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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on July 25, 2023

Movement Matters: 3 Drills To Improve Your Footwork

Since it's the off-season, some of you may be playing a bit less squash and taking a well-earned breather to enjoy the nice weather at this time of year.

However, many of you may also be using this time to train and prepare yourself for the coming season, which could give you an advantage over other players who aren't doing so!

Personally, I'm trying to stay consistent with my training for squash, however, this doesn't necessarily just include hitting balls on-court, I'm also taking advantage of the good weather by doing a lot of running and outdoor fitness activities.

Another key aspect of training that many players such as myself neglect, especially during the off-season, is our movement and footwork. This is usually the area of my game that is the most rusty when the new season begins and I know many other players who experience this too.

So, I thought I'd use this opportunity to focus on three of my personal favourite movement and footwork drills that help you maintain and improve your speed, efficiency, and fluidity...

Variations of Ghosting

Unfortunately, yes, I'm going to start with what is often perceived as the most boring part of squash training, and that's ghosting.

Ghosting is essentially just repeatedly practicing movement patterns (with or without a racquet, and without a ball).

The reason so many players don't like it is because it doesn't involve using a ball at all and can often get physically (and mentally draining) pretty fast, depending on what type of ghosting you're doing.

I could write a newsletter on the different variations of ghosting alone as there are so many ways to mix it up depending on which aspects of movement you want to improve.

I'll mention a couple of good go-to ghosting exercises here, and then you can adapt and change them to suit your own goals and needs.

Explosive Ghosting

The first ghosting drill is one I used to do with my coach a lot when I was a junior and I really think it helped my explosive speed (especially when pushing off of the T) and ball retrieval abilities during matches.

My coach would stand against the front wall in the middle and stick a 1-minute timer on his phone. When he started the timer, he would then point to a random one of six areas of the court and I would have to move into that corner and either swing my racquet or touch the wall as fast as possible and then get back to the T as fast as possible.

By the time I got back to the T, my coach would already be pointing to a different corner of the court for me to move into.

These six areas were the back two corners, the front two corners, and the side two corners (where you would move laterally from the T along the T line either left or right, as if you were going to volley and intercept your opponent's drive in a real match situation).

For this drill, my coach would tell me to exert between 80% and 100% effort for every single movement.

As you can imagine, this one was pretty physically demanding, which is why we would usually do 1-minute at a time with a 1-minute rest in between each one.

You can do this with a training partner and just time your partner while you're on your minute break.

Ghosting For Fluidity And Efficiency

For this drill, you will be ghosting at around 30 - 50% of your maximum effort, so it's a lot less physically demanding, however, it is still quite mentally demanding as you have a lot to think about including how many steps you take, which foot you push off with, and which foot you lunge in with.

It's pretty similar to the drill above, but you can do this one on your own as you're less dependent on a coach or training partner to keep you motivated and moving fast (like the previous drill).

However, it's always helpful to have a second person there who can watch your movement from a third-person perspective and give you tips on where you may be able to improve.

Anyway, for this drill, just start on the T and make slow movements into each of those six corners trying to be as smooth as possible with each one.

Start by thinking of your split step and which foot you want to push off with. The split step allows you to move quickly off of the T in any direction and, if you mess it up, you may end up lunging on an uncomfortable foot as well as moving slower in general.

A split step is, when you're on the T, you take a small jump in the air with both feet, land with your feet slightly further apart, and then push off toward the ball.

As you land after this small jump, if you're moving to the right side of the court, you should aim to land with your left foot on the floor a split second earlier than your right foot (and vice versa for moving into the left side of the court).

If you haven't practiced this before, just take it slow and practice that for a while until it doesn't feel weird anymore. Then you can start concentrating on moving into the corners.

After the split step, you need to get a feel for how many steps you're aiming to take towards the ball before lunging, as this ultimately determines which leg you lunge in on.

It's quite difficult to go into great detail on this in just words, it's more just a question of experimenting and seeing what feels the most comfortable and what uses the least energy.

For example, a problem I often experience is taking too many small steps after pushing off of the T and then doing a really big lunge into the ball, which ends up using a lot of energy.

I've been working on fixing this using this drill and I'm starting to see results. You don't want to be taking massive strides or lunges towards the ball, but you also don't want to be taking steps that are too small.

Find that middle ground and you'll be fine.

Then comes the more monotonous part of practicing and repeating this exercise to drill it into your head and your muscles so it just becomes force of habit during a match situation.

However, it can give you a huge advantage in matches as you will not get fatigued as quick, you will be able to reach more balls, and you may experience less pain and stiffness after matches too.

