Squash Scientist wins Core Performance T-Shirt!

December 13, 2010

If you are a regular reader of this squash coaching blog you will know that I wholeheartedly support the CorePerformance.com approach to training – it is a perfect fit with competitive squash – a blend of well-conceived exercises to complement the demands of squash – perhaps the most demanding sport in the world (based on the number of coaches with hip replacements – I know of at least 40!)

Anyway, CorePerformance ran a “submit your best CP photo” contest on their Facebook Page – and I got a free t-shirt for doing so!  Here is the photo I submitted – I was visiting a Smith College alumna in Hawaii ( I may run a squash camp in Honolulu next summer – what a great place to train!):

If you get a chance sign up to follow Core Performance on Twitter – they send out at least one exercise each day – and often some other health and nutrition tips as well!

I re-tweet the most squash-specific of their exercises through my own SquashScience Twitter account.

Core Training for Squash

October 12, 2010

This month’s NSCA Performance Training Journal (one of the benefits of membership) just appeared in my inbox.  There is a great article on Core Training for tennis with Mark Kovacs as the first author (ran into Mark and chatted with him in the elevator at the ITF Conference in Valencia, Spain last November where I was presenting on mental training at each stage of an LTAD).

The article presents a solid rationale for current functional training thinking versus traditional bodybuilding methods.  Obviously the part of the article relating to the serve and overhead training is less important for squash players, so I would recommend reducing the volume and sets of exercises relating to overhead training.

You can access the journal on their website or I have put a copy here for you (copyright and Fair Use restrictions apply):  Core for Tennis and Squash?

New Aerobic Training Tool For Squash Coaches: miCoach iPhone App!

August 4, 2010

Regular readers will know that I have been singing the praises of CorePerformance.com for squash strength training since I learned about them while doing the rehab for my hip replacement.  One of the strengths of Core Performance is that if you sign-up as a member ($9.99/month) you can download daily, somewhat individualized workouts to your iPhone – which always includes an “energy systems” (their term for aerobic training) component – usually not that long (e.g., 14 minutes).

Now Core Performance has teamed with adidas to develop an aerobic training tool (free iPhone App and website) called miCoach.  Although the probable goal of adidas is to get consumers to purchase a $139 Pacer which includes a heart rate monitor and stride counter, I think the real value for squash coaches are the well designed and neatly packaged training plans – which do not require a purchase.  Web site registration (which I just completed) and the app is free. There are no plans for squash so I would recommend the tennis or soccer plans – slight edge to the tennis as being more specific to our PAR modern attacking game.

Your athletes will have a chance  to individualize somewhat by selecting their initial starting level or doing a 12-minute self-assessment.  If you are working with more than one athlete great packaging is absolutely key in saving time and communicating and monitoring training plans clearly – this is an area where Core Performance excels.  I will report back after trying out a few weeks of training using the app with my team – in the meantime here is a short review of the iPhone app and a video review of the Pacer:

“Twisting” Exercises for Squash

April 2, 2010

I have already blogged about that fact that traditional “bodybuilding” exercises like the biceps curl, bench press, and squats have limited value for squash players, if they form the major component of a supplementary strength training program.  I have also suggested that squash coaches visit Core Performance as they represent the latest thinking in strength training.  Their programs incorporate injury prevention, core and functional exercises, and sport-specific exercises as part of the “train movements not muscles” philosophy.

A sport-specific exercise is defined as an exercise that mimics, or has some (or many) characteristics of a sport’s skill(s).  For example a medicine ball side throw has many of the same elements as a squash forehand drive – a ground up kinetic chain action involving the legs, hips, torso and finally the arms and hands.

Here is a short program of twisting exercises that could be considered squash-specific.  An ideal time to do these would be in the off- or pre-season when athletes are not speeding a lot of time on the court – or they could be added to your current routine if you have not already incorporated “twisting” types of movements.  I have divided this short program into the same sections as a Core Performance Program.  The  videos examples are from a variety of sources – each of which leads to other examples and variations.  Tubing can be substituted and used for the cable exercises – and perhaps a good idea for those coaching juniors as it minimizes risk of injury.

Section 1 – Prehab

Exercise 1:  Hip Crossover

Rationale: Dynamic stretching of lower back, hips to prepare for more vigorous twisting exercises.

