Squash Detraining: A College Example

It is holiday time in most of the world, and for most squash players, so getting out of squash shape (or staying in good squash shape) is a concern for most committed players – no matter what level they play at.  To help squash coaches understand detraining (click this link for a concise summary) I am going to go over a real example from former Smith College Squash Team.

Our last team practice was on Thursday, December 15 – and we start up again practicing twice a day on Monday, January 9th – so a break of 24 days!  I don’t in fact use the term “break” – I use the periodization term “transition”, which is actually more descriptive of what should occur during this period – activities that bridge the gap from one part of our season to another (here is the link to our team’s periodized annual plan).  The short transition period that occurs between two halves of a season does differ from the end-of-season transition period of 4-6 weeks where primarily cross-training activities should occur.

The transition period for a college squash team involves more than simply “staying in shape physically” and presents a number of challenges to be met – here is a summary of the objectives for my college team:

  • De-stress to prevent burnout and staleness.  For a college athlete it is difficult to completely separate athletic and academic stress.  Although squash can be a source of relaxation during a busy semester (remember squash in the U.S. is played a highly challenging academic schools – Smith College being right up there with the Ivy’s), training and playing 12-16 hours a week must be taken into account when calculating the overall stress load.  My team started practicing before any other college team in the U.S. (Sept.12) and the five tennis players on my team were practicing tennis two weeks prior to that (they joined us in the last week of October) – and this year, exams went right up until December 22.
  • Maintain squash skills and tactical memory with no access to squash courts. Most of the players on my team learned their squash at Smith, and so are not usually from “squash communities” – only one actually has access to courts through a family membership – and two are international students staying on campus (gym is closed??).
  • Maintain physical shape to prevent performance loss and injury upon resuming practice.  January is actually our training period (Competition Period in periodization lingo) with our highest training volume – 20-30 hours a week during the no-classes interterm period.
  • NCAA Rules state that all “out-of-season” training must be voluntary, with no coach supervision (e.g., training logs, etc.) allowed – another example of how NCAA rules negatively effect athlete well-being (read more about that here).

Since squash physical performance involves both “endurance” qualities (aerobic and anaerobic endurance) and “strength” related qualities (power, agility, strength-endurance), the minimization of detraining for both must be taken into account. The Pfitzinger chart summarizes the endurance detraining process and here is a great link that discusses losses in strength – along with a graph of squat training/detraining – somewhat relevant to squash.

Recommendations for College Squash Athletes

Despite the fact that loss in both endurance and strength performance can range from 10-20% , the good news is that physical losses can be minimized and physical shape substantially maintained with two, high intensity workouts a week.  This means two very tough squash matches against an opponent of equal ability – or, two 20-minute high intensity aerobic workouts (at least 80-85% of HR max – preferably a variety of  short intervals with a 1:1 or 1:1/2 work:rest ratio to mimic the requirements of squash – for example “ghost” 15s :rest 15s or ghost 30s : rest 30s) and preferably on separate days (or prior to the aerobic workouts) to minimize “physiological interference” (I just coined this term:) two strength workouts (of the same type and level of intensity that was being performed prior to the “break”).

Without access to squash courts, squash technique and tactics can be maintained through 2-3 visualization sessions of 15-20 minutes a week.  A similar amount of watching squash videos on YouTube should help as well without overloading the college athlete on their Winter Break.

Please feel free to download and use a summary of my Using Imagery to Support Advanced Squash Tactics presentation at the 2005 Squash Canada Coaching Conference:  Squash Tactics Visualization (Bacon, 2005).  It contains some imagery worksheets.

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