In this article, I often talk about specific drills and exercises that are good for working on certain areas of your game, however, after doing a full session focused on lengths just this morning, I realised that I've never actually dissected a full training session from start to finish in a blog post.
As a qualified coach, I like to think that I know what I'm doing when it comes to putting together a training session or lesson plan, however, this morning I had the pleasure of hitting with a good friend of mine who is the head of racquet sports at Newcastle University.
He has been a squash coach for a lot longer than me and, since it's his full time job, he definitely knows what he's doing.
After a food-and-drink-heavy Christmas, we both decided that we wanted to work on lengths during the session to get that core base of our game back before we work on anything more specific.
I think the session we did today is an excellent way to practice your length game and build it into your in-match game as well.
We structured each drill (or progression) to build on the previous drill or exercise as we went on, so, in this article, I'll be going step-by-step through the session explaining what we did and why we did it...
So, to start with we both did a few dynamic stretches to warm up a bit.
I'm going to be honest with you all, I very rarely do a proper warm-up, I was just doing it because Liam was doing it. But, I can definitely feel the benefits of it both before and after I play squash in the form of being less stiff and sore on and off the court, so, I plan to do it more moving forward (especially before matches).
Dynamic stretches involve controlled movements through a full range of motion.
They are generally considered as better and safer before squash training or matches as they activate muscles, improve flexibility, and boost blood flow without the extended holds of static stretches.
Here are a few examples of dynamic stretches I did:
Arm circles - extending my arms and rotating them in small circles, gradually increasing the diameter
Leg swings - holding onto a wall or post for balance and swinging one leg forward and backward, then side to side
High knees & butt kicks - jogging on the spot and lifting my knees towards my chest alternatively while keeping my back straight, then doing the same but kicking my heels towards my butt
Lunges - there are a few variations you can play around with for this, I usually just stand still and lunge forward and push back off with alternate legs, then progress into split lunges where you jump and land in alternate lunges each time
Torso twists - standing with my feet shoulder-width apart and twisting my torso to one side and then the other, while keeping my lower body stable
Ankle rolls - lifting one foot and rotating my ankle clockwise, then counter-clockwise, and then repeating with the other foot
Anyway, next we jumped on the court to warm the ball up like you would in any normal session or match.
A little tip for this (as many players often just hit medium-paced drives back to themselves) is to warm up as many of your shots as possible.
Of course, start with hitting harder straight drives and volleys so the ball gets warmer faster, then, once it's starting to bounce quite well, you can start mixing up the pace and warming up other shots.
Play a few lobs, take in a few drops, hit a few cross court kills, and vary your cross-court as well. It'll get you primed and ready to play all your shots!
A Warm Up Routine
It's always good to start with a lighter routine that flows rather than a more competitive and fast-paced drill.
So, routine one for us was a boast and a straight drive where the player at the back is boasting it and the player at the front is playing a straight drive each time.
We did this mainly to warm up our movement (generally the player at the front does a lot of the moving), and, we swapped positions after a few minutes.
Then we added in the cross court drive for the player at the front and did another few minutes each.
After this, we moved on to our proper drills...
Now, since we were going to be practicing our lengths, we put two A4 sheets of paper down as targets just under a racquet's distance from the back of the service box, tight against the side wall.
This meant that we had something to aim for, but it wouldn't stop or disrupt the flow of the rally if one of us hit it.
So, for our first drill, we began by playing drop drive. One player is at the back hitting drops and one player is moving into the front and playing straight drives.
However, if you were at the back, you could also hit a drive back to yourself before dropping if you wanted, and, if you were at the front, you could hit a counter drop back to yourself and then a drive to the back if you wanted to.
For this drill, the player at the back needs to be very conscious of where the player at the front is, especially if they're going to hit a drive back to themselves, to avoid hitting their training partner! For this reason, there is also no volleying allowed in this drill.
We did this on both sides and then moved on to the next drill...
Our second drill was a basic length game where every shot had to land behind the mid-court line. Either player could volley if they wanted to, but, every shot had to go to the back.
We started by doing this on the forehand side and we then added in the volley drop, so, if the other player presented you with a loose opportunity, you can take it in short with a straight volley drop.
Next, we added in the drop from the back of the court and the counter drop and brought in points. So, basically, it became a full alley game up to 11 points.
We then moved onto the backhand and did the same progression on that side of the court.
We thought about adding in extra points for hitting the target but decided against it because we wanted rallies to go on for as long as possible, but, that's just an idea for you if you want to spice up the alley games a bit!
So, to progress on the previous drill, we changed a few things to simplify it again but also open up the other side of the court.
We added in the boast, and, from the boast, a straight drive must be played.
