Thursday, May 10, 2018

Is Squash The Best Or Worst Sport For Your Health?

All squash players and coaches know that squash burns the most calories per hour compared to any other sport. We also know that there is nothing more gruelling and also rewarding than a tough squash match. The media and squash players alike are aways trying to promote squash as the best sport because it involves strategy, is good for your health and can be played in almost any city in the world in a short window of time. Some players squeeze in a match at lunchtime and generally squash players have to be relatively fit to play points of 10+ shots and matches lasting over 30 minutes. But is it possible that too much squash can actually be bad for your health?

I'm just 36 years old, but I've had to deal with a lot of overuse injuries the past few years. I had my first knee surgery which was due to wear and tare. The surgeon also seemed assured that I'd be a repeat customer. Most of my injuries the past few years have revolved around my back and ribs. I'm not a tall person, just 5 foot 7 and maybe 150lbs and perhaps my stature and the amount of torque I put on my body has a lot to do for the decades of overuse injuries.

Squash involves a lot of sprinting, starting-stopping, twisting, lunging and on top of that rotational swings while in these difficult positions and heavily fatigued. Too much of anything is not good for the body, but how do you get really good at something without putting in a lot of practice? I played a lot from the age of 10-14 and then didn't tough a racquet for about 5 years (or I'm sure I'd be in worse shape now). I played a lot of sports when I was young, but when I was 12-14 and from 19-36 most of my active life and sport has revolved around squash. Back in university I would get knee pain jogging just a few kms, but playing squash didn't bother my body. Somehow my body had slightly adjusted to squash, but the imbalance caused by the years of repletion would not allow me to do a repetitive non-squash exercise like biking or running.

Chiropractors and physiotherapists have always noticed right away that my body is off balanced and overdeveloped on one side of my body. But even for those who don't pay sport we use one half of our body more than others. We have a dominant arm, leg and even eye, yes that's right eye. If you want to know which eye is dominant you simply place yours index fingers and thumbs together to make a diamond shape and raise it to the ceiling. Place some dot or making within this area and then close one eye at a time. The marking will only show up in this area in your dominant eye. I recall a chiropractor once using a machine he was using with Olympic athletes to help reset my eyes. I had to wear this fancy pair of glasses and some lights blinked in a specified order which would help reset your eyes so you would use both again. This is just an example of something that overtime with overuse we naturally develop. You can imagine how much more things can become imbalanced when it involves hitting a shot with our same arm and playing 80-90%+ of our shots on our dominant leg.

The past two years I've been working with a personal trainer once or twice per week and I've been doing some spin classes and doing lots of physio and massages. I'm basically trying to work on my imbalances so I can not only be healthy enough to compete again, but also so I can coach and not continue this trend of over developing one side of my body. I've done a lot of floating and recently starting doing some acupuncture plus I stretch and roll almost daily. Basically I'm at the point where if I'm not proactively working on rebalancing and strengthening my body I will get injured pretty quickly and the longer I continue trying to coach and play competitively while I'm a bit injured the more likely it is that this will become a chronic and more serious injury which again could lead to another surgery.

While I was back in Toronto for the junior nationals I was talking with an old trainer of mine form when I was a junior. After telling him some of the issues I've been having the past few years he recommended I begin taking eldoa classes. I've just started taking classes this week so time will tell how this will help my body longterm. I would try to explain what it is, but it's probably simpler if you just google it. I've heard many Olympians are starting to do it and it can be helpful for people like me who have imbalances and some spine/hip imbalances. I just got back from a physio session this morning and basically my body is still pretty twisted and this is why my back has been bugging me the past month. I started playing more the past month to prepare for nationals, but this in turn hurts my body more. So the more I play, the more I have to do off court to prevent injuries and balance my body from the strain and overuse and pounding it takes from competing. Now I know why many coaches don't compete anymore; it takes a LOT of off court maintenance and training to be able to play at all, let alone play regularly and be able to prepare properly for a tournament.

So I ask you once again? After reading all of this is squash good for me or slowly crippling me? I never wanted a desk job because I wanted to stay active and healthy, but little did I know that too much of squash can be just as bad on my body. From my experience I definitely feel like squash players, even young juniors need to do more cross training and off court maintenance. What exactly you do off court is not so simple though. Certainly some mobility work (both strength, motor control and flexibility) can really help, but you will also likely need to find some other exercises which can help you become a more well rounded better athlete. Exercises like yoga, cycling, running (unless you're already too imbalanced), rowing machines, skipping or just playing other sports can all help.

As juniors are continually trying to beat one another and are pushed to become the best they can possibly be, you have to be careful not to jeopardize someone long term health and well being just for some short term success. Practice hitting shots of both legs, stretch/roll, do strength work and play other sports. Sometimes an assessment from a good trainer or physio can help you be proactive. It's much better to plan ahead and prevent injuries from happening as opposed to waiting for problems to build up.

All this being said, I'll keep playing squash as much as my body all allow. I need to make sure I eat healthy, get a good nights sleep, rest when my body needs it and spread out my tough on court sessions. I also need to stay on top of my stretches, physio and hopefully doing eldoa regularly will improve my general mobility and back health. I also regularly use a swiss ball to sit on.

If I had to go back in time and talk to myself as a junior I would tell myself to make sure I did off court training year round and if they had physios and personal trainers back then I would have told myself to invest in them, because it's one thing to be active off court and another to do it properly and to best offset the imbalance caused by so much squash. I still haven't completely figured out the right method for me, but it's improving and I certainly believe this is information that should be made available to all keen squash players, especially the kids. I'll leave you with a quote from my club as a junior, 'get fit to play squash, don't play squash to get fit.' I finally get it! Squash is great for your healthy enough if you are healthy enough to play it, but the more you play the more prone you are to the accumulation of overuse injuries.

Check out the SeriousSquashShop.com for merch and instructional films. There's plenty of gear and 3 films available for download. Below if the trailer for the most recent video, The Advanced Secrets Of Solo Hitting (& Movement).


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  2. If you feel that ELDOA is helping you, you might want to look into CranioSacral therapy--based on some of the same principles. It's helped me, especially with hip/lower back issues from playing squash long-term.
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