Sets: 1  Reps: 5 each side  Rhythm:  Slow

Section 2 – Movement Prep

Exercise 2:  Carioca

Rationale:  Dynamic stretching of torso, raising body temperature (like jogging), while working on foot agility and dynamic balance

Sets: 1   Reps:  10 yards in each direction  Rhythm: start slow and increase speed while maintaining form

Exercise 3:  Reverse Walking Lunge & Twist

Rationale: Dynamic stretch of lunging and twisting muscles while working on balance with some strength-endurance

Sets: 1   Reps: 6 each leg     Rhythm:  slow

Section 3 – Medicine Ball

Exercise 4:  Side Throw

Rationale:  Works the squash hitting muscles used in a full drive.

Sets: 1    Reps:  8 each side   Rhythm:  Moderate to explosive based on experience

Exercise 5:  Lunge Throws

Rationale:  Works twisting muscles used in squash drives from a lunge position and lunge muscular endurance.  If you are training alone you can throw against a wall.

Sets: 1    Reps:  8 each leg   Rhythm:  lunge slow, throw moderate.

Section 4 – Strength

Exercise 6 – Standing Rotational Push-Pull

Rationale:  A great squash-specific alternative to bench press and seated row – the squat like position mimics that of a squash drive, and the rotational movement works the squash core and twisting muscles.

Sets: 2     Reps: 10 each arm   Rhythm:  slow to moderate

Exercise 7:  Keiser Standing Cable Twist

Rationale:  Works the squash core and twisting muscles used in squash drives.

Sets:  2   Reps: 10 each side  Rhythm:  slow to moderate

Exercise 8: Rotational Row – 1 Arm Cable Standing (No embedded video – click on the link to view video!)

Rationale:  Use of one arm is very squash specific, and explosive action ensures correct use of kinetic chain used in full squash drives.

Sets:  2   Reps:  10 each side  Rhythm:  Moderate to explosive based on experience.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Integrate squash-specific twisting exercises into your program.
  2. Avoid time-wasting uni-joint, body-building exercises.

Squash Agility/Speed Test & Training: A Reader Comment & Update

February 20, 2010

Ben Mathes (mathes.ben@gmail.com) comments on yesterday’s post:

“On the smaller confines of a squash court, I wonder about the safety of the various balls rolling around after they are placed.  A small variation on this that I’ve done is to place squash rackets on the six “corners” and move them from point to point. Due to the size of the rackets, however, you can’t drop anything in the middle.”

We took Ben’s comments to heart and modified the speed-agility test to include the use of shoe boxes into which to put the balls in order to not create a hazard on the court.  We switched to tennis balls to take hand dexterity effects out of the test.  See the video below.

The test can also be used for speed and agility squash training.  The physical ability targeted in the six-point drill can be changed by  controlling the work:rest ratio, which in turn can be controlled by the number of players participating in the exercise.  Assuming (for simplicity of calculation) the players are doing the six-points in about 20 seconds:

  • Aerobic Power: 2 people equals a work to rest ratio (W:R) of 1:1 – so 20 seconds of work, followed by 20 seconds of restwith relatively little rest, the intensity of work will drop after a few repetitions into the aerobic training zone where the players should be working at 80-85% of maximum.
  • Anaerobic Endurance: 3 people equals a W:R of 1:2 – so 20 seconds of work followed by 40 seconds of rest – with extra rest the intensity or speed of movement should increase, with a concomitant greater involvement of the Lactic Energy System (Glycolytic is another frequently used term);  Because of the accumulated lactic acid after a number of repetitions, sets of five can be used with 5 minutes of active rest between sets (active rest like jogging at 60% will help eliminate some of the lactic acid).  Players should be working at about 85-90% of maximum.
  • Anaerobic Power:  Using 3-5 people on the court equals a W:R rest ratio of  about 1:5 – which should increase the intensity or quality of movement (more rest), and prevent the same rapid increase and accumulation of  lactic acid as with Anaerobic Endurance.  Players should be working at their maximum possible speed of movement.  Note that the greater the rest the less squash-specific the training becomes, as the W:R in match play is about 1:1 – something to keep in mind.

In the absence of individual prescriptions by qualified personnel, a rule of thumb would be to start with one set of five, and then add another set of five every week, until you get to 3-4 sets, at which point the law of diminishing returns starts to take effect.  Note that the terms used to describe these physical abilities or energy systems can vary according to country and also by group of researchers.  The terms used here were popular in English Canada – the Quebecois using a different more French (and complicated) system of nomenclature.

The “rules” for when exactly (time of season) to use each of these types of training are a bit complex, and will be addressed in another post.

