Stiffness plays a pretty big role in the feel of the racquet as well as the type of player it's suited to, despite this, it seems as though there isn't a ton of information about racquet flexibility and stiffness out there.
Out of all the specs of a racquet (weight, balance, head size, string tension, string pattern etc), I'd say that flexibility is probably one of the least understood specs in the world of squash, and, there is surprisingly little information online
It seemed like the perfect topic for a blog post...
When the stiffness or flexibility of a racquet is referred to, this is basically talking about the amount of movement (or flex) in the frame when the ball makes contact with the strings.
So, as you can imagine, a stiff racquet's frame will not move or bend much when you hit the ball, whereas a flexible racquet's frame will.
If you've played with a number of different racquets, you might have noticed the difference in feel on contact with the ball depending on the racquet.
If you do have the chance to hit with a very stiff racquet and then hit with a very flexible racquet, I'd recommend trying it out just so you can feel the difference.
With that said, not everyone has access to many different racquets, whereas I regularly review our range of racquets at Control the 'T' Sports so I have a good level of experience hitting with different feeling frames. This is why I'm writing this article!
Anyway, in the rest of this article, I'll go through the benefits and drawbacks of stiff racquets vs flexible racquets (giving examples of specific models), the styles of players that they benefit the most, and I'll also show some video content of myself hitting with one very stiff racquet and one very flexible one.
Stiff Racquets - Who Do They Benefit?
A stiffer frame, in theory, should provide users with more power. Since a stiff frame doesn't flex much, the thought process behind this is that you won't be losing as much energy when the ball hits the strings as you would lose with a more flexible racquet.
There is also an argument to be made that stiff racquets aid accuracy to a certain extent as well. Since there is less distortion of the frame when it makes contact with the ball, the ball should be easier to hit straighter.
It could be said that you need to be more precise with your hitting with a stiffer racquet, in particular, where you're hitting on the string bed, as the sweet spot is usually smaller and less forgiving if you miss-hit the ball slightly.
I personally use a very stiff squash racquet, the Harrow Vapor Ultralite, and I absolutely love it, but as I mentioned above it's all about your own preference and your own style of play.
I recently jumped on the court to test the racquet's strengths and weaknesses (and to get some footage of myself playing with it). I've cut together a few short snippets to highlight some of the benefits of this stiff frame.
The Vapor Ultralite is a pretty powerful racquet due to its stiff frame, however, you have to concentrate fully on hitting every single shot with purpose to get the ball where you want it to go. It doesn't give you any freebies and it's not particularly forgiving, however, if you can tame it, you will reap the rewards of accuracy.
Check out the video below to see what I'm talking about...
It might just be me, but I do think that you can actually hear the stiffness of the frame when I'm hitting the ball hard. It's quite a sharp noise in comparison to the sound made by a more flexible racquet, which makes a deeper noise (I will feature a clip of me hitting with a flexible racquet in the next section).
It feels unbelievably clean when you hit that sweet spot which makes it really satisfying to play with. One small drawback I'd mention is that this stiffness can feel slightly harsh on the arm, I wouldn't say it's uncomfortable in the slightest, but the impact is noticeable at times.
If your opponent is playing a very fast-paced game and cracking a lot of hard balls in your direction, it might be more difficult to control the ball with a stiff racquet. With that said, if you are confident in your racquet skills, this might not be an issue.
Racquets with a stiff frame are excellent for power and it could be noted that they also assist in hitting accurate straight balls.
If you're aiming to hit shots towards a target on the front wall and for them to go straight down the line, a stiffer frame will distort less on contact with the ball and is less likely to send the ball off on a slightly different angle.
I'd also like to mention feel. Stiffer frames don't necessarily provide good 'feel', however, this is a little subjective. For example, some players may prefer the feel of the ball coming off the strings fast (like it does on stiff racquets).
Others may prefer the feeling of a racquet that cups the ball well and allows the player that bit of extra dwell time of the ball on the racquet to control where it goes, which is a feature that's associated more with flexible frames...
Flexible Racquets - Who Do They Benefit?
Just because I use a stiff frame myself doesn't mean I have anything against more flexible racquets, in fact, some of the nicest racquets I've used have been on the flexible side.
Defining the key benefits of a flexible squash racquet is a little more difficult. It is generally thought that flexible racquets are more control orientated, which is true to an extent. The thought process behind this is that the ball will dwell on the racquet a bit longer and cup the ball better allowing the player to better control where the ball ends up.
But, I'd also like to mention that there is an argument to be made that flexible racquets can still pack a punch due to the trampoline effect caused by the longer dwell time on the strings, which can give a bit more pop, especially with a slower swing. The counter to this argument is that energy may be lost when the frame bends more on a harder struck ball.
I think the best way to put it is, if your goal is to hit balls straight down the line aiming for a specific target on the front wall, then a stiff frame will work well for that. However, if you're looking to control accuracy and play balls into different corners of the court (dictating where the first and second bounces land), a flexible frame may suit you better.
As a whole, I think flexible racquets are much more fun to play with due to their forgiveness and larger sweet spot. This gives players some extra maneuverability for improvising in tricky positions as well as a larger margin for error.
For this reason, flexible racquets can make it easier to play around with different angles, dig the ball out of tight spots, and keep yourself in fast-paced rallies where you might be under a lot of pressure.
Again, I think I should mention the subjective topic of 'feel'. If you look at squash legends from the past such as Amr Shabana and Jonathon Power, as well as players like Tarek Momen from today's PSA World Tour, they can all be described as players who demonstrate great feel.
They're all renowned for their ability to take the ball in very short with great accuracy and consistency and they also all use (or used) flexible racquet models.
In general, I find that Dunlop racquets often have pretty flexible frames, in particular the new Sonic Core series. Below is a few clips of me hitting with the super flexible frame of the Dunlop Sonic Core Pro 130...
Flexible frames like the Sonic Core Pro 130 are really comfortable and soft on the arm, even when you hit a little outside the sweetspot, although it takes a bit more effort to hit the ball with pace, the impact is still really minimal on your arm.
With regards to the 'fun' side of flexible racquets, this is mainly down to the fact that it's a lot easier to improvise with the ball without being too worried about making a mistake. You can play around with all sorts of paces, angles, slices, and shots, and you can let the racquet do a lot of the work for you.
I think the most important thing to note in this summary is that, yes, stiffer frames do benefit power more and flexible frames help with control, but, all racquets have a bunch of other specifications that also affect these things.
A very open string pattern on a flexible racquet will help with producing power whereas conversely a dense 16x19 string pattern on a stiff frame will help with control.
Material, composition, weight, balance, type of string, string pattern, and other technologies used all impact how a racquet feels and plays and the type of player it will benefit.
Frame flexibility is just another important thing to take that you should take into account when choosing which racquet is right for you.
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