Welcome summer and operation bik... fitness!
Whatever your hobby is, you sometimes need a break. When I played more actively, for me the last tournament of the season was the European team championships in May. The season had been long: we had been working hard, playing at least a couple of tournaments every month, trying to keep our motivation as high as it was in September. After the Europeans I sighed in relief: I had a three-month-break from tournaments! I´m free as a bird! But now what?
I used to give my body and mind at least a two weeks´ total break from squash - I wouldn´t even think of it. I´d also let my body recover and charge batteries. However, because I love sport and I wanted to improve, summers would never be all beach and ice-cream for me. Those three months when squash league, competitions and regular group training sessions go on a break are a fantastic opportunity to work on those areas which you don´t normally work on so much during the active season and to give your fitness a real boost. So get fit with off-season training for squash! Here´s my top 3 for summer fitness training:
Training outdoors in a stairway is one of my favourite ways to train in summer. It´s very simple, too. The stairway doesn´t need to be very long for an efficient training session. Vary the way you sprint up the steps. For example like this:
• one step at the time: When you run up one step at the time, move your feet as fast as you can, as if the steps were burning, and remember to use your arms.
• two or three steps at the time: When you run up two or three steps at the time, concentrate on lunging powerfully.
• "skating" style You can also go up in a "skating" style: right foot, left foot, right foot... Here, rather than doing speed you concentrate on balance, because you´re supposed to stay on the balancing foot for a second or so. Remember to bend your knees!
• one foot only Finally, you can do one step at the time with one foot. For example, 10 steps each foot and change. You will feel this one in your calves the next day!
Always jog down the steps gently to recover. I tend to do a total of 10 to 20 sets, depending on how long the distance is, but even a few sets are a good start.
Make running more fun
If you compete in squash, you probably don´t do much running during the active season. Long-distance running can slow you down and make you feel stiff. Summer is the perfect time for running. I definitely belong to those who prefer running outdoors, preferably on the beach or park areas. Treadmill is fine, too, and allows you to better control your pace and choose uphill or downhill. Regardless of where you run, it´s a good idea to do some other stuff along the way. For example, if I run for 45 minutes, I tend to do between 5 and 8 sprints of about 100 metres before the halfway, then carry on running at a slower pace for a while and do another 5 to 8 sprints before going back home. At some point I stop at an outdoor gym or simply find a bench and do a short circuit training: push-ups, squats with an explosive jump, one-foot lunges and abdominals - 10-20 repetitions as fast as I can, 2-3 rounds.
About the sprints, you can vary the distance. If you do shorter ones, do them all-out. I also like to do the sprints speeding: start 60% of your full speed, gradually increase speed and finally run as fast as you can for 20-30 metres. You boost your oxygen uptake and will notice very soon how you become faster on the squash court.
If you simply detest running or your knees can´t take it, you can do this kind of training with a bicycle, especially on an indoor one. Vary the pace and the level of difficulty, do sprints, stand up... The training will be more versatile than if you just cycle at a constant pace. If you think of it, squash matches don´t normally last more than 30-60 minutes so physical training sessions should imitate this: shorter duration but lots of sprints and little "shocks" to your body.
Have you heard of the kettlebell? In case you´ve missed out on this fantastic training equipment, search on the web and find a gym where you can give it a go. For a squash player, it doesn´t make much sense to go to the gym and bump on your bicep. Kettlebell training is extremely efficient because you have to control basically all the muscles of your body. You also get out of breath much more than in traditional weight training in the gym so you combine strength with conditioning. It´s a supreme way to work out efficiently - to be honest, I only do traditional gym training with isolated movements because I happen to like it, but I really think that a squash player could replace all that stuff with kettlebell training. Other advantages are that you can do everything with one single piece of equipment - no more endless adding and removing of weights - and that the training can be done quickly: in just 20-30 minutes you´re soaked in sweat and have worked out the whole body. There are dozens of excellent movements you can do with the kettlebell, just search the web. However, if you try the kettlebell for the first time, have someone more experienced to show you to make the most out of it and to avoid injuries.
If you do each one of these once a week, you already have a nice basis for physical training in summer. When it comes to physical training, little things sum up. For example, do a few court sprints, a short intensive circuit or some rope jumping after match play. Most people don´t do this kind of stuff, so if you want to surprise your opponent when you get back on the court in September, take a habit of doing that bit of extra, especially during off-season. You can tell who´s done their off-season training for squash and who´s been lying under the palm tree. Yes, all this requires discipline, but isn´t it worth it as next season nobody wants to be on your side of the draw? Also, most importantly, don´t forget the ice-cream. Happy summer everyone!