Essex squash coach and top fitness instructor Gary Nisbet knows the secrets of keeping squash players in prime condition. He trains some of the country’s top players and is recognised as one of the leading experts in his field. Today he offers Essex Junior Squash readers some valuable training tips to keep us all in shape during the summer break. Check out Gary’s website for loads more tips and information.

Warm-Up & Mobilise

The summer is traditionally a time for squash players to work on their fitness and conditioning, ready for the rigors of the new season come September. Get into good habits now, and make sure you take the time to warm-up and mobilise your muscles and joints before the start of every session, be it fitness based or on-court hitting.

Just because the weather is a little warmer, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to take the time to properly prepare the body for playing or training.

imgresA 3-stage warm-up consisting of an initial pulse raiser (e.g. jogging, side-stepping, skipping), dynamic flexibility/stretching (e.g. hip mobilisation, controlled leg swings, multi-directional lunges), and then a secondary specific pulse raiser (e.g. ghosting, sprints, shuttles) should be carried out before every session, each element lasting for a duration of around 5 minutes for a total of about 15 minutes.

Carrying out a properly structured warm-up before training, has been shown to not only reduce risk of injury, but to also increase athletic performance – meaning you’re less likely to pick up a sprain/strain that’ll keep you off court, AND you’re more likely to perform better in the session itself.

Have a Session Focus

There are many different attributes that go into making up the complete athlete – for squash, the most important of these include endurance, speed, stability, flexibility, and power. Try and ensure that you have a focus for each fitness session that you do

Are you trying to get faster? Then you need to work on short, sharp ghosts or sprints, with plenty of recovery between sets.

Are you trying to increase your stamina? Then you need to be working for longer periods with shorter recovery times, trying to replicate the specific demands of a game of squash.

Trying to increase your flexibility? Then incorporate regular active mobility exercises and foam roller work into your training week.

The point is that getting ‘fit’ doesn’t mean just working on one single area. The top squash players are great all-around athletes, who incorporate a large variety of types of training into their programmes to make sure they’re developing all the different areas of squash-specific athleticism equally.

Try chatting to your coach or your playing partners to find out what they think are your weaker areas, and make a real effort to focus on these lagging attributes in your conditioning sessions.

Keep a Training Diary

One of the best ways of keeping track of your training, particularly over the summer when you have a little more time on your hands to work on your squash, is to keep a training diary. Make a note of every session that you do, and record your thoughts and feelings about the session, as well as your times/reps/sets for any conditioning sessions that you do.

Over time, you can look back on these logs to monitor your progress and improvements. A training diary can also be useful for planning out your week, scheduling what days you’re able to train around any other study, work, or social commitments you may have. Sitting down with your coach or parents on the weekend to plan out your training is a great routine to get into as you get older, and developing productive habits such as this will help you better manage your time.

Take the opportunity to look back and review your training diary from time to time, particularly after tournaments where you feel you have performed particularly well (or where you’ve performed particularly badly, if you’ve had an especially disappointing result), and see what were the sessions and workouts you did in the build-up to prepare for the match/competition. This way you can start to develop an optimal routine for your pre-tournament build up, that allows you to go out and really play your best squash.

Finish What You Set Out To Do

Once you’ve decided what you’re going to focus on in any conditioning session you have planned, work out how many reps/sets you’re going to complete… and stick to it!

All too often players set a target, then get a few sets in and decide that actually the session is maybe a little too hard, and stop a little short or cut a few reps out from the end. You can’t do this in a match, so don’t do it in training! At 9 all in the fifth, you have no choice but to push on and keep working – the habit of stopping short in sessions is a bad one to get into, and will likely affect your discipline and performance in matches.

Former world No.1 and four-time Commonwealth Gold medallist Peter Nicol (left) always used to say that whatever number you have written down for sets/reps in a session, you make sure that you complete that amount, however long it takes you.

Of course, it’s important that you plan your sessions properly, and make the workloads realistic and achievable so as not to make sessions unreasonably difficult – this is where the previous point about keeping a training diary becomes all the more important, to ensure that you are progressing your sessions appropriately over time, with the input of your coaches.

(That said, DO stop during any session in which you feel unwell or experience any pain – there is a big difference between pushing through the discomfort caused from a tough set of court sprints, and ignoring obvious sensations of illness or injury). –

Take Time To Recover

Last but not least, you must make sure to take time to rest and recover. One of my favourite sayings is ‘Train Hard, Rest Harder’ – the harder you’re working on-court or in your conditioning sessions, the more rest and recovery you’ll need to reap the rewards.

We don’t get fitter/stronger while we’re actually performing an exercise or drill, but in the period afterward as our bodies recover and recuperate and begin the process of growing that little bit stronger than they were before. Of course, this doesn’t mean being lazy and spending all your summer afternoons relaxing on the sofa in-between the occasional light hit or jog around the park.

It DOES mean however, that you make the effort to get to bed at a reasonable time, and get a minimum of around 9 hours quality sleep per night. It also means providing the proper fuel for your body to grow and rebuild after tough training sessions, by eating a good quality diet high in natural whole foods and fruit & veg, and low in sugars and saturated fat.

Ensure you drink plenty of water as well, particularly on warmer days when you are losing a lot of fluid through sweating. Make sure to also have a full day off from squash training at least once or twice a week, and take the time to relax and spend time with your friends. Light exercise such as swimming or cycling can be a great way to include a little ‘active recovery’ into your days off, and help recharge your batteries – physically AND mentally.

Always remember that playing squash and training should be something you enjoy and look forward to, it should never become a chore.