4 Ways for Squash Players to Reduce Injuries
I don't need to explain WHY injuries suck. If you've ever been sidelined from the court for a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months, you're aware of the mental and physical drawbacks of injuries. (Also, there is no worse feeling that trying to get your timing back, while also feeling out of squash shape!)
That's why this post is all about how to reduce the prevalence of injuries. Sure, sometimes you might suffer a freak accident (like tripping over your opponent and rolling your ankle), but a lot of soft tissue injuries are preventable if you know how to train properly.
If you want to reduce your injury rate, or simply prevent injuries, read up!
1. Warm Up Properly
Warming up primes your body (muscles, joints) and your nervous system for the training work ahead. If you don't warm up, you're putting yourself under more (unnecessary) stress because your body has to go from 0 to 60. Ever wonder why the first sprint of a session is so hard, or why you feel sluggish for the first 10 minutes? Your body needs to adapt to this new state! So why not help it by gently warming up?
Furthermore, if you're a squash player, I bet you've got some tight hips, ankles, or shoulders that need loosening. If you mobilize these areas before jumping on court, you'll be able to get into the swing of things much faster, and feel so much better for it! Imagine being able to lunge properly doing boast-drive from the very first shot, as opposed to using the drill as a dull means to an end for a warmup!
Pro tip: Try to spend 5-10 minutes warming up before every training session, and 10-20 minutes warming up before matches or intense sessions. You'll feel better in the session as well as afterwards!
2. Cool Down After Training
Most of us don't have time for a 20 minute cool down after training, but don't worry- that's not what I'm suggesting!
The main purpose of the cool down is to activate the parasympathetic response so your body can begin the recovery process ASAP! We do this by gradually bringing down the heart rate as close to resting as possible, deep breathing, gentle stretching & mobility, and perhaps some light soft tissue work in the form of foam rolling. In other words, try to make your cool down intentional and relaxing. Exercises such as child's pose, or other stretches & mobility drills where you are seated or lying down are a great way to slow your heart rate, while allowing you to focus on your breath.
Pro Tip: Try to spend 5-10 minutes after your session cooling down!
3. Strength Train Consistently
If strength training makes you think of bodybuilding, protein shakes, and boring machine-based workouts, I've got good news for you: THAT'S. NOT. WHAT. I'M. TALKING. ABOUT!
I'm a huge advocate for consistent, full body strength training, for EVERYONE. Are you a teenager? Great- strength training will teach you fundamental movement patterns and set you up with a better foundation for your sport. Are you a mid 20-30's recreational squash player? Awesome- strength training will help you reduce your risk of injuries and help you be more stable moving on court. And finally, are you a masters squash player? Good- you really need to strength train, because you start naturally to lose muscle mass as you age (after the age of 30 or so), unless you actively work on it via resistance training!
So whether you're a junior squash player, recreational athlete, or masters player, you've got something HUGE to gain from strength training.
Now that I've hopefully convinced you that you do in fact need to strength training, let's quickly talk about why strength training will help reduce your injury rate, and how you can go about introducing strength training into your routine.
Why: Strength training (also referred to as resistance training) makes your muscles stronger, makes your joints more resilient, and also teaches/reinforces proper movement patterns and mechanics. Here's an example: how do you expect to decelerate in a lunge at speed while playing squash, if you can't control a forward lunge with a bit of external weight in the gym? And if you can't control this movement on court over and over again, what will happen? Eventually, either your muscle or joints (tendons) will give way, leading to an injury. So, we strength train in order to learn proper movement mechanics, and strengthen our muscles AND our joints, so we can move safer on court.
How: I recommend ~2 full body training sessions per week. In a tournament week, keep it to 1 session, and in off-season or far away from tournaments, you can increase it up to 3 sessions per week. In so far as the workout itself, make sure that you are getting a: knee dominant exercise, hinging exercise, upper body push, upper body pull, and 1-2 core exercises in there, alongside some mobility work.
Here's an example of a strength workout you could do (over and over again) and add to your weekly routine:
3-4 rounds of 8-10 reps per exercise.
A) Kettlebell Goblet Split squat
B) TRX Row
C) 90 90 Hip Mobility
D) Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl
E) 1/2 Kneeling Dumbbell Single Arm Overhead Press
F) Alternating Plank Reach
4. Manage Your Training Load
Even if you do items 1-3 religiously, you may still be susceptible to the occasional injury if you don't manage your training load wisely. This means actively scheduling rest days, not playing too many days in a row, not playing for too long in each session, and varying the intensity of your sessions.
Rest days: You should aim to take at least 1 rest day per week, and perhaps 2 if you are getting back into squash training. Alternatively, in addition to your 1 full rest day, you could make 1 day per week an active recovery day, where you solo hit and do some mobility work. (Pro tip: these sessions are so underrated, and my clients were surprised at how much they enjoyed them!).
Not playing too many days in a row: Your ability to play squash for consecutive days should improve as your training consistency increases, however, everyone has their own starting point. For example, perhaps you should only play every other day, or have 2 days on court followed by 1 day off court. Whatever the schedule is, make sure that you are able to have a quality training session when you step on court. If you feel that by Thursday your movement is sluggish and you're unable to get the most out of yourself, consider making Thursday your "solo recovery" day, or simply taking a rest day.
Not playing for too long: I used to think that 2-3 hour sessions were fine. (And they used to be when I was a teenager!). However, as I got older, by Wednesday, my body would already be struggling, and hanging on a thread for the rest of the week. Instead of saying "yes" to every extra game or session, I focused on making my session more intense and keeping it to 1-1.5 hours at a time. Often I will do a second session later in the day, but splitting the work up into 2 segments keeps the quality as high as possible.
Vary the intensity: Repeat after me: not every day needs to be a pressure session. Sure, if you are an elite athlete, maybe during a certain period you may want to focus on building up your work capacity, which means that you will push very hard for several days in a row. However, this is something that elite athletes will do, but is probably not necessary for recreational players! If you want to play every day, try varying the type & intensity of your sessions. For example, one day you could do a solo hitting session, followed by a short ghosting finisher. Then the next day you could play a match. And the following day, you could take a lesson, which could be either high intensity or low intensity, depending on the format. The point is, be intentional about what you're trying to work on, why you're working on it, and how you're going about it!
If you've made it this far, thank you for reading, and I hope that you found at least one piece of advice which was useful to you!
If you want to learn how to put all of these elements into practice, make sure you get on the waitlist for the Squashletic Training app, which is launching soon! The app will be your personal online training hub complete with workouts and guides to help you maximize your training and become the best player you can be!