Periodization of Squash “Speed”?

September 11, 2017

I have “speed” in quotes and a “question mark” at the end of this post’s title because the world’s best players take a maximum of 2-3 steps before slowing down to hit the ball…that’s right.  Go to https://psaworldtour.com/tv and download any video – even Miguel Rodrigues’ – and count the number of steps a player takes before striking the ball when leaving from the T area…

WSF Court Measurement

When we think of speed events in athletics we think of 100m – for training and tests we even think of the 40- or 20-yard dash…the furthest a squash player would ever run for a single stroke would be the 1665mm diagonal (about 12 yards) if their nose was touching a back corner and then they went and touch their nose to the opposite front corner:)  But in reality, since the overwhelming majority of movements to to the ball for advanced players start from the T, that maximum distance is halved to about 6 yards, less the rebound of the average drop (three feet to second bounce on floor), yielding about 5 yards (or metres) or 15′ as the furthest a squash player has to move.  Keep in mind that deceleration in order to be relatively stable as the ball is struck needs to occur at about the halfway point if there is any chance of recovering to the T and resuming the rally.

Miguel diving.PNG

In conclusion, squash players need to train for 2-3m sprints, which is why I do not like to use the word “speed”, but rather explosiveness or power (speed-strength being the more common European Term), as it really is just a split-step, and one to two powerful steps that is required to be trained.  The training movements should be as squash-specific as possible as research has showed that strength, power and speed development occurs at specific muscle joint angles and speeds.

Here is the annual periodized physical conditioning sequence to become a “faster” squash player.

  1.  Anatomical adaptation (General Preparation Phase):  2 weeks of strength endurance at 12-15 reps (always assuming three workouts a week and use of a load resulting in failure at the last couple of reps).
  2. Strength- Endurance (General Preparation Phase):  4-6 weeks of 10-12 reps.
  3. Maximum strength (Specific Preparation Phase):  4-6 weeks of 5-8 reps for post-pubescent and “not injured easily” athletes with 3-4 ears of strength training experience – otherwise just skip over this step.  Similarly, if you have been strength training for years and do not lose a lot of strength in transition phases it may not be worth your while to go through this phase.
  4. Speed-strength/explosiveness/power (Specific or Pre-Competitive Phase depending on context):  4-6 weeks of plyometrics and short bursts of court movement.  Energy for this quality is provided by the anaerobic alactic (ATP_CP or Phosphagen) system which is most powerful in the 0-10 second range and by the lactic system when repeated bursts are required with a single rally or series of 2-3 rallies – after 45-60 seconds of these bursts within 2-3 minutes of play, a player will be forced to reduce their efforts due to accumulating lactic acid in the bloodstream and muscles (see blog post on “How to Lob” effectively:).  Most programs recommend about three sets of five reps of 5-10 seconds of work (followed by 6 times that amount of rest in between reps) as a good volume for supplementary speed training – obviously a lot of “training” occurs during matches and practices.
  5. Maintenance (Competitive Phase):  Most “speed” gains will occur within 4-6 weeks of speed-strength training, at which point most players enter a phase of competitions with league and tournament play and have a reduced amount of time for supplementary training outside of on court practice.  Improvements can be maintained with 1-2 supplementary sessions a week at the same volume and intensity of the last week of training.

I really like the EXOS approach to training movement, especially in the first few weeks of a program, with the last few weeks being conducted on court “live” (with realistic situations and feeds):  http://www.coreperformance.com/multidirectional-movement/.  This is a great bank of exercises to inject some variety into your program.


Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He is a Charter Member of  the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).


Squash Coaches Can Produce Great Strength Programs with FitnessBuilder!

April 5, 2015

FitnessBuilder App

It is the start of the new 2015-16 for most U.S. College and High School squash coaches, and to help them plan for the upcoming year, I have just published two blog articles on squash periodization:  one on the Transition Phase and the other on Periodization of Technique and Tactics in the General Preparation Phase (GPP).  My next periodization article in the series will be on the planning of strength training in the GPP.

