PREPARE TO MOVE

The type of movement and energy systems involved

 

Movement in the game of squash is extremely important. Anyone who has tried this sport will remember his first impression after just a few rallies. Most of us will probably have said, “this is hard work”! Obviously, at the beginning we don’t understand where the ball will end up and our wrong footwork makes us produce a double effort to get to the ball. It is true that better players would make much less effort than a beginner to get to the same shot, but don’t forget that better players would naturally have to chase and pick up better shots. So, normally, the better you move, the higher your level of play and the more difficult the shots you have to retrieve. In other words, an endless spiral of more and more effort to be made.

Running, or more correctly, moving, is not the only effort a squash player has to make. Hitting the ball hard may also be very tiring. The combination of sprinting from one point to the other and hitting the ball hard, therefore, requires adequate preparation. This preparation is partly physical and partly technical, not to mention the psychological aspect.

 

First, let us get to know more about the type of effort involved on the squash court, and the athletic qualities that a player should have. It would be best to look at the exertion and energy expenditure of good players to get a clearer view of the forces under examination. When watching a top-level match, we will notice that the players move at a relatively slow pace for some of the time during rallies or for a number of rallies. This kind of movement could be compared to long distance running at an elevated speed. Within these periods of relatively slow movement, the players will move quickly and aggressively in patches or for a few rallies. Players are also forced to move at sprinting intensity in situations where they are out-positioned and have to retrieve the ball.

 

At the same time, they are bending their legs and back, and using rapid upper body movements to hit the ball hard. Players are often seen lunging with one leg stretched forward or sideways, and have to push with their legs to get back up and back to the “T”. On some occasions a player will be seen jumping to volley a high lob. All within the context of the basic continuous movement from corner to corner.

 

The average length of a hard rally, at top level is around 30 to 35 seconds. Some rallies may last only a few seconds, but just as many could go on for around 60 seconds, and 2-minute rallies are not uncommon. Again, the intensity of the exchanges varies in patches. This gives us an idea of the type of physical stress that a player has to handle.

 

A good game at club level will last for about 10 minutes on average, while at international level, for around 25 to 30 minutes. A hard fought match at club level would typically last 45 minutes, while at top level, around an hour and a half.

 

Therefore, within these 45 minutes, a good club player will have to maintain constant movement, with breaks of 5 to 7 seconds between rallies. Within this constant movement, he will often have to be explosive and push hard with his legs, and sprint. He will have to repeat this sprint over and over again. He will have to stretch and go all the way down on his legs to the point of scraping his knees against the floor. He will often do this while in oxygen debt, and have to push off back and back- step to the centre of the court. He will have to jump on some occasions, and most of the time find the power to hit the ball hard. Over and above he must remain fresh enough to think about his tactics and to some extent, his technique. He must also be fresh enough to maintain his good balance, sensitivity and reflexes.

 

A serious professional must be twice as prepared. So, how is it possible to achieve all this? How can a player move so well, and last for so long?

 

To do so, he must be aerobically fit, have good endurance and stamina, speed, flexibility, co-ordination, balance, elasticity, agility, strength, and power. All these are qualities that any fit squash player should have. The first fitness problem any club player would want to resolve is, how not to be left out of breath, or more precisely, with an oxygen debt. Before going on to explore how technically correct movement is most important, and go through physical conditioning and training, we must better understand the energy systems involved. By doing so, we will have completed the picture depicting the type and amount of effort made by a squash player in action.

 

 

THE AEROBIC ENERGY SYSTEM.

 

The aerobic energy system is that which relies on the presence of oxygen for the release of energy. When an athlete works aerobically, his energy requirements will not exceed the proportional amount of oxygen necessary to release that amount of energy. Therefore, a well-trained athlete could go on working aerobically for hours. However, there is another element to be added to the equation, and that is the energy source. The fuel we use as energy, and the benefits of aerobic training will be discussed later, before going on to the subject of how to train. For now, let us just establish the idea that when the amount of exertion or intensity of training remains within our capacity to take in oxygen and utilise it in time, the type of work done is aerobic. Hence, when the type of work or movement is not too intense for an athlete, he is functioning within his aerobic threshold. So, what happens beyond this threshold?

