Do Squash Players Need Big Biceps? Part II

January 24, 2009

This post is a bit tongue-in-cheek since I have already blogged on this topic during last year’s Wimbledon where the British press was all in a tizzy about Andy Murray’s new training regime – a key part being building his biceps by doing chin-ups with a weights attached to a belt around his waist.  I pointed out the irony of the press reporting on his newly powerful 127 m.p.h. serves, while on the same page reporting on skinny Venus William’s setting a tournament record with a 128 m.p.h. serve.

One of the major points for squash coaches is that a player’s success can often be in spite of and not because of a given training activity – and that often there are unseen or unspoken factors involved that contribute to a player’s success.  The same of course would apply to squash coaches – if our players are being successful it does not mean that everything we are doing with them is contributing to their success.  For example the type of drills we do with them may have a negligible effect on their game, but our charismatic leadership style may be propelling them upward to unseen heights!  Without a careful and critical dissection of all training activities by coaching experts it would be difficult to determine.

In the case of Andy Murray, the use of intensive, upper body strength training methods was coincident with a new determination and focus to improve and achieve, this resultant attitude being mostly responsible for his rise in the tennis rankings (will he win the Australian Open?).

In the case of squash, it is even more clear that the size of the biceps (i.e., upper body strength) is irrelevant to both hitting the ball hard and a player’s squash ranking.  A prime example of this would be a casual inspection of John White’s upper body – John holds the official world record of 172 m.p.h. for a squash drive.  The average weight of the squash racquet is now about 140 grams unstrung, while the average tennis pro’s racquets are over 300 grams.

John White's Left Tricep/Bicep

John White's Left Tricep/Bicep

Rafael Nadal's left Tricep/Bicep

Rafael Nadal's left Tricep/Bicep

Certainly in the men’s game muscularity is not a significant factor, considering that the men usually hit harder than their female counterparts who often appear more cut with respect to this aspect of fitness.  Hitting the ball hard in squash is mostly a result of biomechanical factors such a lever length (e.g. John White), pre-impact prestretch, swing length, good technique (especially the kinetic chain) and of course timing, which is a result of movement and positioning, which is related to aerobic fitness and speed/agility. Hopefully the recent promotion of functional training has sounded the death knell on emphasizing traditional weight-training methods such a biceps curls, triceps extensions, squat with heavy weights and the bench press.


Here are two solid examples of hard-hitting:

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Use sport science and common sense to examine the world’s top player and coach training programs – not everything they do should be copied.
  2. Move towards functional versus body-building types of strength training.
  3. Focus on technique and timing – not strength to improve your player’s power.

Biomechanical Analysis of the Squash Forehand Drive

December 4, 2008

In a previous post we discussed the importance of analyzing squash technique according to generally accepted principles of biomechanics, in addition to utilizing our experience as squash players and coaches.  We posted the Coaching Association of Canada’s Seven Biomechanical Principles, and thanks to Google, I found this document a few minutes ago, that presents the seven principles in a bit more detail:  biomechanical_principles_and_applications

In addition to teaching biomechanics to hundreds of Canadian Coaches (of all sports) as part of Level 2 and 3 Coaching Theory courses, I also teach biomechanics to undergraduate Smith College students in my Introduction to Exercise & Sport Studies course.  Here is a squash example of the assignment for the biomechanics part of the course:  biomechanicssquashforehand .

In the example, the squash forehand drive is 1) broken down in to five phases; 2) key elements are identified for each of the five phases; 3) biomechanical principles associated with the key elements are identified.

Theoretically, each coach should complete this exercise for each stroke that they teach, so that their analysis and corrections have a solid scientific foundation.

Here is a great video of a coach (tennis) using biomechanical principles to analyze a forehand drive (tennis) – totally applicable to squash!  The coach discusses three sources of power for the forehand drive, including open and closed stance in the discussion (just as we do in squash).  Two of the three are less relevant sources of power for the squash drive, although they do make a contribution – can you guess which is the most important for squash? (Hint: a) we do not stand up after hitting the squash ball, we stay low, push back and recover; b) our light racquet and ball contribute less to linear momentum (i.e., weight moving forward), and in squash we usually do not have sufficient time to move our weight completely forward through a shot as they do in tennis (as we would never get back to the “T” in time).

Biomechanics for Squash Coaches

December 3, 2008

Earlier today I did a search of the world’s largest database of sport research and did not turn up a single accessible scientific article on the biomechanics of squash.  There were a few non-scientific articles in Sports Coach, an Australian coaching magazine, and some links to Conference Proceedings (i.e., someone presented on a topic at a conference so we might have access to a one-page abstract).

Furthermore, there are no published guides for squash coaches similar to Duane Knudson’s 2006 “Biomechanical Principles of Tennis Technique:  Using Science to Improve Your Strokes”.  Ideally there should be a dynamic interaction between Biomechanics research and squash coaching and playing:  a player or coach develops a new way of hitting the squash ball or moving on the court that is “verified” by a research study – or a new research study exposes a better way of executing squash technique.


The actual paradigm that has been used in squash, and that is still in use today, is that a top player, or the coach of a top player, puts out a video or a book, or presents at a coaching conference and gives their subjective opinion (versus scientifically backed reasoning) on how to hit a squash ball.  One of the great things about working at the Princeton Summer Squash Camps for 18 years is that you get to see literally hundreds of coaches present and teach their version of squash technique – and this includes many coaches of world champions.  Obviously there are many contradictions, omissions, and obvious errors in the technique recommendations since they are based on “how I hit the ball” or “how I was taught to hit the ball”.

So although a teaching of technique based on squash-specific biomechanical research is not possible at this time, what is possible is a teaching of squash technique based on an empirical approach grounded in research into similar technical actions for which there is solid scientific evidence – the most classic example being a comparison of throwing a ball (for which there is a lot of research and practical coaching guides) with hitting a squash forehand drive.


The advent of easy video (filming, editing software and distribution) provides another way of empirically backing up our reasoning on squash technique.  If 95% of the top 20 use a shortened swing and lots of wrist flick (as seen in video examples) to hit a difficult ball out of the back-court, we can be much more confident in receiving advice than if we are told “this is what I do”.

Lastly, there are a set of universally accepted biomechanical principles which a coach can use to inform their technical interventions – analyzing, teaching or correcting.  The diagram below contains the Coaching Association of Canada’s conception of biomechanical principles important in the analysis of skills.  Ideally a coach should analyze and correct technique using both their experience as a player and a coach and a solid rationale based on biomechanical principles.  In future posts we will give some examples of how these basic principles relate to squash technique.

Seven General Biomechanical Principles for Sport

Seven General Biomechanical Principles for Sport

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Go beyond the “this is what I do” rationale for stroke analysis and correction.
  2. Learn and use basic biomechanical principles in your technical coaching.
  3. Find and use a good tennis or general biomechanics reference.