be the most enjoyable aspect of your training, and some of it may be even painful, but do not neglect it!.. as it will catch up with you in the form of one injury or another.
By no means is this an inclusive list of considerations for training. In fact it barely scratches the surface of a fully periodized program. I do however hope that these points can help you get in better shape and most importantly stay injury free. As I tell all my clients, there is no substitute for hard work however sometimes pushing you to the next level means working smarter, not harder!
For more fitness and health information please visit my web site at www.js3pt.com
Thanks for reading,
2011 Goodlife Fitness Trainer of the Year Canada