 

To see the section on aerobic training and its importance for a squash player, click here.

 

THE ANAEROBIC LACTATE ENERGY SYSTEM.

 

When an athlete goes beyond his aerobic threshold, he begins to make use of another energy system. As the athlete works harder, he gets to the point where the extra momentary work will lead to a temporary increase in energy transformation which is not paralleled by an increase in oxygen utilisation. Why the use of the phrase extra momentary work? Because this increased intensity is beyond his previous pace and cannot be sustained for long. Why say temporary increase in energy transformation? Because here too, the increase in energy release could only be sustained for ten’s of seconds only. The words “transformation” and “release” are used, as opposed to saying energy produced or created; otherwise, my physics schoolteacher would get very angry!

 

Now back to the important stuff. Therefore, the amount of oxygen which could be "sucked" into the lungs and into the blood stream, then pumped by the heart to the muscles and into the specific fibres and cells, is not enough to sustain this extra demand for energy. How does the body cope? By temporarily releasing energy in the absence of oxygen. This is why when an athlete stops after such an effort, he is seen to continue breathing heavily even though he has stopped. He is only paying back the oxygen debt. It is as if he had borrowed a different commodity from his cells, as a loan to keep going, and promised to pay back in oxygen later. One drawback that has already been mentioned is that the loan is limited to a short time span. The second, is that the interest payments on the loan are high and become much higher if payment is delayed.

 

This is where the name originates. The “nasty” by-product lactic acid, is the interest paid on the loan. Hence, the name anaerobic lactate. The lactic acid is produced as a result of the release of energy in the absence of sufficient amounts of oxygen. The lactic acid levels will also build up as long as the athlete continues to move with intensity. The role of the lactic acid is to create some discomfort, then muscular pain, and if produced in maximal quantities will lead to muscular failure. Therefore, lactic acid acts as the brakes of an automobile, to prevent further damage. This is natures way of warning the person that he is going beyond his limits, then stopping him from going too far beyond and destroying his skeletal muscles or heart. Even normal quantities of lactic acid will cause a very small amount of muscle fibre damage or micro-fractures.

 

A trained athlete, however, will produce less lactic acid, be able to drain it away more efficiently, and even recycle a small part to be used as fuel for energy. He will also oxygenate better when he rests, recover quicker, and be able to repeat the same exertion, time and time again. More of this will be addressed later. The section on fitness training takes this into account and explains how to reach levels where the athlete would be least affected by the negative aspects of anaerobic work. You may go to this section to find out more now.

 

THE ANAEROBIC PHOSPHATE ENERGY SYSTEM.

 this system jumps into

This system jumps into action when an athlete produces explosive movements. Clear examples of such movements would be jumping, sprinting, or power movements with weights. These are movements of maximal intensity and could only be sustained for up to around 5 seconds. This system is available to us, probably for survival purposes in emergency situations, and does not depend on the presence of oxygen, but rather on the availability of quantities of ATP. Unfortunately the amounts of ATP available are sufficient to release energy at these levels for only a few seconds at a time, and after around a minute’s rest, the levels are back again to normal.

 

Therefore, it would be impossible for a sprinter to run a full 100m dash then repeat a comparable effort after a 30 seconds rest. However, he could well sprint for 50m then repeat the same distance several times at the same speed with 30 seconds rest intervals in between. This is possible because during his 5 or 6 seconds sprint, he has not completely depleted the ATP reserves. Also, during the 30 seconds rest interval, a 50% recovery of the cells’ reserves should be complete. A highly trained athlete would be capable of repeating an incredible amount of short sprints with only 20 to 30 seconds of recovery time. See the section on speed endurance, speed training and anaerobic phosphate training if you wish, by clicking here.

