How to Squash in the training
Joe Dunbar explores the athletic demands of squash and explains how to plan your training.
Some people take up squash to keep fit
Then, as their standard improves, they find they need to get fit to play squash. Running around the court for 40 minutes or an hour will certainly give you a useful workout and improve your fitness if you do it regularly. However, there usually comes a time when to be competitive you need to do a bit of extra work, whether you aim to win the British Open, win your club league, or simply thrash your old sparring partner in your weekly duel.
Demands of the sport
Because of its constant whole-body activity, squash is a sport that demands a high level of aerobic fitness. In a typical game, you will be working at about 80% of your maximum heart rate as you pounce from corner to corner and back to the T for the next shot. Although the distance travelled in each movement is short and explosive, the continuous nature of the rallies with recovery periods in between means that the energy supply comes from aerobic metabolism. This does not mean that you have to run hundreds of miles in training, because there are other fitness demands in the game as well.
It is important to have speed in order to be able to pick up your opponent's craftiest backhand drop shot and get back in position after your reply. Anaerobic endurance is also an essential fitness requirement. During long, heart bursting rallies the ability to keep going at high intensity is critical, and this relies on solid local muscular endurance, particularly in the legs.
Muscular strength is important for both the lower and upper body. Strong legs will contribute to anaerobic fitness, while strong arms, chest and back will help with racket speed and power. Toning of the muscles in the back, abdominals and legs will also enhance good posture on court. It is also essential to have a full range of movements in the muscles you are using, since agility is vital in a game with so many rapid shifts of direction. This means that sound flexibility is crucial not only to a match performance but also in helping prevent injury.
Phases of training
The main playing season in the UK covers the winter months. Therefore, the summer is the ideal time to pack in some conditioning training. Development work on both strength and endurance is the way to make significant gains in fitness and provide a base to be maintained during the playing season.
Always remember that it is not sensible to be training hard just when you want to play at your best, so you may need to build your program towards the matches that really matter to you. This will mean more endurance work at the start of the program, followed by work on anaerobic endurance using more shorter speed work towards the key competition period. To be at your best when it really counts means you have to phase the fitness training. Bringing yourself to a planned peak is a great way to impress friends and shock opponents.
The training week
Because squash carries such a wide range of fitness requirements, the best prepared players will have a varied training program. The proportion of the different sessions will change throughout the year. To develop aerobic endurance it is best to do some steady state running. Cycling and swimming will help to condition the heart and lungs, but remember that you play squash on your feet! For base endurance, you can do a long slow run of up to an hour one day, then on another day try a 20-30 minute faster effort. If you do not do much running normally, be sure to build up gradually.
Court sprints are a useful way to boost anaerobic endurance. They involve running a series of lengths of the court at a fast pace and then resting briefly before repeating. This type of work does not have to be done on a court at all, many top players undertake a lot of short sprints on the track. You can vary the distances with each session, giving yourself sprints over 30 or 60 metres.
For specific speed work on court, ghosting is a useful routine whereby you run at random (get a partner to call) to different parts of the court. The key here is to keep the efforts short and the recovery sufficient to maintain good quality. Work in the gym, lifting weights or bodyweight, is an excellent way to develop strength and should be fitted into the schedule. In the meantime, do not forget stretching before and after all sessions, to prepare for and recover from exercise, although dedicated flexibility sessions are useful if time allows. All this, of course, needs to be adding to your playing time on court! Realistically, do not make this a flat out match every time. Structured practice sessions are essential, either on your own or with a partner. It is also useful to have a variety of matches in your schedule, easy ones to perfect your killing shot, medium and hard ones to practice playing under pressure.
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