Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How To Make Best Use Of Your Prolonged Off Season

While we're currently in a forced prolonged off season I thought it would be a good time to discuss what types of training you should be focusing on. Back when I was competing I would focus mainly on improving my cardio in the offseason. I would do a mixture of building an aerobic base (trail runs), anaerobic and explosiveness work (hill sprints, stair running and 200 meter sprints) and some gym strength training too. How much of what should you be doing now?

I'm a big believer in routines. If we want to make positive changes to our daily lives developing positive routines can be extremely effective. Routines can be difficult to change, but within a few weeks they can become the new normal. We all know we should be more active and eat healthier, yet many of us don't. Why is it so difficult to change our behaviours to one that's better for us long term? If this topic interests you I would highly recommend you check out the book 'The Power Of Habit' by Charles Duhigg. If you don't read it, just know that new habits become habits within 3-4 weeks. So if you start planning a workout for certain days and times you can build a new more beneficial routine by the end of next month.

Looking back at my own personal experience I should have focused more on strength and mobility training. My aerobic fitness base could only get so high no matter how hard I trained, but if I was stronger I would be faster off the mark, more stable through my shot and be able to play at faster pace. Training has come a long ways since I was in university so there's a lot more knowledge and sharing of information.

Even though a lot of us are trapped indoors (at least here in most of Canada the weather hasn't been too great) there is a lot we can do to improve our overall fitness. You don't need any equipment to have a great workout. Exercises like yoga, stretching or body weight strength workouts can be super effective and also require little space. What I like doing now is at least twice per week making my home workout focused on cardio. How I do this is by increasing the repetitions and/or reducing the rest time.

Last week I did a live home squash specific workout on my new clubs Instagram page where I did a circuit of 4 squats, 4 lunges and 4 pushups on the minute every minute for 12 minutes. By doing this I was exercising for approximately 30 seconds and having 30 seconds of recovery. This way of designing a workout makes you keep going even though you maybe want a longer break later in your sets. You can adapt it in numbers ways too. If you want to do more or less you can increase or decrease your reps, sets or your rest time. I used weights for my exercise, but I'm certain many of the people following along didn't.

As the weather gets nicer there will be more opportunities to include some aerobic and anaerobic training outdoors. This could include going for runs or cycling. I remember almost 20 years ago losing a match to someone in the spring and I felt like it was because of my base fitness so I started jogging for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times per week and when I got my rematch at the end of the summer I won. Nothing is more frustrating than losing to a lesser skilled player simply because they are fitter than you. Those that are making use of this time to get fitter will come out of this in a much better position when competitions start back up.

Being in such a unique position during this prolonged off season you have to do what you can for now. When more options become available we can all be a bit smarter about how much of what we are doing. That being said if you know you really need to work on your strength (as I needed to) you should focus on this year round. I know when there season gets going how much you do and the frequency will change, but if that is the area holding you back you should still be trying to make strength gains during the season. This of course changes as you mature and get to the level you require to play at your best.

I'm going to take a step back and discuss the importance of basic mobility for a moment. Now more than ever we are doing more sitting and lying around than ever. My brother found a 6 week program that he is doing and I am doing some of as well. You can find the details on his Instagram page here: None of these stretches or exercises require any equipment yet a lot of them are quite challenging and if you stick to the schedule you will definitely improve your mobility and strength. Movement must come before hard training so this could be a good starting point for many of you. What I'm doing is picking some of the exercises and adding them into my own workouts.

If your mobility is already at a high level it's time to think about what areas you want to work on next. Having an aerobic base is essential for squash players. How long do your matches typically last? If your jogs are for 20 minutes but your matches last for an hour or more you may have to adapt your training accordingly. When we play squash our heart rates vary because we are working harder at various points in the match. This is why when I used to jog I would make sure to include a few sprints and always finish hard. But now that I'm older and I've had 1 knee surgery jogging isn't for me; at least not for any real length. This is where everybody had individual difference and why 1 single training plan can't be used for players even if they are a similar age and ability.

