There are many components that make up the physical side of the squash game. The most well-known ones are muscular strength, muscular endurance, and speed. Those components are important, but there's another component that is often neglected. That missing piece is flexibility. Without flexibility, it is very difficult to move around the squash court in an optimal way, and as a result the chance of injury goes up. In order to have longevity in squash, it is crucial for any squash player to incorporate flexibility into their training.
There are many other buzzwords such as "mobility" or "pliability". It is important to understand the distinct differences between the definitions of each. Flexibility technically refers to the ability for a muscle to lengthen (typically in a passive way). Mobility refers to the ability of a joint to actively move through its range of motion. Pliability (buzzword made popular by Tom Brady) refers to muscles that are long and soft and ready to fire at maximum capacity. Each of these definitions highlights a slightly different quality, but ultimately I believe they are all explaining the same goal: the ability to move freely. For the purpose of this post, I will use "flexibility" as an umbrella term that covers all 3.
It's not hard to see that top squash players are incredibly flexible. Look at any top 10 player and just about all of them can do a full split. Even strength/power players like Greg Gaultier or Mohamed El Shorbagy are incredibly flexible.
And this flexibility is not just for show! Because they have so much flexibility through the hips they are able to lunge and get lower to the ball. This is particularly important in the front corners. These pictures illustrate the extreme examples of defending a very low shot, but having flexibility helps with other aspects of the game as well. Rotational flexibility through the hips allows players to split step off the T more efficiently. Flexibility through the thoracic spine allow players to reach farther out for shots while keeping the centre of mass closer to the T. Shoulder flexibility allows players to hit through the ball more, particularly on the backhand side.
So what does this mean for the average squash player? The answer is not that everyone should learn to do the splits. Instead, it is important to incorporate FLEXIBILITY TRAINING into your schedule. Most people do some stretching before or after a workout, but in order to make any noticeable change, flexibility needs to be a priority. Just like you would plan a weightlifting session or a bike session into your schedule, you need to plan a stretching session into your schedule too. A good start would be doing a 45-min stretching session once a week. Start with static stretching of the legs, hips, and shoulders. Google "couch stretch", "figure 4 stretch" and "chest stretch against a wall" as a good start. In order to properly relax the muscle, you need to hold the stretch for at least 2 mins!!! After that, you can do some dynamic stretches such as "spiderman stretch" or "hip CARs" (google them).
After developing more flexibility, it is important to continue developing muscular strength, endurance, and speed on top of the new flexibility. Don't neglect one for the other. All these components work together!
- Cam Seth