Thursday, September 4, 2014

Legs or Lungs?

Today I'm going to ask you a simple question..when you play a tough match what gets exhausted first your legs or your lungs? Or perhaps they both do. Today I'm going to talk about how to improve your lung capacity and your leg strength endurance.

Leg Strength Endurance: If you answered that your legs tire out first in a squash match, well you're not alone. This is common for those younger, taller, and that don't have a number of years as a training base. I should also warn some of the taller people that if they fail to bend at their hips and knees their legs may be be getting tired as they are bending with their back. But just like lifting heavy objects, you don't bend with at your back to hit a squash ball unless you are already full stretched out. I like to think about hitting the ball around the height of my waist and if the ball doesn't bounce that high, well I have to get my waist to the height of the ball to hit it. This means lowering my hips and bending my knees. When hitting the ball low, many people just drop the racquet head, but this means you have to hit up on the ball so I tell my students to keep their hand and their grip the same height as the ball (obviously this does not apply for specific shots like a lob or a volley).

Leg strength is something that we need to build up gradually. This is what is amazing about how Greg Gaultier moves and covers the court. He has such powerful lunges for a smaller player and it has taken him a career to build up this strength endurance in his legs to be able to sustain this for an entire match and tournament. I remember watching some of the top players live and you could see how strong their legs are.

For squash playing teenagers I don't recommend using any weights to do this. Potentially when you've stopped growing and you're in your late teens you can get into this. You also need to be careful about how frequently you do leg strength exercises during the season as it takes a while for your legs to recover from this. I am always weary of kids that only play squash because it's basically a unilateral sport. Most people rarely use their left leg to lung on. After a number of years of playing squash you will have a big discrepancy from your left and right side of your body. On top of just improving your leg strength I feel it is important to keep your body balanced and spend time doing this. As you're left leg strength improves you may even start to feel comfortable hitting balls off of it.

Now I'm going to discuss some exercises that are aimed at increasing your leg strength. Doing some walking lunging, forewords and backwards is a simple way to slowly build up your leg strength endurance. You don't need to do very many either. You can also do some small jumps up onto a box or step. I also like doing burpees, running stairs or hills, and touching the floor (bending at the knees) and jumping reaching for the sky. You can also do squats, but here the proper technique is essential, so if you are unsure speak to a certified personal trainer to learn how to do this. Other exercises that build up your quads and hamstrings include running, cycling/spinning, yoga, and playing a number of team sports. When you're a teenager you don't need to necessarily do training to build up your leg strength. Just play a second or third sport and maybe do a few simple exercises in gym class or at squash practice.

Lung Capacity: Okay, so you answered that your lungs get exhausted before your legs. What can you do? Just playing more will help. Just like strength, it takes time to increase your stamina. I recommend doing some cross training to improve this aspect of your game. You can do some of the same exercises I listed above that will increase your leg strength and they can also improve your aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Spin classes, jogging, running hills or stairs are all effective ways to improve both your leg strength and your cardio. Designing a programme that works for you and your schedule is the important part. I always find the hardest part is learning to schedule in time for rest. Your legs may not feel too tired, but sometimes they take time to recover from activities you are not used to doing. Especially when you use your legs in every exercise.

Over the years I've done a lot of different types of training and I can't say one was more effective than the others. I do like to think about the specificity of training for sport. This includes what heart rate I'm training at, what my work to rest ratio is and the duration of my training. But I also consider the fact that our bodies adapt to training quite quickly and I also like the element of surprise in a new workout routine. For these reasons I think it's best to mix up how you train and use a variety of methods. Psychologically this also keeps things fresh. Squash involves so many fitness aspects that it's hard to pick a single method of cross training training that will be enough.

I think early in the year it is also important to measure your fitness. This could be a simple hot long does it take you to run 5km? Or what level do you get on the beep test? I have some squash specific tests I like to use. And I feel it's important to slowly build up each week by adding a few extras seconds or minutes, laps or reps to your training. This way your routine is equally challenging but you also know that you're getting fitter because you're doing more week by week. You don't need to do this indefinitely or you'd exhaust yourself. Just for the first 6-8 weeks to get you back feel strong and fit. By then you shouldn't be getting nearly as exhausted in matches.

I also like to consider the time of the season when I'm working on my fitness. Early in the year most people are probably (and shouldn't be) in peak tournament season form. Over the summer you should have worked on your base training, for example your aerobic fitness and strength endurance training. The season coming up is over 6 months long, so you don't need to start doing wind sprints right off the bat. Early in the season I like to focus on court movement and footwork as it not only improves how people move but will also increase their aerobic fitness at the same time. I like to think of it as training 2 areas at once. Why just sprint the court when you can do squash specific movement patterns? Sure, maybe later in the season leading up to a big tournament you can throw in some speed and anaerobic training to try and increase your lactic threshold. So leading up to your big tournament you can plan 5 or 6 weeks ahead and add in some additional wind sprints.

Well that's about it for today. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts about getting your legs and lungs in shape for squash. There are lots of ways to do it and it doesn't have to be just hard or boring training to do so. Tonight is our first practice at the school. So if any of the kids I'll be coaching read this, they'll know what they are in for at practice!

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