Veteran Squash Coaches: Aging Gracefully & Staying Fit!

April 4, 2012

I am writing this post for squash coaches over the age of 50 who are finding that they are faced with an increasing number of chronic injuries.

I had a total hip replacement in November 2008 (detailed on this and two other videos). Things went pretty well – I was walking perfectly at 10 days, driving at two weeks, teaching four hours a day of tennis at six weeks, and playing length-only games with a blue dot squash ball with a “B: player at 8 weeks.

Unfortunately, about 7 months post-operation, I was feeling great and ready to go 100%. Unfortunately, I did go 100% playing one-hour competitive matches of handball (the “family” ball) and British Racketball with a member of the Princeton university Squash Team (so 30 years younger) four days in a row while coaching at the Princeton University Squash camps – and injured my back. This back injury (arthritis of S-I Joint) resurfaces when I stretch and reach for the ball during a squash match – more of less preventing me from a return to competitive squash play – ironic considering the recent hip replacement.

I just returned from Boston yesterday where I saw one of the U.S.’ top shoulder specialists, and a podiatrist who works with the Boston Celtics. Diagnosis: Posterior shoulder capsule contracture and Hallux Rigidus (basically sore shoulder and arthritic big toe). I got prescribed a new pair of orthotics and was given stretches for the shoulder (most of which I was already doing) – the good news being no operations or cortisone shots needed (yet)!

Although I have not done a lot of research on the topic, here are the adjustments I have made to my squash fitness and playing routines to keep me on court and coaching effectively.

  1. During the school year when I am pressed for time, instead of “working out”, I basically just do the Core Performance movement prep and prehabilitationas my workout – omitting the strength portion, but also doing the post-workout regeneration. Supplementing the movement prep with a set of Bosu Squats and lunges, I end up doing about 70 reps of lunges and squats, three to four times a week – a level of work which has kept my lower extremities uninjured.
  2. Blue dot squash – long tough rallies – without the injuries! I find that playing (three length only games and two regular) for about an hour with a low “B” level player allows me to get a good, squash-specific cardio workout (mean HR of 150 during play) without hurting my back, as playing with a bouncy blue dot effectively reduces the size of the court, which eliminates the emergency defensive reaching and lunging which hurts my back. Some might say that this level of ball bounce is not realistic, but I would argue that I am probably getting the same bounce that the pros get on the tour court under television lights. It is for this same reason that I train my college team (mostly beginner to “B” level players) with blue dots – why should the least skilled players have to deal with the most difficult bounces in the back of the court? My players have noticed no significant differences in transitioning back to the yellow dot, so we will use the blue dot in training right up until the week before our national championships.
  3. I now rest (if possible) two days between various types of workouts instead of ensuring one day of rest. I find that I can still improve with this pattern of training and rest.
  4. My training philosophy has gradually shifted from “intensity” to “balance”. Actually, I find that whenever I “train hard” I get another injury which puts me out of commission for at least a week – so a net training “loss”. I would suggest a 2-3% rule for Masters squash athletes, as opposed to the 10% rule used for athletes in their prime.

Application for Aging Squash Coaches;)

  1. Think “balance” not “more” (2% not 10%!).
  2. More rest between matches and workouts – more regeneration activities.
  3. Think about blue dot squash (or British Racketball) to maintain playing skills and fun – and reduce weer and tear on the body.

Avoid Overtraining Your College Squash Team!

March 26, 2011

My college squash team at Smith College is currently the only U.S. College Squash team practicing and training. According to NCAA Rules (after August 1st squash will no longer be an NCAA sport) each team is allowed an official season of 19 weeks, with 15 days of competition (the rules do vary slightly for Division I and Division III teams), and with careful planning (paying attention to overtraining) college coaches can increase the time period in which they are able to  influence their athletes’ training.  Unbelievably, the NCAA forbids coaches from conducting developmental activities with athletes outside of the official 19-week season – especially difficult to comprehend in the many sports (like squash) where athletes do not attain their optimal performances until their late 20’s.