A Practical Squash-Specific Speed & Agility Test

February 18, 2010

One of the challenging things about coaching squash is that it is a sport that involves many different athletic abilities – easy way to remember is to think about the “S’s”:  speed, strength, stamina, suppleness.

The average length of a squash rally is about 10 seconds – however 20% of rallies fall into the 20 second plus range – and some of these may occur at crucial times in a match – so as squash coaches we need to assess our player’s ability to perform well in this time range.

The USTA has been using the Spider Test to assess anaerobic power (the technical name for anaerobic efforts in the 15-30 second range – for example a 200m race – longer than 30 seconds – for example a 400m race –  is often referred to as anaerobic endurance).  The advantage of standardized (used by many people in many locations) tests that are easy to implement (all you need is a court and balls) is that it makes comparison to a standard and between groups easy – if knowledge of others tests scores are readily available.

Results of physical tests are probably best used to monitor player progress as opposed to comparing to a standard or norm.  The reason being is that the research support for  relating performance on single physical tests to overall ability are mixed:

  • Here is an example of a study that supports the use of tests: “The results yielded an accurate prediction of 95.5, 91.3, and 85.7% for National Team, DC, and ATC players, respectively, based on personal fitness variables, without including either gender or age.
  • And here is one that found a low correlation between the Spider Test and tennis ability:  “The correlation between rank from the results of the USTA Fitness Test and tennis ability was low (rs=.039)”.

For this reason, a squash coach does not want to waste a lot of time on complicated, involved tests.  In this video I take my team through both the tennis Spider Test and a similar six-point test on a squash court in order to assess anaerobic power (ability to perform physically in a long tough rally lasting about 20 seconds).

Results from the two test showed that while they were not exactly equivalent, the squash test was close enough to the Spider Test to be used for the same purpose.  My #1 player (Shanita) got a time of 16.38 seconds on the squash 6-point, and 16.45 seconds on the Spider Test.  Squash balls were placed 1m out from the side walls, and 1 m out diagonally from the corners.  Note that I would change the protocol to use tennis or racketballs to take finger dexterity (dropping or fumbling with the small squash balls) out of the equation.  I would recommend giving a player three attempts to get their best time, with a rest of about three minutes between efforts (eliminate lactic acid).

Strength Training for Squash – Basic Exercises made Squash-Specific

February 18, 2010

I have already blogged on some useless strength exercises for squash – in this post I discuss how we can turn some of these useless, basic, “bodybuilding” -type of exercises into more useful ones.

The strategy to do this is simple, and is based on the importance of the lunge in squash, and the need to save time in our squash supplementary strength workouts.  Depending on the level of play and type of strategy and shots being used, a player may need to lunge up to 100 times or more a match. Three types of muscle contraction are important in performing the lunge in a match situation:  eccentric as you step into the lunge and plant your front foot, isometric when there is a momentary holding of position, and concentric as the legs push back out of the lunge.  The lunge trained in the video examples below is the static one – also useful in the beginning weeks of a annual periodized strength program for working an athlete up towards more dynamic and intense lunging, such as that used in court movement drills and plyometrics.

There are definitely more complex and intense exercises that incorporate lunging – this post is emphasizing a safe, easy way to incorporate more core and squash specificity into a regular routine. Keiser Functional Training has a YouTube Channel which features the use of cable machines for more core and functional training, and of course Core Performance has a wide variety of lunging type exercises that are great for squash.

Aerobic “Tactical-Technical” Ghosting for Squash

January 11, 2010

If you are similar to most coaches, you have limited time during squash practice to work on multiple objectives – often with a fairly large group of athletes.  Here is an example of a ghosting (movement without hitting the ball)  exercise I developed for my Smith College team this morning that integrates aerobic training (physical), with “tactical” court movement (technique).

Ghosting = Aerobic + Tactical Movement + Technique

We use a “zone” tactical model of squash to guide our team’s training (System 3), so today I divided our court into three zones (front, mid, back)  for our aerobic training, and related the movement in each zone to the tactics often found in each zone:

front: defence or attack;

mid: attack/pressure except if ball is tight on wall;

back: rally.

I am doing this since I want the players to “think” about what they are doing, so that even their physical training encourages them to be smart players.  There are three players per court since we had 12 at practice today. Four courts of three, are easier to supervise than five courts and the athletes can feed off each other’s energy.