 

THE ART OF MOVEMENT ON A SQUASH COURT

 

Correct movement really is an art. Just watching top pro’s in a match or during training, makes us wonder how they seem so effortless under most conditions. Having read the sections above and understood the various components of squash fitness and the energy systems, it is obvious that moving at the right intensity is vital. The sections below will teach us correct, efficient movement. The photo illustrations and video clips will render the ideas clear on how to be fast and efficient on court.

 

 

MOVING OFF THE T   mot

 

 

Moving off the T and back is perhaps the most vital element to be learnt. In this section you will find important information on how to move from the T in order to reach a shot in a fast, economical, and precise manor.

 

A player could be standing on the T, feeling ready and quick. He sees his opponent play the boast. He pounces on the ball with lightning speed, only to discover that he has arrived too early, and too close to the front wall. The boast was not as good as he thought. The ball had been hit too hard, had bounced too high on the front wall and shot off towards the centre of the court instead of staying tight in the corner. He therefore, takes a step back in order to get into a good position for the shot, but discovers that he still has to prepare his racket. He had forgotten about his back-swing.

 

He takes his racket back in a hurry, but now, he has very little time to hit the ball, which is about to make its second bounce on the floor. What an effort. In the end, he just about made it and felt very rushed. He thinks, “I’m too slow. Next time I will have to take off earlier and move faster”. But, as you guessed, it could only get worse.

 

How often have we wondered, how top players have so much time, and seem so effortless. Now the above example may be slightly exaggerated, but believe me, I’ve seen this happen to many players. If  not the exact sequence, then something very similar. They would be taking the back-swing when they are very close to the ball. An arm moving backwards while the body is moving forwards would slow them down and ruin the timing of the shot. They may not take a step backwards when arriving too close to the ball, but, nevertheless, alter and adjust their position. This is time and energy wasted, and may lead to a body position with little balance. Holding an off-balance position is very tiring, and returning to the T from that position would be slow and uneconomical.

 

The above description may not be easy to see through less expert eyes. At first glance, while watching a club player, for example, something seems to be wrong in their movement. A lack of fluidity and co-ordination. When you practice the following moves explained below in this section, it will all become more obvious to you. The feeling you will get is wonderful, when you are able to spontaneously co-ordinate your actions before and after striking the ball.

 

While standing on the T, and looking at the opponent executing his shot, the player must be carefully observing the ball. Its speed, angle of trajectory, (off the side wall when the boast is played), and point of impact on the front wall. This information makes him understand where the ball will make its first bounce, and most important of all, its second bounce on the floor. Remember that the rules state that the ball must not bounce twice, rather than “the player must hit the ball after the first bounce”!

 

A squash player, in reality, will find that most of the time, at the frontcourt he/she is hitting the ball before it makes the second bounce rather than after it makes the first. This is an important consideration to make, because this is how a clever squash player is able to create time. A lesser player will be rushed and not realise that searching to hit the ball at the top of its bounce could be fatal. Just think how many shots end up touching the sidewall after the first bounce on the floor. When a ball touches the sidewall, it loses speed. Therefore, when it comes off the sidewall, it’s on the way down again. In other words, it makes contact with the sidewall at the crest of the bounce. A player who is always searching to impact the ball at the peak of its curve will find himself often banging his racket against the wall. Ever wondered why tennis players make their rackets suffer on a squash court?

 

Having said this, let us go back to our position on the T. It is therefore, vital to move off the T when it is very clear where the second bounce will occur, and where the player will position himself in relation to the ball at the moment (point) of impact. Only in this way will the player be precise and economical in his movement. Expert players and top professionals may be seen to move in extremely early sometimes, to steal some time off their opponents or use deception, but they never move in before understanding where they will meet the ball. They do move in with the second bounce in mind, but with their expertise, they can read that extremely early.

