Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Off Season Off Court Training

This topic reminds me of the sign at my old squash club when I was a kid that read, 'don't play squash to get fit, get fit to play squash.' And squash is a whole lot more enjoyable when you are feeling strong and light on your feet. There are numerous ways that you can train in the off season to prepare you for the upcoming season. Depending on what areas you want to improve is where you should concentrate your training. When I was in university I always enjoyed doing more strength training along with some aerobic based workouts. I would go to the gym about 3 days per week and do exercises like the bench press, push ups, pull ups, chin ups, dead lifts, squats, lunges and many core exercises.

I always enjoyed trying to vary my reps or sets or the method for doing some of these exercises. Our bodies adapt after a few workouts and to maximize the benefit of training I feel it is best to slightly alter either the order or which exercises you do. And sometimes I would just do 1 rep and do my max for each exercise. Other times I would change how I was doing my pushups, for example using a medicine ball under 1 hand, or putting my feet up on a bench. Also remember to train your antagonist muscles. For example, when doing a chin up you are using your biceps and triceps (which are muscles that oppose one another and perform opposite movement). Many people focus on biceps or are abdominals and forget about the triceps and our back muscles. I also enjoy working the muscles concentrically, eccentrically, and isometrically. Concentric means the muscle if contracting, like your bicep when doing a chin-up. While lowering yourself down slowly from that chin-up your biceps are resisting the force of gravity as the muscles are exerting eccentric forces. While isometric exercises include a plank, a wall sit, or holding yourself at a specific height on a chin-up bar. With an isometric contraction the muscle is not lengthening (eccentric) or shortening (concentric). When you think about working different muscles groups and the various methods you can work each muscle you can become quite creative with very little or no equipment whatsoever.

I find it difficult to make time for strength work (and the recovery time) when I was on court practicing most of the time and competing a lot during the season so I tried doing more of this in the off season and I would attempt to maintain my strength (do 1x per week) once the season began. Some exercises like squats and lunges I find can take longer to recover from, so learning when to fit them in during the season can be tricky. Also remember when a squash player is doing weight training you don't want to add too much bulk/muscle because this will slow you down on the court. You want to be strong, but more importantly focus on your strength endurance. As a rule, if you can only do under 1-4 reps of a weight/exercise you are training maximum strength and not strength endurance. I liked doing reps of 7-20 per set depending on the exercise. So use a little less weight and be sure you are using the proper technique! Don't worry about impressing anyone at the gym. If you are unsure of how to do an exercise correctly or what type of routine would be beneficial for you, sign up for a personal training session or two and learn.

On top of my gym strength training sessions I would run 2 or 3x per week. I would run trails, or do some interval work, and sometimes I would run stairs or include some large hills in my runs. I found shorter and tougher runs were better on my body than the pounding a long run had. I think because of how a squash players body becomes unbalanced over the years it makes long runs demanding if your stride is inconsistent. I never had a good bike back then, but I wish I had done more biking. Between my runs and my strength routines this was the base of my university summer training. On court I would still play a little bit. I would play maybe one match per week/or king of the court and solo hit once or twice and maybe do drills once as well.

I found what I liked doing and what worked for me. This won't be the same for everyone. So think about what fitness characteristics you would like to improve. Is it your aerobic or anaerobic fitness? Maybe you need to improve your speed, or the strength endurance in your legs or your core strength? Perhaps it's your agility or your flexibility? There are a lot of things you can improve and the offseason if the best time to focus your training on these areas. During the season when you spend most of your time on court, especially if you're a student you may be limited to how much off court training you can do, so take the time to do this now and try and maintain your improved fitness levels during the season. You will go into the year feel stronger and fitter and this makes squash a lot more enjoyable. I also really enjoy outdoor offseason training. We spend many months inside on a squash court during the fall and winter months, so it is quite a nice change to get outside and train.

