Coaching & Instruction: How to Improve Your Physical Program

The footwork used in squash is very specific and involves not only endurance in the length of the matches, but also dynamic speed, strength, coordination, balance and flexibility with the many sprints, change of direction, and recovery footwork.

Correct stroke execution relies heavily on the coordination with the timing of the ball, but strength, flexibility and balance play a role in the quality of the execution.

The style of play will influence these aspects as well.

The makeup of each squash player is unique in the amounts of these components. You can compare it with slices of a pie below.

Some players will rely more on their stamina, whereas others might use their strength and speed. One of the most important components is the coordination of the strokes and footwork to synchronise the contact point. This is what we call the timing of the ball.

The physical components of a squash player are:
Endurance (Stamina)
·         Strength
·         Flexibility
·         Coordination
·         Speed
·         Balance

(or stamina) comes into play when matches start lasting longer than one hour. Since many matches, particularly on the men’s game, last beyond an hour it becomes more important to train this component well. The training of endurance for advanced squash players needs to be diverse and specific in order to train all the muscle groups used in the movements and strokes during match play. This can be performed on-court with continuous pressure drills with the ball, but should also be supported with off-court training. The intensity of the rallies in advanced squash is much higher and the physical training should be performed accordingly. There are many different ways to train for endurance and here are some methods used by the leading players:
·         Using continuous pressure drills with a coach or hitting partner
·         Lengthening the time of the practice.
·         Having a sensible off-court training program (weight training, running program, movement program, stretching or yoga program).

Coordination is the most important physical component in synchronising stroke execution and footwork and involves the flexing and extending of the muscles to move the body in a smooth and timely fashion.

The coordination, needed to strike the ball with the racket, at the correct impact point, is called “timing”. Proper coordination and timing not only controls the correct contact points, but also the direction, trajectory and pace of the ball. The other physical components have an influence on the quality, consistency, and endurance of the coordination.

In long matches, you can imagine that the strength and stamina will affect the coordination and performance of a squash player. Note: When practicing with power, the coordination will be negatively affected. Testing players has proven that with around 60% of the maximum power, the coordination of the strokes will decrease. Knowing this fact is very important for the improvement of coordination.

There are two ways to look at this: either improve coordination by using less than 60% of the maximum power, or try to improve the strength so that the maximum power is at a higher level. Therefore the coordination can be trained the following ways:
·         Practice long rallies while using a medium pace.
·         Slowly increase the pace of the ball over time.
·         Introducing strength training to increase maximum power and strength endurance.

Strength is the force or power available in the muscles to execute the strokes and footwork in a match.

The flexing and extending of the muscles in the movement and strokes is created with a certain power and speed. It takes time to develop strength and well-defined improvements are usually made in increments of 6 months.

With squash being a repetitive sport and matches lasting a relatively long time, the strength in a player is defined by endurance as well. The strength of a player can be improved on and off the court are here are some examples of strength training:
·         Playing 2 on 1 drills will speed up the motions of the strokes and footwork.
·         A weight-training program.

Speed is defined by how fast the movement is performed within a certain time frame.

With a squash court having the same constant dimension, it is possible to train the players to cover specific distances. Speed is made up of several components that determine how fast a player can move. They can be trained separately or in combination with each other. Some players may not be able to attain a high quality in every type of speed, but can all be trained to a certain degree. The different types of speed are:
·         Velocity of movement.
·         Quickness of action
·         Change of direction

Speed training can be trained on the court by feeding balls by hand or with a racket.
·         Speed up the footwork by moving quickly behind the ball and recovering to the central ‘T’ position
·         Feed the balls from left to right as fast as possible
·         Feed the balls with unpredictable direction to make players react quicker

Flexibility is defined by the range of motion in the joints, in combination with the elasticity of the muscles and ligaments.

This range of motion in the joints is different for every player, but can be improved over time. It is a component that needs to be trained on a regular basis to maintain a fluidity of motion. Good flexibility comes with some added benefits. It provides less friction in the joints, and therefore less effort in performing the motion. With good flexibility the strokes have more efficiency and endurance. It can also be very beneficial to the speed of movement and racket head speed. By increasing and maintaining the range of motion in the joints, players will have a high level of flexibility with less chance of injuries.

The methods of improvement are:
·         A stretching program before and after practice sessions
·         Weight training can serve as a stretching program.
·         Yoga is an excellent way to improve flexibility, range of motion, and balance in the joints.

Balance is part of every stroke in squash and provides the stability in motion.

Without balance it would be very hard to coordinate strokes and footwork to hit the ball with any kind of smooth action. It is a necessity to uphold the balance before, during and after the stroke in order to maintain control of the ball. If any of these three components is out of sync, it will immediately have a negative result in the execution of the stroke and movement.

Coaches should look for these signs during practice and matches, since they often indicate a problem that needs attention. This could be the balance of the stroke itself or it could be a deeper lying technical, physical or even a mental issue.

Methods of improvement are:
·         The 2 on 1 drills increase the speed of movement and recovery and will stress the balance of the stroke even

·         Balance drills are easily trained by using movement drills that simulate the strokes in motion. By training the action with the racket, players are able to pay attention to the balance of the body throughout the motion.

In summary, by adding all these physical factors into your training, it is not always necessary to add separate physical workout sessions. You will soon find that your physical ability will be enhanced and that you are able to use your physical skills as an added weapon.

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The physical training of squash players is very diverse since the skills demanded by the sport are multi-faceted.