Before I get to that I want to introduce squash coaches to a fantastic tool that can be used to produce your team’s own custom-designed strength training program:  PumpOne’s Fitness Builder.  I have been using it for the past three years to plan and design my own college team’s strength programs – result:  two complete seasons without a single squash-related injury (you can check with the Smith trainers:)

Coaches can design programs with Fitness builder on their computer or smart device like an iPad or iPhone.  The custom programs can be sent to athletes via emailed PDF or directly to their phone/tablet, and since there are linked video descriptions for every exercise, athletes can take their own “personal trainer” or strength coach to the gym with them – great for the off-season when many squash players are away from the campus gym.  The interface is intuitive and extremely easy to use, with hundreds of exercises to choose from, as well as a variety of fitness programs.  My advice to squash coaches using the wise periodization approach is design your own programs following periodization principles (e.g., Bompa, 2009).  Check out this video overview of the Fitness Builder system:

Now here is the catch – are you qualified to design a periodized squash-specific strength program – or are you just going to “wing it” or copy somebody else’s program – or worse – use the program that got you a hip replacement?

Tennis Training (Kovacs et al.)

The USTA (tennis) has produced a number of books (e.g., Kovacs et al., 2007 above image) which can be used as a reference, as the strength demands of tennis and squash are similar enough.  The drawback of using a strength coach – the NSCA CSCS is the gold standard of certification (I got certified in 2006) – is that many of them come from a football background and still rely heavily on “traditional” strength lifts and exercises.  The major problem with this is that there are much better, more squash-specific and functional exercises available – so what is really needed is someone like myself with both the squash coaching and national level playing background AND a reputable strength training certification. Here is a short video I made on this topic:

If you do not have access to a CSCS with extensive squash experience, a smart alternative is to subscribe to the Exos (formerly Core Performance website) and either a) use their squash or tennis programs; or b) follow their template and select from amongst their bank of exercises when you use fitness builder.  Eighty per cent of the exercises I use with my team are the same or highly similar to Exos exercises (I like to think my programs are a little better than theirs due to my 40 years of experience designing squash-specific strength programs:).  This is what I did four years ago – every week in the fall (I started my Smith Squash Team on September 15th) I would upload the appropriate EXOS training program for both the Smith Tennis and Squash Teams to follow.

Core Performance for Tennis

As a minimum, I would design one program per phase of the annual plan.  If you have an assistant or enjoy this type of coaching you could change the plan up every two weeks, but the law of diminishing returns applies and you would probably be better off spending your time recruiting.

Here is an example program I have used with my team (remember that the version sent to your athletes iPhones has clickable video descriptions for each exercise!):

Fitness builder Example

Last couple of words on this topic.  If you are a squash coach working with not yet fully mature juniors, make sure you follow LTAD guidelines for squash or tennis.  If you need help in this area please give me a call – my rates are reasonable to develop custom branded programs for you and your team.


Squash Scientist Recertifies NSCA Strength & Conditioning Specialist Credential!

March 21, 2012

As the clock struck 12 midnight on December 31, 2011, I completed the last of the six CEUs (Continuing Education Unit) that I needed to keep my NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification current – updating me until December 31, 2014. A few weeks later I got my certificate in the mail – it’s only my iPhone that makes it look pink – it’s actually a nice blue-tinged parchment color.

Here is a description of the educational activities one needs to complete to stay current.  Recertification is a bit of a money maker for the NSCA, although it is a non-profit institution.  Although one can accumulate a lot of credits by attending NSCA conferences, I used a number of self-directed activities (this blog for example) and online quizzes based on scientific readings.  Here is a link to one of the NSCA Hot Topic readings that could qualify you for the next recertification period – .3 CEU for answering a quiz based on this reading – the topic this month is “minimalist footwear”.  Other quizzes I took were on the topics of:

  • Agility Training for Experienced Athletes
  • Skill Based Conditioning
  • Core Stability
  • The Science & Practice of Periodization
  • Medicine Ball Training Implications for Rotational Power Sports (we could include squash in here).