With the U.S. College squash season just ending (for most:) at the Individual Championships on March 6 – now is the time that College squash coaches should be turning their attention to planning out the 2011-12 season. Hopefully coaches will be mindful of longterm planning considerations and use a periodization planning approach to structuring their annual or seasonal plan.  Here is a copy of our Smith College Squash Team Four-Year Plan (we get a lot of novices and very few experienced players) and also an example of an annual periodized plan.

One of the primary purposes of a periodized squash plan – in addition to assuring a peak at the most important competition of the year – is to avoid overtraining (other related terms include staleness, overreaching or unexpected underperformance syndrome).

Although training volume and intensity are the most important factors to control in avoiding overtraining, a college coach must also take into account a student-athlete’s academic schedule and their related academic stress.

I have observed three periods of academic stress on my squash team:

  • beginning of the semester as students struggle to transition to school and sort out their choice of courses;
  • mid-semester due to heavier workloads and midterm evaluations;
  • end of semester papers and exams.

Lack of sleep due to studying, and poor nutrition (rushed eating, missed meals, unhealthy snacking and excessive caffeine consumption) are also contributing factors to the “psychological” load of academic work.  This contributes to the imbalance in the training-recovery cycle.

Here are three main planning strategies we use at Smith College college to help avoid overtraining:

1) Build periods (days and weeks off) of recovery and regeneration into the team’s competitive schedule. If there is a college holiday (e.g. MLK day) we take the day off and do not practice.  If there is a college holiday of a few days – we take the entire week off and add the “extra” week either to the start or end of our schedule (this year it was the end – next year it will be the beginning).  Ideally, we try and construct our macro-cycles (planning units of 4-6 weeks), so that we build volume and or intensity for three weeks – then have an easier “unloading” week (e.g., Bompa, 2009; Sleamaker, 1989).  Here is the draft of our season schedule next year showing weeks of built around the Smith College academic calendar.

2) Build regeneration activities into every practice.  For the last two years we have been following the CorePerformance training philosophy closely in planning the strength and conditioning part of our squash practices.  Every Core Performance workout ends with several regeneration and recovery activities.  Here is an example workout (Core Performance – Sun. feb. 20) and a short video of some example activities:

3) The last strategy simply involves closely observing the team for signs of fatigue, injury and attention, and watching their response to training exercises and being ready to modify practice plans or a week’s schedule (including giving unplanned days off) on short notice.

Application for Squash Coaches:

1.  Plan rest and recovery into your season schedule.

2. Monitor your athletes for signs of overtraining.

3. Be aware of the additive effects of academic stress to the overall training load.

Squash Injuries: Ice is still the Queen!

February 12, 2011

Most squash injuries are not acute or catastrophic – mostly they are “itis'”: usually some type of tendonitis – sometimes a bursitis.  These are usually caused by an increase in training or competing volume to a level beyond the fitness preparation of the athlete.  Although the intensity of training is also a factor – most studies of high volume sports (like squash or running) point to an increase in volume (e.g., miles run per week) as the culprit.

Is Inflammation “Good” for Squash injuries?

Similar to recent sport science discussions on the benefit of stretching as part of an sport warm-up, the role of ice in managing sport injuries is a currently a hot topic.  The most recent controversy involves a scientific study that concluded that inflammation can actually speed the recovery process – the implication bringing  traditional methods of reducing inflammation, ice and NSAIDs, might not be recommended.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dealing with “Squash Shoulder”

September 18, 2010

First of all, there is not such a thing as “squash shoulder” although the field of sport medicine does have swimmer’s shoulder, tennis shoulder and pitcher’s shoulder.  Most chronic (versus an acute injury like a collision) sport shoulder pain comes from overhead throwing actions which we only do occasionally in squash – although the squash forehand is basically just a side-arm throwing action which does approximate a tennis slice serving action when volleying high balls on the forehand side (or even some serving actions).  Most squash players with shoulder pain have had previous injury in other sports or perhaps are overloading the shoulder by suddenly increasing the volume of play, perhaps in conjunction with freestyle swimming cross-training or progressing too quickly with the bench and military press in the weight room (activities not that useful for squash anyway).

The above links can be a useful guide for coaches of those squash players experiencing shoulder pain, but as always Exos offers very useful information and exercises for the shoulder area with their concept of Prehabilitation.