Right now there are plenty of athletes sharing their home workouts. You can find a lot of great stuff on Instagram which will challenge you and keep things interesting. But should you allocate a specific period of time for a certain type of training before moving on to the next? Chunking your training into specific quadrants is called either a mircocycle, mesocylce or macrocycle.
A mircocycle is something short term (averages about 1 week) while a mesocycle is normally about 4-6 weeks in duration. A macrocycle is longer and can be many months or even a year or more. Right now we have time to focus on more than 1 athletic trait so you can opt to set up a 4-6 training period with a singular focus; say strength. Once that cycle is complete you can move on to something else. Doing this doesn't mean you stop all strength training, it means you are simply looking to maintain that while building up another essential area. Remember you can still target anaerobic and aerobic fitness targets while doing strength training.

Switching athletic trait targets in your training program isn't just about preparing for the season, but it's also good for your mental well being. How many consecutive weeks or months can you go do wind sprints and achieve maximal gains and even just simply enjoy your training? If you have a specific 4-8 week period focused on this you will see the light at the end of the tunnel and you can also continue pushing yourself week after week to go faster, take less recovery or do more sets. This obviously cannot continue indefinitely, nor should it. When the season gets going again you will get a lot of your training from on court sessions so this build up won't be entirely lost.

Once the season begins you want to have base built up for aerobic, anaerobic and strength training because there's not always a sufficient time to work on these with all of the on court time. Building up this base over the course of years is what is referred to as training years or training age. This is the accumulation of the training you have done over time. So no matter how hard someone tries in 1 or 2 off seasons they will not be able to get as strong or as fit as someone genetically similar that has more training years under their belt (at least until father time comes a-calling).

One area that is super important in training programs is planned time off. I know most of us are getting more than enough of this at this point in time, but it is something our bodies and minds need. We will perform better, experience less injuries and burnout if we schedule times in the year where we avoid overexerting ourselves. But don't get rest confused with being completely inactive. If you are having a planned rest period you should still be moving around; going on walks, easy bike rides or perhaps doing a few light stretching sessions or yoga classes.

If you're well over the 1-2 week rest time and ready to get back to action go slow. Start with some of the mobility exercises outlined in the guide above or even some daily walks or bike rides. A big mistake people make when getting back into training is that they do too much too soon which doesn't give their body enough time to recover and adjust to the increased workloads. You can't go from zero to a marathon or a tough Crossfit workout and not expect some repercussions. And as you get older and have to deal with more injuries so training smarter becomes even more critical. When I play a match these days and feel good physically the squash seems to follow. I don't get upset even if I'm not playing my best, simply because I'm feeling good and moving well it's a good day.
If you're looking for more squash specific home workouts you can find mine on Youtube. I've created a playlist for them at

I'm also doing a weekly live workout on the @LondonSquash Instagram page. These will later be posted on the Serious Squash Youtube channel if you happen to miss them. I'm currently focusing on building up basic strength required for squash by focusing on squats, lunges, deadlifts and core exercises.

Ideally this post provides some motivation and ideas on what type of cross training you can and should be doing. If you're not already in a positive routine there's no better time to switch and getting going than today. If you want to purchase some kettlebells for home you can order them here on Amazon and I think I get about 1% commission if you order through my storefront:

On a side note, if you're looking for some squash to watch I just posted an instructional film, Mastering Deception. You can watch the complete film here:

That's all for this week. I hope this post will get you up and off the couch and thinking about how to make the most of your time. Don't just wait for the clubs to reopen to make your fitness a priority. Right now most of us have more time than we ever have to concentrate on improving the often neglected cross training side of squash. I'll leave you with a comment from my old squash club, 'get fit to play squash, don't play squash to get fit.'

Want to know where else you can find Serious Squash?
Instagram @SeriousSquash

Oh and did I forget to mention that there could be a limited edition Serious Squash shirt coming out in the very near future...stay tuned and as always thanks for the support!


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