I think the idea of recertifying or being obliged to stay current is a good one – although it is a bit of a hassle.  Although I have, and have had, a number of certifications (Squash Canada, U.S. Squash, WPSA, Racquetball Canada, Tennis Canada, Canadian Mental Training Registry) except for the NSCA, only Tennis Canada has a recertification policy in place.  One of the difficulties of being a multi-talented coaching consultant is that keeping up with all the professional memberships and professional development can be quite onerous – I finally had to let my Tennis Canada Coach 3 Certification lapse, as I do not actually coach tennis that much any more.  In addition to the racquet sport coaching and strength certifications, I am also a member, and so pay dues to the Association of Applied Sport Psychology  (a charter member since 1987) and FEPSAC (European Federation of Sport Psychology).

One very useful aspect of the CSCS certification is that it means, unlike other U.S. College Squash Coaches (since I am the only coach who has their CSCS), I can strength train my players when they are out of season – a pretty big advantage. Here is a summary of the current NCAA Division III rule changes that describe this advantage.

The odd thing is of course, is that in the squash world, the public, coaches, Athletic Director’s, and employers pay very little attention to educational credentials and tend to prioritize current playing ability and or in the case of coaches, the ability of their athletes.  I am sure John White would not like his coaching to be rated on the ranking of his Drexel University Women’s squash team (his new job), nor would Geoff Hunt appreciate a rating of his coaching based on his current playing ability (let’s be generous and say a “B” level – pretty good for a 65-year old) or the world ranking of his Qatar athletes?  Coaches should actually be rated based on logical, scientifically based criteria – which would usually mean a combination of items including observation by trained observers, and some sort of oral or written exams, as well of course as some sort of athlete input – as well as concrete results.  One of the purposes of this blog is to encourage people to think a little more deeply about coaching – certainly to look a little beyond the current player rankings.

My two favorite videos related to strength training and squash:) :


Squash Detraining: A College Example

December 29, 2011

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.


Avoid Overtraining Your College Squash Team!

March 26, 2011

My college squash team at Smith College is currently the only U.S. College Squash team practicing and training. According to NCAA Rules (after August 1st squash will no longer be an NCAA sport) each team is allowed an official season of 19 weeks, with 15 days of competition (the rules do vary slightly for Division I and Division III teams), and with careful planning (paying attention to overtraining) college coaches can increase the time period in which they are able to  influence their athletes’ training.  Unbelievably, the NCAA forbids coaches from conducting developmental activities with athletes outside of the official 19-week season – especially difficult to comprehend in the many sports (like squash) where athletes do not attain their optimal performances until their late 20’s.

With the U.S. College squash season just ending (for most:) at the Individual Championships on March 6 – now is the time that College squash coaches should be turning their attention to planning out the 2011-12 season. Hopefully coaches will be mindful of longterm planning considerations and use a periodization planning approach to structuring their annual or seasonal plan.  Here is a copy of our Smith College Squash Team Four-Year Plan (we get a lot of novices and very few experienced players) and also an example of an annual periodized plan.

One of the primary purposes of a periodized squash plan – in addition to assuring a peak at the most important competition of the year – is to avoid overtraining (other related terms include staleness, overreaching or unexpected underperformance syndrome).

Although training volume and intensity are the most important factors to control in avoiding overtraining, a college coach must also take into account a student-athlete’s academic schedule and their related academic stress.

I have observed three periods of academic stress on my squash team:

  • beginning of the semester as students struggle to transition to school and sort out their choice of courses;
  • mid-semester due to heavier workloads and midterm evaluations;
  • end of semester papers and exams.

