Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Planning Your Comeback

Squash is one of, if not the best workouts in the world. Squash involves every athletic trait; from mobility, flexibility, strength, speed, stamina, the list of qualities you need to be a great squash player doesn't end. Because it's such a physically demanding sport it requires a lot of training and regular drill and gameplay to be able to play out a match at a peak level without your body breaking down. It's been almost 3 months since I've been on court and even as a coach I am planning on easing my way back into coaching. If on the first day back I gave 5 or 6 lessons it would take a lot out of me and I'd be at risk of injury and I would probably need a day of recovery afterwards.

Depending on what you've been doing while the courts have been closed you may have to gradually ease your way back into things. Today my agenda is to get everyone to begin to plan out their comeback and to set timeframes and goals for this. We don't need to wait for the squash clubs to be open to begin this. If you read last weeks post, this is basically a continuation on from that with more of an emphasis on the off court training portion of our preparation. I'm going to quickly go over some solo hitting issues and then get into the meat and potatoes.

When clubs open up (I'm aware some already have) you will have to start with only solo hitting. This is an ideal way to get your timing back before getting right back into a match. Even with solo hitting there's going to be some weak muscles and a lack of calluses so this will likely be an issue for most of us (including me). In your first few solo sessions I would avoid doing a lot of short hitting with pace. These types of short hitting drills could put a lot of strain on your entire arm and shoulder and it's something you will need to build back up in time.

Besides the arm and the missing calluses the biggest challenge for most of us is going to be the lack of strength and stamina. After a few months of sitting around and being less active we are going to have to be patient and disciplined about getting our body back in 'squash shape.' Let's go through these athletic traits independently and see how we can best build up our strength and stamina to get back into squash most effectively.

Our lower body is going to need some extra special attention. When is the last time you did a lunge? If you haven't been doing any away from the court expect as major case of 'squash butt' when you first do a set of lunges. The good thing is that we don't need any equipment to begin to work on our lunges. There are a few ways to build up your lunging ability. The first and likely the safest is by simply holding a lunge for a short period of time. Make sure you spend time on both legs, not just your dominant one. You can then build up to walking lunges, eventually to lunging forwards and backwards and at a later point some side lunges or even adding in some light weights. I suggest spreading out your leg workouts by at least 3 days as you start this type of training.

On top of lunging, it's also important to be able to squat properly. The ability to get low into a squatting position, especially in the back corners is an essential skill in squash. Again you can start with a simple bodyweight squat or a squat hold. You can build up to wall sits, squats with weights and maybe the split-squat, squat jumps or even the mighty pistol squat.

Doing lunges and squats will make a big difference in your game, but don't forget the posterior chain of your lower body. One leg deadlifts are an excellent way to focus on your hamstrings and glutes and again they require no weights for training. You can do this in a number of different ways as well. If you haven't' done them before you will need to start by simply trying to do this while balancing properly. As you improve you can add in twists, holds and eventually weights.

Above I listed the 3 main lower body strength exercises that I recommend for building up your lower body strength for squash. These are all exercises that I do regularly which should help with my transition back onto the court. If you would like to see the above mentioned exercises done at various stages check out my playlist from home workouts:

Below is the first video which simply explains 6 simple at home exercises you can do with no equipment, which also includes the above mentioned exercises.

Let's move on to the stamina/movement portion of squash. In this section I'm going to discuss not just the aerobic endurance required, but also the stop/start, fast paced movement that we need to play at a high level. Building up your aerobic endurance again isn't too difficult when the weather is nice. Simply doing some light jogging or biking will do the trick. Even though we've lost a bit of fitness recently, we still have a reserve from our years of training which will help us. If just getting started the 2 main areas of concern are starting slowly to avoid injury/burnout and taking that first step. Committing to a plan and a schedule and changing your routine into a more positive, squash focused lifestyle is what I'm looking my athletes to be doing now.

If you don't have access or the ability to bike or jog there are some other ways you can get some cardio in. If you've taken part in any of my recent home workouts you will see how I plan some of my workouts to provide a cross training benefit for improving endurance along with strength. You can do this by timing your sets and staying on a timer throughout you session.