So, it's a straight-length rally to the back of the court only (with no drop shots), but, when a player had to (or wanted to) play a boast, they could, then, their training partner would have to play a straight drive, then the rally would continue on the other side of the court.
We did this for a while and began to add in more shots.
We added in the straight volley drop and played a bunch more rallies, then added the counter drop, then the cross-court from the front of the court only, then the volley cross court.
You might be thinking 'why add drops in if you're working on drives'? Well, the threat that your opponent has the ability to play a drop shot actually forces you to focus a lot harder on the accuracy of your drives.
If you hit anything loose, you run the risk of losing that rally!
Now, you don't have to do things in the same order we did, but, this is just to show you how we built and progressed on this drill by adding in more shots which forced us to both have to move more and cover more shots.
Once we had all of those shots included in the drill, we added in scoring. We did it based on lives rather than points (just because it sounded more fun for some reason). So, each of us started with 9 lives and every time someone made a mistake or couldn't return a shot, they lost a life.
A photo of me looking happy and Liam looking less happy after our session!
The next drill we did is quite a tiring one, so we only did it for a few minutes on each side, however, I thought it would be worth mentioning because it's a great one for encouraging players to get their drives as tight as possible.
The idea is for one player to start on the T line, and, one player starts at the back. The player at the back is trying to play a straight drive past their opponent, and the opponent on the T line has to volley every single shot with a straight drive too.
As soon as the player at the back gets a straight drive past their opponent, both players swap sides and the rally carries on.
This forces that player at the back to add tightness and pace to their drives to make sure their opponent can't volley it. One other restriction is that you can't just lob it as high as you can over your opponent so they can't volley it, that's not allowed.
Constantly trying to volley is very tiring, but, it's a good high pressure drill to practice to up the pace a little!
After the drills, we started on conditioned games which generally involve utilising most of the court but placing certain restrictions on either or both players.
Since we were working on lengths, we started with a simple game to the back of the court only. So, the ball had to bounce first bounce behind the mid-court line on every shot, otherwise that player would lose the point.
Volleys are allowed and rallies in this game often go on quite long since neither player is going for winners.
We just played this game up to seven points, then we changed the rules a little so the ball only had to bounce second bounce behind the mid-court line. This means that either player could go for a low, hard kill-like shot if the opportunity were to pop up.
We played up to seven for this as well.
We then added in the straight volley drop and played up to seven too, and, this naturally progressed into the last part of our training...
Pretty straight forward, but, we played a regular match to put our length game to the test. We just did a best of three match up to 11 points each game.
I ended up losing 2-1, however, I'm very pleased to have taken a game off of Liam as, generally, I would say that he is quite a lot better than me!
Despite being a bit fatigued at this point after all the drills, I definitely felt as though my length game was good. I think it was partly because I had been focusing on lengths for the whole time leading up to the match.
Since I had lengths on my mind, I was concentrating very hard on every single drive trying to hit my targets and keep the ball tight.
Some Light Fitness
So, I thought we had things over and done with, but, Liam had other ideas!
However, we both agreed that we didn't want to overdo it, so, we decided to do some light ghosting rotations and finish with some court sprints.
It's not a necessity to do fitness after or during your training sessions, however, Liam and I are both rusty and unfit from Christmas, plus, we're training for our local county closed tournament at the end of the month!
So, for that reason, we still wanted to push ourselves.
For ghosting, one player stood at the front and pointed to different corners while the other player had to move into each corner, do a lunge and a swing, then move back to the T.
We agreed to do this at around 70-80% of our maximum effort as to not kill ourselves for the court sprints.
We did four sets of one minute each.
Then, for the court sprints, we did seven sets of ten court sprints. We set a timer and basically had to do ten court sprints every minute for seven minutes.
So, we did the ten and then got to rest for the rest of that minute. This meant that if we did it fast, we got a longer rest, and, if we did it slow, we got a shorter rest.
Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted after this, but, it's been a long time since I've had such a high quality session, so, I felt extremelly satisfied after it too!
Now, I should maybe have mentioned this further up, but, this session was around one hour and thirty minutes long, which is certainly a long time to be training, and, I'm not expecting you all to train for that long regularly!
It's also worth noting that a friend of ours actually came to the club too early for his match, so, he joined in with some of the drills. This extra rotation made the drills a little easier and less tiring on the body.
The main purpose of this newsletter was to go through a well-structured session that builds and builds on each drill and routine as it goes in whilst focusing on a specific area of the game (which was lengths in this case).
So, hopefully, it's given you some inspiration to put together your own session training plan for improving either lengths or some other area of your game.
Perhaps I'll focus more articles on putting together a structured session for other specific areas of your game.
This article was taken from our On The 'T' Newsletter, if you're interested in receiving more content like this, please feel free to sign up using the subscribe section located at the bottom left of this page (or underneath the article if you're on mobile), thanks!