 

Another key element in movement technique is the direction of the feet as the player takes his first steps. The shoulders should be turned with the feet still directed towards the front wall. The general rule is that the closer the player is to the initial position on the T, the more the feet should be pointing forward. The opposite is also true. The more distant a player is from the T, the more the feet should be pointing towards the ball. This rule also applies on the way back to the T.

 

In the few paragraphs above, a hypothetical example has demonstrated the importance of co-ordinating correct racket preparation with precise footwork towards one of the front corners. Also, the concept of trying to accurately predict the ball’s second bounce has been underlined. To follow, more shall be said about these important elements with reference to different areas of the court. Every possible movement shall be explained and analysed with the scope of improving court coverage.

 

 

 

BASIC MOVEMENT TO THE FRONT AND RETURNING TO THE MIDDLE.

 

The front forehand corner- for beginners

 

A beginner should be first introduced to frontcourt movement with this simple exercise. The coach should set up the ball high and slow onto the front wall. The starting position is illustrated in the first photo, with the arm and racket in front. It is most important to lean fractionally forward with the upper body when standing on the T.  The player immediately uses the wrist to take the tip of the racket behind, and then uses his arm to take the racket well back. He then turns his shoulders while keeping the legs pointed straight ahead and maintaining perfect balance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The player has understood where the ball will make its second bounce and so, begins to take his first steps.

 

 

Having moved forward enough, he turns towards the chosen point of impact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He begins to swing at the ball.

 

 

At the end of the follow-through, he moves back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The racket remains in front. The body assumes a frontal position on the last few short steps back to the T.

 

The player has been instructed not to move in the direction of the ball, but rather choose a point on the floor about one and a half meters to the left. Note how the player has been taught to bend his legs and go down while approaching the ball. In doing so, he arrives perfectly in position. At the end of the swing, the racket is left free to travel to produce a long follow-through, and the player turns his shoulders well. The first move backwards sees the player with the upper body still inclined forwards, to maintain his balance. The steps to the middle of the court should be fairly short and relaxed unless the player has played a bad shot and needs to return with urgency. Finally, the player is back on the T and is slightly leaning forward with knees fractionally flexed, ready for the next move. The video clip concentrates on the player in action when all has been put together.

 

 

 

The front backhand corner- for beginners

 

Beginners should try to get this part of their game right before attempting to play rallies against another person. The front backhand corner is a potential weak point, which must be given special attention. The same principles apply here as has been seen above for the forehand. That is, the player must observe the ball's bounce, identify the eventual point of impact, turn the shoulders well for good racket preparation, then finally move through the middle of the court to one side of the ball. In this video clip the player goes through the correct procedure and is perfectly positioned to hit the ball with good timing. A long follow-through allows gradual weight transfer to return to the T.

 

 

 

With the arm and racket in front of the body, the player is neutrally positioned for any shot on either side.

 

 

Having seen the ball to his left, the racket is immediately taken back, as preparation for the backhand.

 

 

 

The shoulders are turned as much as possible before stepping forward.

 

 

The player endeavours to keep his feet pointing towards the front wall.

 

 

 

The path through the middle of the court allows the player to keep his distance from the ball and sidewall.

 

 

He may choose to hit straight or across the court.

 

 

 

The shot does not end on impact.

 

 

The follow through adds power but the arm's momentum greatly helps stepping back.

 

 

 

Stepping back is quicker and effortless with the racket up.

 

 

Only the head is turned towards the ball. The player is therefore, ready at any moment in time for a potential change in direction to the forehand side.

 

 

When learning this entry and exit, the beginner should be moving forward to hit an easy ball. He/she should not be tempted to move before completing the back-swing and must remember not to move towards the ball. For a more detailed account on moving into this corner and back under more difficult conditions, including how to avoid the various common errors, see the section below.