Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mobility and The Aging Squash Player

When I was a kid I vividly remember a a sign hanging up in the pro shop that read 'don't play squash to get fit, get fit to play squash.' That sign is becoming more and more prevalent as I'm getting older. I can't train the same way or the same amount or as hard. I've had to deal with more injuries. I've had a couple of MRI's over the past 2 years which resulted in my first knee surgery. I can still play at a decent level, but the amount I can play at this level is quite limited. It's not that I'm so sore that I can't play again the next day, it's becoming more about the mobility issues. I can only speak from personal experience how my mobility has challenged my competitive squash ability. I'm going to share my recent personal experiences with you today and perhaps you will learn how this can help or hinder your squash game.

As we get older, simply being able to play injury free is the top priority. We never had to worry about this as kids, yet I still never see people stretch around the squash club and even fewer warming up before they get on court. I see very few people in their 30's or older that swing properly and most never will simply because they have lost mobility in a number of joints or are injured from poor biomechanics. The first step would be introducing proper warm up exercises to improve the range of motions and also doing proper post match cool downs. Squash is a very dynamic and fast sport so I have no clue how middle aged people can go straight into a rally without any warmup and likely right out of their office chair.

Some of our limited mobility is of course genetics, but a lot of this is the lack of knowledge or will to do proper preventative care. Things slowly disintegrate and we barely notice them as they subtly get worse until eventually we just admit that we are indeed pretty old and that's the reason we swing or play the way we do; we also just think we are stuck with the hand we have and that's that, we can't make things better. It's kind of like trying to stick to some kind of diet or new years resolution you dislike so no wonder we don't see (m)any older players who have good mobility. I'm here to tell you that things can change, but you have to make time for them and realize it is essential and something you just have to suck it up and do it and add it into your daily routine.

There are a number of challenges with limited mobility, the first is that we are more prone to getting injured. When one thing is out of place or lacking the proper and necessary range of motion, it's a chain and we are more likely to get inured in other connected areas. We also will be unable to move and swing with the proper mechanics which will hold back our improvement and enjoyment of squash. I certainly haven't got everything figured out yet, but I am working on it. Not being able to move or play a sport you've played your whole life sucks. It's hard to admit you can't do some things you once were able to do quite naturally, but father time has no pity.  If you are playing more than 3 times per week and have mobility or constant injury issues I recommend you cut back on your squash and do a physio and/or begin some off court training sessions.

When I was in university I never wanted to pay for physio and I had limited knowledge on what types of off court cross training I should do to stay healthy and improve mobility and strength. Since my recent knee problems I've gone to a lot of health care specialist; sport doctors, massage therapists, physiotherapists and chiropractors. Thankfully I'm on a health plan and can now afford to do some of these things more frequently. I'm at a point where if I want to continue to compete at all I have to do these things. My other option is to stop playing and lose mobility and that slope leads to more and more sedentary lifestyle

Currently I go to a personal trainer once per week (wish I could afford 2), 1 massage per month and 2 physio sessions per month. This is a start, but it's about what I do on these other days which will make the difference. I've learned more about my body and the areas I'm good at and the ones I struggle with and tend to avoid using. Squash is a very 1 sided sport so after 2+ decades of playing I've developed some imbalance and mobility problems. It's very challenging to offset the amount of torque and rotation from your swings and the amount of lunging done mostly on your dominant leg. I'm not expecting to be completely balanced and offset all of the damage done by squash, but it's improving it so the mobility and strength is good in all of my muscles and joints.

With my personal trainer we've been working mostly with kettle bells and I've noticed how effective they can be for strengthening my core and for working on 1 side of my body at a time. Recently I was doing some get ups with the kettle bell pointing up and I had a lot of trouble when I was holding the kettle bell with my left arm. The video and explanation is below if you're interested in what exactly I was doing and how to test it for yourself. My trainer filmed it in slow motion and he noticed that it was my right hip causing the problems, not my weaker left arm which I originally suspected. I had a lot of trouble with a certain hip movement and it was clear to me right away about how this is affecting my ability to lunge and get into the proper posture when I hit the ball. Because of my reduced mobility in my right hip it has lead to back pain and sometimes a sore shoulder. These symptoms come and go depending on how much I'm playing and pushing myself. I want to play more, but the more I play the more pronounced these symptoms become.

When I go in for my physio sessions he always works on my right hip and last time even my right ankle. He's trying to work backwards in the chain to find out where the problem is starting from. So your issue may not be a hip, but whatever it is it may likely be caused by poor mobility in another connected area. Instead of just dealing with it or not being able to play you should try and figure it out and work on improving your biomechanics and mobility. Maybe you need to do some yoga, maybe massage will help, a trainer or a physiotherapist. My physio recommended TRX to me and to do more core exercises. I really enjoy the kettle bell training I've been learning and I think that will help. But clearly a lot of improved mobility comes from daily stretching and rolling. Do you have a roller? A hard ball like a lacrosse ball? A theraband? Stretching doesn't quite get as deep as some of these other products can. I do believe it's possible to play better squash as you get older and not have your movement inhibited by injuries if you improve your knowledge on the topic and do the work. 

Sitting all day at work or doing too much of anything will break down your body over time. Learn how to take care of your body and keep it healthy. Want to move up a division or be competitive nationally in your age group? Improving your mobility and staying healthy is a huge step towards doing that. If you can't practice you can't get better. To practice you need to be healthy and be able to move. Movement is a key to playing at a high level of squash. Mobility is the key to quality movement, reduced risk of injuries and improved biomechanics. What's scary is how many kids have incredibly poor mobility. All the cell phones, video games and sedentary lifestyles have a lot of kids unable to lunge, squat or touch their toes. It's tough as a squash coach if a teen can't do any of these things properly at their young age and it makes you worry about the future generation. If you play a lot of squash and you can't do those you're probably going to have a poor swing and/or be at an increased risk of injury. So listen to my old club sign and 'get fit to play squash, don't play squash to get fit.' It becomes more and more essential as you get better and older. 

If you haven't already heard, there is a new Serious Squash full length instructional video out called The Secrets of Solo Hitting. Solo hitting was something I found really useful to break up the hard training days when I was younger so I could let my body recover while still working on my game. This video is now available at and you can check out the trailer below. It covers 30+ of the best solo drills with plenty of tips on how to improve your solo practice. Pick up your copy today (HD stream and download available). Practice smarter, not harder. 

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