Thursday, September 11, 2014

How To Improve Your Balance & Posture

Today I'm going to talk about balance and posture when hitting the squash ball. Balance is something that is important as you're hitting the ball. I have a few tips I will get into about how to improve your balance. But first I want to talk about your shot selection. If you are off balanced and trying to hit the ball hard or attempting to hit a drop shot, this is a low percentage shot. Against tough opponents this will happen more frequently. You will be under lots of pressure and not balanced when we're hitting the ball. In these situations it's important to make a proper choice to give you the extra time you need to regain your balance and get to the T. The bottom line is if you're off balanced you will not be as accurate so don't go for a low percentage shot.

Okay, so you understand when to play attacking shots, and when to play defensive and get out of pressure. How can you improve your balance when you play squash? When I think about balance while hitting a squash ball I think about having a fairly wide base of support. You should also have your legs/hips abducted (as opposed to in a straight line, one foot in front of the other) while you hit. To do this I like stepping forwards into the shot while abducting my hip slightly. As this happens, this lowers your centre of gravity and helps keep you balanced as you swing. It's also important to lower your hips and bends your knees (as opposed to bending at the waist/back) to get to the height of the ball. I know this will be a challenge for some of you and I will get into some methods for improving your strength and balance to do this.

When I was a kid I remember a coach having me wear some kind of hat when I played so I would keep my head upright and maintain a good erect posture. But when you're lunging into a ball your back should not be upright, you will have to be leaning out, just not hunched over. To go along with this posture discussion, I see many people get low only as they are about to hit the ball. This is even more critical for taller people. You need to get low on your way to the ball so your head stays still and isn't dropping as you strike the ball

Here are some areas to concentrate on to help you improve your balance:

Use wobble boards, balance and bosu balls: the first time you do this you will feel all the areas in your foot, ankles, and legs that are activated attempting to keep your balance. You can do a lot of exercises with wobble boards. You can use these for doing pushups, lunges, squats, and even solo hit on. You can also do exercises on 1 leg to further challenge yourself. Using any of these balancing apparatuses can also help people strengthen the stabilizing muscles around previously injured joints (e.g., the knee or ankle).

Strengthen the legs and glutes: especially the quads, but don't forget the hamstrings. You can do this by doing lunges, squats, wall sits, and practicing your court movement getting low into a proper hitting posture. I often do a 2 person drill where we alternate hitting soft drops at the front of the court, one hitting forehand and the other backhand, and for each drop is a big lunge into and then back out after each shot. Each time you lunge in and drop focus on getting the handle of the racquet down low to the height of the ball.

Strengthen the core: having a strong core is essential for maintaining a large powerful lunge while hitting the ball with pace. A strong core is also important to help you recover to the T from a lunge. If you want to know more about core strengthening check out my previous post here:

Improve your flexibility: I think we all know that increasing our flexibility will help us stay more balanced. Getting into a good habit of stretching after matches will help this. Yoga is also an effective method for this. If you want to know more about yoga for squash players, check out my previous post here:

Improving your court movement: this is a strength specific exercise, but if you move around the court efficiently you will be at the ball with more time and you will be more balanced. The same goes for anticipation. As you improve both you will be under far less pressure and you will be well balanced for a higher percentage of your shots, meaning a higher degree of accuracy with your shots. Here is a link to an old post about court movement:

The last thing I want to discuss about balance is the use of the non-racquet hand. Many people don't pay any attention to it, but its main function in squash is to maintain balance through the swing. If you don't currently use it in your swing, try hitting some backhands and swing your non-dominant had in the opposite direction (but in rhythm) like opening a pair of scissors. Of course as you're under an excessive amount of pressure you will not be able to actually take a full swing, so you won't have a full scissor opening motion with your arms. On the forehand side the non-dominant arm should flow with your swing or at least be by your hip (left hip if you're a righty). On ether side of the court if you keep your hand up by your chest inside your swing you will have a more upright centre of gravity and will have difficulty staying balanced under pressure.

There are a number of ways to improve your balance. I've only touched on a few here. Poor balance isn't just for growing teenagers. When I think about adults playing that have poor balance they are often late to the ball, try hitting too hard, prepare their racquet very late, have an excessively large swing, move around the court improperly, and are often out of shape (which influences them being late to the ball). I recommend getting into a regular post match stretching cool down routine to maintain (or slightly improve) your flexibility. If you really want to improve your balance then try some of the methods I've highlighted above.


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