Physical (Aerobic) Aspect of Ghosting

Depending on the author, there are at least five aerobic “zones” we need to train in squash, ranging in intensity from a low 60-65% effort, up to a high 85-90% (dependent on anaerobic threshold).  Each zone  features a particular physiological adaptation, so the intensity of work should be planned and communicated to the athletes.  The intended intensity of today’s exercise was about 75%, so we asked the players to check their heart rate for ten seconds every five minutes to make sure they were in the correct training zone.  Fifteen minutes is a good amount of time for this type of interval training (where other aerobic training is also being done on the same day). A timer on each court was set for 20 seconds, at which point each player would switch zones, so the work:rest ration was about 3:1, with 15 seconds work and 5 seconds rest (as the player moves to the next zone).

Tactical-Technical Aspects of Ghosting

The movement required is related to the tactical objective of the shot practiced (defensive shot – move straight to ball; rallying or offensive shot – “curved” path to ball to create space when the difficulty of the ball received allows for this).

  1. Backcourt – players move to back to ghost a straight drive with arced movement, so “rallying”.
  2. Mid-Court – players ghost two volleys (pressuring/attacking), and two lunging “gets” of low, tight, drives from opponents (defending) – both movement straight to ball.
  3. Front-court – player ghosts two drives using “banana” movement to ball (attack), and then two “defensive” counter-drops with movement straight to ball (defence or counter=attack depending on how you interpret this shot)

By explaining the tactical context of the physical movement and ghosting, it is hoped the players will better integrate this training into their game.

Player Feedback

You can see in each of the two clips (shot and uploaded to YouTube via my iPhone 3Gs) that there was at least one player who was not doing the movement correctly because they did not understand my verbal description and demonstration of the drill.  This will happen frequently with your players who “learn by doing” rather than seeing or hearing.  Rather than waste time seeking total comprehension from all of my players, I chose to move them into action quickly and correct where necessary once the training was underway.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Use exercises with multiple objectives to save time.
  2. Where possible, relate all training to tactics or a tactical model so your players can develop into “smart” players.
  3. Provide explanations and feedback that match the learning style of your squash players(auditory, visual, kinaesthetic).

Squash Players: Train Like a Woman!

September 12, 2009

Ironically (or not depending on your level of sexism – still highly evident in squash) women’s fitness magazines made the move to the new wave of core and functional training well before mainstream sports and health book publishers (e.g. Human Kinetics, the largest sport book publisher in the world) who were continuing to operate on the bodybuilding and football/basketball strength paradigms.  It turns out that all the little “girly” exercises like side leg raises are actually a key part of getting our squash bodies to function correctly.

Womens Health Magazine

In magazines like Women’s Health (pictured above) the programs usually feature lots of squash applicable exercises like lunges, and squats, abdominal twists – why?  Because the legs and stomach are the prime area of cosmetic concern for most woman (here is the link to the workout pictured above).  For those of us who coach woman, these magazine’s are also a great source of information about the training and lives of famous sportswomen – tennis’ Williams sisters are featured regularly (sorry squash pros – you are unlikely to be featured in the world’s top magazines).

Venus in Shape Magazine

Venus in Shape Magazine

Application for Squash Coaches:

One of the most important factors in avoiding staleness or a plateau in squash training and performance is to vary both the volume, intensity, and variety of exercises in order continue to put a sufficient training load on the body for adaptation to occur (this is the “training effect”).  A good, practical rule of thumb is to change a squash strength training program (the change can be slight – it does not have to be dramatic) every two weeks.  It would not be a bad idea to bring a women’s fitness magazine to practice occasionally to see how your squash athletes (male and female) react to the workouts!

Images of fit athletes can motivate your squash players to train harder.  Here is a image of Serena Williams from the now defunct Jane Magazine (although the replacement Glamour Magazine features lots of fitness articles).

A Fit Serena Williams:  Jane Magazine

A Fit Serena Williams: Jane Magazine (2007)

Squash Science Resource Update – August ’09

August 12, 2009

Many of the sport science resources that squash coaches use continue to evolve.  Here are three updates from trusted sources:

I   Thera-Band Academy Adds Web 2.0 Tools for Coaches

August 11, 2009

Dear Thera-Band Academy Subscriber

I trust you’ve found the Thera-Band Academy to be a useful tool for you. This is the 10th Anniversary of the Academy… and much has changed since then. I wanted to let you know about some new tools and websites that will help us improve our communication with you. Using the latest social media and networking sites, we hope to enhance your experience within the Academy. Please take a brief moment to check out these new tools…

I hope these new tools are useful! Thanks for your continued loyalty and support!

Phil Page, PT, ATC, MS, CSCS
Director of Education & Research
1245 Home Ave
Akron, OH 44310  Read the rest of this entry »