I have “speed” in quotes and a “question mark” at the end of this post’s title because the world’s best players take a maximum of 2-3 steps before slowing down to hit the ball…that’s right. Go to https://psaworldtour.com/tv and download any video – even Miguel Rodrigues’ – and count the number of steps a player takes before striking the ball when leaving from the T area…
When we think of speed events in athletics we think of 100m – for training and tests we even think of the 40- or 20-yard dash…the furthest a squash player would ever run for a single stroke would be the 1665mm diagonal (about 12 yards) if their nose was touching a back corner and then they went and touch their nose to the opposite front corner:) But in reality, since the overwhelming majority of movements to to the ball for advanced players start from the T, that maximum distance is halved to about 6 yards, less the rebound of the average drop (three feet to second bounce on floor), yielding about 5 yards (or metres) or 15′ as the furthest a squash player has to move. Keep in mind that deceleration in order to be relatively stable as the ball is struck needs to occur at about the halfway point if there is any chance of recovering to the T and resuming the rally.
In conclusion, squash players need to train for 2-3m sprints, which is why I do not like to use the word “speed”, but rather explosiveness or power (speed-strength being the more common European Term), as it really is just a split-step, and one to two powerful steps that is required to be trained. The training movements should be as squash-specific as possible as research has showed that strength, power and speed development occurs at specific muscle joint angles and speeds.
Here is the annual periodized physical conditioning sequence to become a “faster” squash player.
- Anatomical adaptation (General Preparation Phase): 2 weeks of strength endurance at 12-15 reps (always assuming three workouts a week and use of a load resulting in failure at the last couple of reps).
- Strength- Endurance (General Preparation Phase): 4-6 weeks of 10-12 reps.
- Maximum strength (Specific Preparation Phase): 4-6 weeks of 5-8 reps for post-pubescent and “not injured easily” athletes with 3-4 ears of strength training experience – otherwise just skip over this step. Similarly, if you have been strength training for years and do not lose a lot of strength in transition phases it may not be worth your while to go through this phase.
- Speed-strength/explosiveness/power (Specific or Pre-Competitive Phase depending on context): 4-6 weeks of plyometrics and short bursts of court movement. Energy for this quality is provided by the anaerobic alactic (ATP_CP or Phosphagen) system which is most powerful in the 0-10 second range and by the lactic system when repeated bursts are required with a single rally or series of 2-3 rallies – after 45-60 seconds of these bursts within 2-3 minutes of play, a player will be forced to reduce their efforts due to accumulating lactic acid in the bloodstream and muscles (see blog post on “How to Lob” effectively:). Most programs recommend about three sets of five reps of 5-10 seconds of work (followed by 6 times that amount of rest in between reps) as a good volume for supplementary speed training – obviously a lot of “training” occurs during matches and practices.
- Maintenance (Competitive Phase): Most “speed” gains will occur within 4-6 weeks of speed-strength training, at which point most players enter a phase of competitions with league and tournament play and have a reduced amount of time for supplementary training outside of on court practice. Improvements can be maintained with 1-2 supplementary sessions a week at the same volume and intensity of the last week of training.
I really like the EXOS approach to training movement, especially in the first few weeks of a program, with the last few weeks being conducted on court “live” (with realistic situations and feeds): http://www.coreperformance.com/multidirectional-movement/. This is a great bank of exercises to inject some variety into your program.
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 is a Charter Member of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and 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).