If you want to really maximize your training set yourself some goals. Doing this also means you need to take some baseline measurements. If you want to improve your aerobic fitness try timing yourself for a 5 or 10k run, or for running a hill or set of stairs multiple times. Record this now and then little by little try improving this time. I would also record my heart rate as I'm doing this. I feel that the more I train with a heart rate monitor the better I know it without even looking. When you get fitter your heart rate recovers faster and you also know what precise heart rate you can continue working at and where it gets a little too high (which means you are near or at your VO2max).

At advanced level and evenly match squash matches we work near or at our VO2max frequently so this is an area you can train and increase in the offseason. In later stages of the offseason I would start doing more interval work and training at higher intensities. While doing this I am trying to improve both my anaerobic and aerobic fitness along with my strength and my mental toughness. Making it through these vigorous training days create that belief in yourself when you get back on court. You know you've pushed yourself when you were tired and that you can still perform at a high level. I also felt really good at a high intensity training. Sometimes I would do just hill sprints or run stairs with short breaks. Other times I would do wind sprints, sometimes do 50, 100, 200 or 400 meters sprints with an equal rest time. Other times I would do these sprints and then slowly jog back to my starting point. I would begin mixing in this type of training about 4-6 weeks prior to the season and I would keep it going 1 or 2x per week at the beginning of the season.

I feel the most important part of this training is to build slowly. You don't get fit in a day. So don't overdo it the first few times out and get injured. Listen to your body, especially if you haven't done this type of training before. Build up your fitness little by little and try and reach your goals. This will make you enjoy training more and pushing yourself physically and mentally.

These are just some of the ways that I use to train a lot. What I do these days as a coach is much different. I've tried training a lot while coaching and find this a challenging balance. So this summer what I do is every second day I spend about 30 minutes on various core exercises and every other day I do 200-250 pushups (no not at once). I also try and get on a bike for 30min-1 hour 1-2x per week. I find the balance of aerobic training and strength work challenging as a coach. I'm not playing competitively or training for anything in particular, just to stay strong and in shape and be able to stay healthy for coaching. So whether you are training to coach, play varsity squash, professionally, or just recreationally, find what offseason training works best for you. What areas can improve your game next season? This is the time of year to get in better shape to play better squash next season.

I'll leave you with a few charts I designed when I was at university. You can use these or make your own. They were made to monitor my progress through various interval sprint work. The first ones below I had a chart for different distances of sprints and the number of successful repetitions. I then put a level (1-5) and as you did more reps within the allotted time you finished at a higher level. So you may start at level 1 and try and work your way up during the offseason. (see below these charts for various distance interval chart and explanation).

50 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Level
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 20 seconds)
1
50
5
2
50
10
3
50
15
4
50
20
5
50
25


100 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Level
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 30 seconds)
1
100
4
2
100
7
3
100
10
4
100
13
5
100
16


200 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Level
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 1 minute)
1
200
3
2
200
5
3
200
7
4
200
10
5
200
12


400 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Level
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 2 minutes)
1
400
2
2
400
4
3
400
6
4
400
8
5
400
10


Lastly, here is a chart I designed for doing outdoor sprints. You run run 5 meters and back, then 10 meters and back, and finally 15 meters and back. As your time increase your level increased. I used a 90 second recovery time, but you can lower the work rest ratio to 1:1 if working with a group or in pairs. I also have a section for recording the heart rate and heart rate recovery. You will also notice a section for your goal before starting the session. I think this is very important because this can motivate you to push on when you feel like giving in. A final note, if doing this on grass, be careful as it can be slippery. Good luck and enjoy your summer training! 

Result Table for Outdoor Suicides of 5,10, and 15 Meters
Name: Date:
Goal: Total Consecutive Suicides: Previous/Latest Result:
3 Markers (meters)
Repetitions
(count)
Time per Repetition (seconds)
Heart Rate (right when finished suicides)
Heart Rate (after a 90 second recovery period)
Your Level (as compared to the chart)
5, 10, 15






5, 10, & 15 Meter Outdoor Suicides: Levels
Level
Successful Repetitions (count)
Time per Suicide (seconds) does not include rest period
1
5
45
2
5
43
3
7
41
4
9
40
5
12
40

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