If you want to do a bit of homework, you can watch almost any PSA World Tour player and take notes of their movement, as nearly all of them will move to an exceptional standard.

It can be really helpful to just watch footage of their matches on the SquashTV YouTube channel, you can slow these videos down and pause them to take note of smaller details.

Some notable fluid and efficient movers in my opinion are Ali Farag, Nour El Sherbini, Paul Coll, and Nele Gilis. If you're looking to learn from some more explosive movers, I'd also advise taking a look at Nouran Gohar, Joel Makin, Mohamed ElShorbagy, Fares Dessouky, Miguel Rodriguez, and Nour El Tayeb.


Photo credit: Steve Cubbins

The Cone Speed Test

In my opinion, this is one of the few fun movement drills, but I know that's completely subjective!

I haven't done this one for a while, but, during bigger group training sessions, it was always a really good one to finish on.

It's essentially a movement speed test that helps you work on your movement speed and efficiency. Since you're going for the fastest time possible, you want to find that sweet-spot between large and small steps and lunges.

It also involves a lot of changing direction which is great for strengthening a variety of leg muscles.

All you need are some cones (or any object that's a similar size that can be used as a marker to move into and around on the court).

Anyway, rather than trying to explain this drill in the newsletter, I actually spotted a video of World No.24, Patrick Rooney, doing a version of it on his Instagram which is very similar to the way I do this drill. This was also one of the things that inspired me to write this week's newsletter!

The only difference is the movement pattern itself and the layout of the cones. Click here to watch the video of Patrick doing the drill (but make sure to come straight back to the newsletter to carry on reading)!

As you can see, he's moving in and physically touching the white cones (that appear to be taped to the floor of the court) and then moving back around the red cones without touching them.

Of course, he makes it look very easy and smooth, and that's exactly the point of this drill!

You can do this on your own, but it might be a little more difficult to time yourself properly, so, if you can get a partner or group together it'll be easier.

It'll also be more fun as, not only are you tracking your own progression by trying to beat your own previous times, but you're also trying to beat the times of the rest of the group.

I've included a diagram below of how I personally used to do the drill. It does have some differences from how Patrick was doing it, my version involves sharper changes of direction, for example.

You would start on the green dot and when your partner says go and presses 'start' on the timer, you would push off and follow the route of the blue dotted line.

Again, the idea is to lunge in and physically touch the blue circles, then move out and back around the red circles all the way around the court, then finish by touching the back door.

It's up to you which way you set up this speed test, but make sure to do it the same (or as similar as possible) every time so your times stay accurate and you can track your improvement.

Speed Test Drill

A Shot And A Ghost

With most drills in squash, it's often very helpful to be able to progress it from a basic starting point so you can find your bearings and get a feel for it, then to progress the drill by adding conditions to make it closer and closer to resembling a real match situation.

Well, this is the situation with ghosting drills too!

Generally, if you've done the generic styles of ghosting by repeating the movements and footwork without using a ball, you may feel comfortable and ready to put it into practice with some hitting.

However, once you start adding in the factor of actually hitting the ball, it gives you a lot more things to think about that may distract you from thinking about your movement, so it's important to make these drill progressions gradually.

You may find that your movement suffers a little once you start hitting the ball as well.

Anyway, that's why it's a great idea to combine ghosting and hitting into one drill rather than just diving into a more competitive situation too quickly.

If you're lucky enough to have a training partner or coach, they will be very helpful for this drill.

A shot and a ghost is essentially exactly how it sounds.

Your partner will feed you and you will move in and play a shot back to them, then they will catch the ball and hold onto it as you then do a ghost movement into another area of the court.

Then just do this for 2 minutes or so before switching. It'd be best to start simple, for example, your partner would feed you a service line height shot from a back corner, you'd just hit a straight drive back to them and then do your ghost into any corner of the other side of the court.

Like other drills, you can make it as physically demanding as you want!

If you want to work on speed, you can get your partner not to give you much of a break when they feed the ball, and you can ghost at 70%+ of your maximum movement effort.

You can also get them to mix their feed up so you don't know where the ball is going, and you can work on mixing your ghosting up too.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it! A few ways to step up your movement during the off-season to give you the edge over your opponents when the new season comes about!

There are countless ways to work on your movement, but, the drills above are probably my favourites and I've seen real results in my game from doing them!

Regardless of how good you believe your movement is, there's always room for improvement, that's why the best players in the world work on this stuff on a regular basis too!

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!

Published by Alex Robertson July 25, 2023
Alex Robertson