UPDATE: Over the past week I had the privilege of working at Uni Games as a Sports Trainer, providing first aid and other sports related needs such as strapping to athletes competing in squash. In the interim between treating players (in many cases attempting to do enough to keep them on the court), I ended up watching several hours of squash. The combination of treating injuries and watching game play was a unique opportunity in the area of athlete injury management. Furthermore, the time spent watching games allowed for analysis of physical characteristics and how they can be developed in a gym setting. Here are 5 of the key strength and conditioning requirements I took away from the week that any squash player can take on board:
Squash is no exception to many sports that involve a transfer of force from the lower to upper body. Efficient force transfer can be described; if force created in the legs to get to the ball can be efficiently transferred to the upper body in order to assist the shot, the overall energy expenditure can be reduced. It is obvious when an experienced player can effortlessly connect with the ball and create the same energy shot after shot. One of the best ways to develop force transfer is through Olympic weightlifting. When performed correctly, Olympic weightlifting can greatly assist force transfer from the lower body to the upper body and improve other crucial elements of the game such as power and speed. It does however take several months to learn the motor patterns involved in Olympic Lifting, so other avenues for developing speed and power such as plyometric training may be suitable.
Single Leg Stability
The demands of squash require much of the game to be played while on one leg. Shots are most commonly performed in a lunge position with the player reaching for the ball and to get to the ball requires running which is also a single leg dominant pursuit. One aspect of single leg stability relies heavily on the proprioceptive abilities of the body. Knowing where the ankle is positioned in space without visual and vestibular cues can greatly improve energy efficiency and reduce lower limb injury risk. On top of this, the rotational forces from abdominal and upper limb twisting can significantly impact the lower limb and should be addressed within the program. These multidirectional forces are perhaps the most challenging to single leg stability. Furthermore, most squash injuries occur in the lower limb and include those such as lateral ankle sprains or overuse related knee issues. There were a fair amount of ankle braces and strapped ankles getting around which is one indicator of some of the commonly sustained injuries.
When utilised appropriately in a gym program, here are several examples of exercises useful for improving single leg stability:
– Sprinter Squat
– Assisted Pendulums
– BOSU Side Lunging
Adding in a rotational element, here are several examples of exercises useful for improving multi-planed single leg stability:
– Multi-directional Lunging
– 5-Star Pendulum Touch
– BOSU Lunge with Ball Throw
Strength through Full ROM
Players can run into injury issues when the body is forced outside of ranges it has control in and is pushed into those ranges without the ability to maintain a safe position. For example, lunging forward for a front court drop shot can put the player into a ‘splits’ position with both legs wide apart. The momentum from the rest of the body can push the body into this position and without adequate mobility to prevent unsafe joint angles, injury can occur. Therefore, squash player need to be highly mobile but still able to develop force at end ranges. One way to achieve this is through exercising at depth or end ranges of movement.
When utilised appropriately in a gym program, here are some examples of exercises useful for improving strength at depth:
– End Range pulse work e.g. Single Leg Press with 1 pulse at end range OR
– Deficit Deadlifts and Sumos
Squash is a high intensity aerobic sport with often rapid anaerobic exertions. For anyone who has played, it goes without saying that your heart rate is up for lengthy time periods and players will fatigue quickly without adequate cardiovascular fitness levels. With fatigue comes a plethora of issues such as increased injury risk, reduced shot force output, impaired decision making, and loss of technique preservation. Aerobic adaptations can be achieved not only through the classic cardio based interventions such as running/swimming/rowing but also through altering basic principles in weights training.
When utilised appropriately in a gym program, here are several examples of useful strategies for improving cardiovascular endurance:
– Increase repetition ranges to 12-15 reps
– Reducing rest time (around 30 seconds)
– Introducing pre-fatigue at the start of a session before commencing weights
In almost every rally, players were forced to rapidly accelerate in order to make a shot. For example, when the ball was played into the front court from the back court. Having the ability to rapidly get to a ball requires not only fast acceleration capacity, but fast deceleration ability. Good players know to get back to the ‘T’ as soon as the shot has been made and for this, quick deceleration or “braking forces” are required after or during the shot which is an eccentric constraint. “Eccentric” refers to the lengthening of muscle fibres under load and can be trained in the gym.
When utilised appropriately in a gym program, here are several examples of exercises useful for improving eccentric strength:
– Nordics & Reverse Nordics
– Romanian Deadlifts
– Single Leg calf lowers from a box
– Eccentric tempos in lifts e.g. 4:1:2 in a pull up
If you’d like more information or guidance about strength and conditioning for squash, START Training have experienced Exercise Physiologists who specialise in sport specific periodisation and programming. START Training have the expertise to maximise your on-field performance in both individual and team sports through tailored exercise programs. Contact the clinic on 0411 299 110 or via our website https://starttraining.net.au to find out more!
Written by Loxlee Blacket – Exercise Physiologist at START Training