If you've been managing to maintain a decent aerobic fitness base you are probably more concerned with the speed, sprinting, anaerobic portion of your squash training. There are a number of ways you can improve this even before getting back on court. Doing this type of training can mean a few different things. You could be focusing on working near your VO2max/heart rate by pushing yourself in a really tough session like running stairs, hills or doing some windsprints. For me this type of training is much more taxing on the body and the recovery will take much longer. So if you haven't' done any aerobic base training or strength work I would focus on those areas first. After building this up for 6-8 weeks you will be ready to get into this more strenuous type of cross training. Below is this weeks episode of Squash Shots where I talk about stairs and hill training. I didn't actually do the training in this video myself as I'm still working my way through building up an aerobic base before jumping right into sets of sprints.

Squash Shots Episode 54: Stairs + Hill Training

If you aren't into running hills, stairs or doing windsprints you could do some ghosting. Again, you can do ghosting at your own speed and you don't need a squash court to do it. If you can get in 1 or 2 weekly ghosting sessions prior to playing a game your transition will be much easier and your performance will be far greater. I often get my students to use practice swings and ghosting in lessons because without the ball the concern for contact and the shot result, it's easier to make swing or movement changes. When you do this enough you will eventually build up the muscle memory to make these adjustments permanent.

How much of each of these training types should you do? Doing some strength and aerobic base training during the same time is fine. Depending on your ability and training experience you should be able to do 2-3 session of each per week. After a specified period of time (6-8 weeks) you will feel stronger and fitter and at that point you will likely be ready to transition into the anaerobic/lactic acid producing phase of your training. Because this type of training is so taxing on the body you will need some lighter sessions, possibly mobility focused and of course core is fine too. I believe it would be too tough for most people to do a max sprint session and then do a leg strength session the day after or even before. Doing this would lead to overtraining for most and quite likely an injury at some point. If you are at this stage of your training you should be working with a highly skilled professional strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer.

As your squash club opens up and you can get in to solo hit once or twice per week you will be feeling better and better week after week. If you've been doing nothing the past 3 months you should be eyeing August/September for the resemblance of a decent squash match (assuming we're allowed). If you do the above mentioned training there is no reason you won't be able to jump back into things and playing at a pretty good level in a short period of time. Not everyone likes the training part of squash, but there's no better feeling than knowing you are fitter and stronger than your opponent.

After such a long break just hitting a ball or playing a rally will be enjoyable. But as you can tell from a coaches perspective I believe there is a lot we can do to play better squash and transition back into it more seamlessly by planning ahead and setting some short term goals. I know from previous experience that when I jumped into overdoing an activity too quickly without spacing out the sessions and building up to them I got injured. As we age this is even more important for us to consider; we can't always do what we once have done. I supposed the following phrase is also appropriate, squash really isn't like riding bike. So please think about concentrating on small adaptations which in time will do what they are meant to do and help you get back to where you want to be.

If what I've mentioned above doesn't interest you there are plenty of other ways to get active and fit. There is boxing, yoga, swimming, crossfit, trx, spin classes, skipping, etc. Find what works for your body and start planning out your comeback. Be prepared for it and you will not only play better squash, but enjoy your squash that much more too!

Hopefully I've at least given a few of you some motivation to get back into a training and active lifestyle mindset. I feel like most squash players use squash as their only source of exercise. I've heard many club members over the years say how much they dislike the gym and running, etc and that squash is an enjoyable way for them to exercise. These are the people I'm most concerned about, but they are also less likely to do what is necessary off-court or in fact read a blog article like this.

Once you get back on court I would also suggest starting with some static drills and slowly building your way up to rallies. If you're looking for some simple, static drills keep an eye on the Serious Squash Instagram, Facebook or Youtube accounts where I will be posting many examples. Also remember you don't have to play a full match the first time you are able to. I urge all of you, from beginner, to experienced pro and regardless of age to be sensible and focus on your comeback 1 step at a time. - Video analysis, Signature Racquet and the new Canadian version tees! - still going strong 1+ year in! There's a new episode every Monday. - I've been trying to post more regularly here. Will be able to post some longer clips here once the club opens back up.
Instagram @SeriousSquash
My interview on the 'In Squash Podcast':

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