Here are two current handouts for a) rotator cuff (use while shoulder is stiff/painful) Rehab_Shoulder_5; and b) shoulder exercise routine labelled “Thrower’s Ten” for strengthening once pain is absent Throwers-Ten.

I was chatting yesterday with my Exercise & Sport Studies Department colleague Dr. Jim Johnson, who is himself just recovering from two shoulder surgeries.  Jim and a few other Smith College peers have just published a great, practical book which is an excellent resource for squash coaches:  Applied Sports Medicine for Coaches. I have had persistent shoulder pain myself, mostly after playing tennis, despite conscientious Core Performance training on the area.  Jim recommended I get an x-ray to rule out bone spurs.  Seeing a medical doctor is great advice for anyone whose shoulder pain continues despite rest, stretching and strengthening.

Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).


Squash Coaches: Stop the Advil!

September 9, 2009

No AdvilIf you have been around the squash world for a while,  you will have observed that we squash coaches and players treat Ibuprofen products such as Advil and Motrin (in North America) almost like candy.  We take ibuprofen after matches for soreness, before matches for aches and tightness, and sometime when we wake up, just to loosen up and be able to move around freely.  We also have somehow managed to transmit this “candy” attitude to our junior players, as I frequently see them pulling their little pill bottle out of their squash bag.

Although we have always quietly been cautioned about liver potential liver damage with unwise usage (alcohol and Advil being a particularly unwise combination applicable to squash players), recent scientific resarch is even more damning of casual usage of these products.  The New york Times has published a wonderfully concise and readable article about the effects of Advil that is highly applicable to the squash player and coach.  To make a long story short, ibuprofen can impede the body’s natural healing and recovery processes.  Read the rest of this entry »

Foam Roller for Squash: Massage That Fits in Your Squash Bag

May 19, 2009

The importance of recovery and regeneration for hard training squash players has been known for years.  My 1987 Squash Canada Level 4 Course featured a Task with that very name:  Recovery and Regeneration.  A sport scientist held a discussion session on the use of stretching, hot and cold therapies, massage, sleep and relaxation techniques to facilitate recovery.

One of the recovery techniques that was not mentioned in those days, but that has become a very hot item, is the use of foam rollers for self massage and myofascial release.  I have integrated their use into my own and my team’s workout routine over the last 3-4 months, and if I was playing tournaments I am sure the roller would be immensely beneficial – and a lot cheaper and more convenient to implement than massage.

Here are four excellent short videos that feature foam rolling techniques that are perfectly suited to the demands of squash.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bi-Lateral Cross-Training for Squash

May 15, 2009

One of the challenges for WISPA and PSA squash tour professionals is to balance the need to make a living with scheduling sufficient time off to avoid burnout and chronic injury.  Pro racquet sport athletes do not have the luxury of following properly designed 12- month periodized  training plans with built in transition periods:  4-6 weeks of cross-training following the most important competition of the year to allow complete mental and physical restoration.

Most pros will be obliged to use cycles of 3-5 weeks built around their tournament schedule, where hard training is done for 1-2 weeks, followed by maintenance and tapering in order to “peak” at an important tournament, followed by an easier restoration week, before starting the pattern again.

Problems related to the over-development of one side of the body (upper arm/shoulder) are less frequent in squash than in tennis due to the lighter weight racquet.  Rarely do we see a squash athlete reminiscent of Rod Laver’s gargantuan left side – due to the relatively light weight of the squash racquet (compared to the tennis racquet).  We do see a lot of early onset right hip arthritis due to overuse of the right leg on both the backhand and forehand (open stance) sides.

Laver's Large Left Arm

Laver's Large Left Arm

One solution to avoiding possible problems (in addition to doing a few extra “left-side” sets when strength training) would be to incorporate a bi-lateral cross-training activity that could be done during transition and regeneration weeks.  U.S. Handball is a great option, since the one-wall, outside variety can be played almost anywhere (schools, parks, etc.), since all you need is a wall and a ball.  I ordered the easier-on-your-hands “family” ball (and gloves:) today in order to give it a try in the coming weeks.  The U.S. handball site also has some free excellent instructional downloads here.  Apparently, the ubiquitous U.S. racquetball is also a good choice for beginning players.

Here are some pretty good players playing doubles at a local park: