Friday, October 31, 2014

Twinkle Toes

Today I'm going to talk about the importance of being light on your feet. Some people stomp around the court like an elephant while others sound like they're wearing slippers. Sometimes it has to do with size difference, but even light and small players can be loud moving around the court just as bigger people can float around.

Agility and Coordination: lets start off by discussing the athletic traits does being light on your feet incorporates. The first athletic component I'm going to discuss is agility. Agility is extremely important in squash because we are always stopping and starting and changing directions and we have to do so very rapidly. You can imagine how tough this would be for most athletes that are only use to going in 1 direction. To move quickly and have explosive movement off the T you need to have strong legs. Being on your toes and having strong calves are most important here. But this also has to do with the width of your stance. If your too upright on the T your centre of gravity is high and you do not have a wide base of support. This means you will be less explosive off the mark. This is why a sprinter doesn't start from a standing position. But in sprint the runners are only going straight. Pretend that depending on the type of starter sound they may have to take off in a different direction. Clearly their c of g is too low and their body weight is only going to go in 1 direction. So they would need to adapt and you would see something more like a squash player on the T. 

Strength, Strength-Endurance and Speed-Strength: a sprinter having to take off in a number of directions is a good visual picture for us to start with. But what about if a second starter sound could go off just after the first one? That would just be cruel wouldn't it? Well that's what deception does. A player begins to shift their body weight one direction and it makes it much more difficult to stop and change direction. This takes a lot of strength in our legs and you can see a players leg strength falter and slow after a few of these recovery movements. So on top of having strong calves we also need to have strong quadriceps. When I say strong I don't mean maximum strength. A big strong person will likely stomp around the court if they are too large and lose their agility. Strength endurance is more important than how much someone could squat for just a few reps. In a typical squash match you have to do hundreds of various deep lunges and having strong quads like Gauliter allows you to stay more balanced while stretched out and to recover quicker after a shot, and change direction faster. I should mention here that having strong hamstrings is also important. The hamstrings are antagonist with the quadriceps, which means one relaxes as the other contracts. The hamstring and quadricep work in unison and if you only strengthen one you are more prone to injury and will not be as powerful with your movement. 

10 On Court Exercises To Increase Your Agility and Strength
1. Toe tin tap - here you alternate touching your toes on the top of the tin. The goal is to be quiet and not kick the tin. Get your knees up high. This is a good one for strengthening your calves, hamstrings and glutes. 
2. Quick continuous jumps - you stand along any wall and jump continuously staying on your toes. You never put your heel down and this will strengthen up your calves nicely. 
3. Pointing and ghosting - here 1 person waits at the front wall and points to the left or right. The person on the T has to move as quickly as possible to either side and either ghost a shot or touch the side wall. Wait until they get back to the T and then point to either side again. You can progress to using the 4 corners to make it more challenging. You can also do this by throwing a squash ball to tier side of someone and they have to react and catch it. The faster or further away you throw it the tougher it is. 
4. Split screen mirror - here you split the court into halves. The 2 people face one another and one has to follow exactly (mirror) what the other person does. You can get creative with this one and it is pretty fun and good for improving your agility. 
5. Race moving squash balls - here you have 1 person racing another. There is a racquet in each corner with the head of the racquet facing the middle of the court. In the centre of the court I normally use a frisbee or something similar. I start with 2 or 3 squash balls on the frisbee and 2 or 3 spread out on the outside racquets. One person is trying to putt all the squash balls on the outside racquets while the other is racing them and trying to bring the balls (one at a time) back to the middle onto the frisbee. If one person gets back to the middle and there are no more balls they win. But normally I just do this of 30 seconds because it can go on for a long time and is very challenging. 
6. Line hops - you pick any line of the court and hop back and forth over it as fast as possible. You can do this forwards and backwards or side to side. You can also make this more challenging by doing this on 1 leg. 
7. Agility ladder with cones - I like putting the agility ladder on 1 side of the court and cones on the other half. After going through the agility ladder you go through the cones and then back to the ladder. You can get pretty creative with the agility ladder.  You can add more exercises in the mix if you like. I often add in 10 or 20 toe tin taps after each ladder set. 
8. Skipping - this has to be one of the most popular ways to get lighter on your feet and strengthen your calves. Keep as skipping rope in your bag and get into a routine using it before or after you play. You can also do simple calve raises with or without weights. 
9. Grab a ball and move it - this similar to a couple of the ones above. I have 1 person at the from pointing and there other is on the T. I spread out some racquets with a few balls on each of them. The person points to a location and the person has to run and grab a ball and come back to the T and put it either to a collection racquet or to perhaps a racquet that you point to on the other side of the court (or you can use a front/back split). 
10. Circuits - here you can combine some or all of the above exercises into a circuit. You can mix in other exercises as well, but but squash players I believe it's helpful to keep some of these agility exercises included. 

I like using variety in exercises to keep it fresh and more exciting. Some of the exercises I've listed you can only do in small groups (or individually) while others you can do with larger numbers. You can use some agility exercises as your warmup or incorporate them into a workout on their own. If you improve at these exercises you will improve your court movement. You will be softer, quieter and not only is this easier on your body, your opponent won't always know exactly where you are. When I'm at the front of the court I'm listening for footsteps and I can generally hear them charging in or not moving at all. This can make my shot selection quite simple. 

Remember that a lot of your explosive T movement has to do with your positioning on the T. So practicing in the agility ladder or skipping will not improve that aspect of your game. While other exercises like pointing and ghosting, grab a ball and move it, race moving squash balls and the split screen mirror will. It doesn't mean all you should do is sport specific movements, but you shouldn't forget about them or not do them just because they are more challenging for you. 

My last points have to do with your actual style of running and hitting. Some people try and stomp harder when they want to hit the ball harder. This isn't necessary and it will be pretty obvious anyways that you're going to hit it hard. Unless you can work this into being deceptive it isn't the most efficient way to hit the ball with pace. Sometimes I'll see someone run and they land flatfooted. This is how people are told to run in books preaching barefoot running. But in squash this isn't a safe way to move or lunge into a shot. To avoid injury and maintain balance we need to land heel-toe when lunging. I only normally see flat footed movement in novice squash players. 

Are you a twinkle toes or a stampy the elephant? Next time you play listen to your movement? Listen to your opponent. Watch the top players at your club. Are they quiet or do you hear them stomping around? Normally good players appear to float or glide around the court. If you want to become a better squash player learn to move more efficiently and quietly. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for this article Chris. I have a shoulder injury at the moment and am out of action for a few months. I was looking to keep my general squash fitness levels up without using the racket... This blog post is just what I was looking for. Thanks again!


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