Lack of sleep due to studying, and poor nutrition (rushed eating, missed meals, unhealthy snacking and excessive caffeine consumption) are also contributing factors to the “psychological” load of academic work.  This contributes to the imbalance in the training-recovery cycle.

Here are three main planning strategies we use at Smith College college to help avoid overtraining:

1) Build periods (days and weeks off) of recovery and regeneration into the team’s competitive schedule. If there is a college holiday (e.g. MLK day) we take the day off and do not practice.  If there is a college holiday of a few days – we take the entire week off and add the “extra” week either to the start or end of our schedule (this year it was the end – next year it will be the beginning).  Ideally, we try and construct our macro-cycles (planning units of 4-6 weeks), so that we build volume and or intensity for three weeks – then have an easier “unloading” week (e.g., Bompa, 2009; Sleamaker, 1989).  Here is the draft of our season schedule next year showing weeks of built around the Smith College academic calendar.

2) Build regeneration activities into every practice.  For the last two years we have been following the CorePerformance training philosophy closely in planning the strength and conditioning part of our squash practices.  Every Core Performance workout ends with several regeneration and recovery activities.  Here is an example workout (Core Performance – Sun. feb. 20) and a short video of some example activities:

3) The last strategy simply involves closely observing the team for signs of fatigue, injury and attention, and watching their response to training exercises and being ready to modify practice plans or a week’s schedule (including giving unplanned days off) on short notice.

Application for Squash Coaches:

1.  Plan rest and recovery into your season schedule.

2. Monitor your athletes for signs of overtraining.

3. Be aware of the additive effects of academic stress to the overall training load.


Season Long Mental Training for Your Squash Team!

January 29, 2011

With 123 posts now published on this blog (440,000 views and top Google search result of “squash coaching”) it can be a little daunting to organize all of this information.  Luckily, blogging tools can help out.  Here is how readers can organize information on this blog:

Use the “Search” Function

Most squash coaches need help in the area of “squash psychology” .  Enter these terms into the search box, and your result with feature most of the posts on this topic, sorted according to reverse chronological order.  Here is a link to the result of that search.

Use the “Categories” Function

If you are looking for a fairly broad category of posts, clicking on the “Categories” link to the appropriate topic in the sidebar with produce all of the blog posts that I have assigned to that category, in reverse chronological order.  Often the same post might be assigned to two categories – for example a post of focus plans might be assigned to both “Mental-Psychology” and “Tactics” since focus plans are composed of both tactical and mental reminders.  Here is a link to the result of hitting the “Mental-Psychology” category link.

“E-Book”- Like Sorting

This is something that both the reader or I could do (although I have not done this yet):  sort the posts in a particular topic area into a thematic order – for example the sort from the most simple to complex, or perhaps most useful for coaches in the area of psychology – the order in which you would present the topics to your athlete over a season (e.g. a periodization of mental training of blog posts:).  A reader could do this in Word using hyperlinks, or I could simply blog a post that looks like this:

General Preparation Phase

Meeting #1:  Ideal Performance State for Squash.

Meeting #2:  Mental Training for Beginning Squash Players

Meeting #3:  Goal-Setting for Squash

Meeting #4: Establishing a Positive Squash Training & Competition Environment

Meeting #5:  Visualization for Squash

Specific Preparation Phase

Meeting #6: On-Court Mental Skills for Squash

Meeting # 7 : Positive Self-Talk During Practice

Competition Phase

Meeting # 8:  Staying Focused Between Points

Meeting #9 : Squash Focus Plan = Psychology + Tactics

Meeting #10: Squash Match Mental Evaluations

Meeting #11: Simulations to Prepare for Major Championships

Meeting #12: Diagnosing & Improving Performance Problems

Check the Squash Science YouTube Channel

I often try and include video in most posts – but sometimes I have videos on the Squash Science YouTube Channel which are not mentioned on this blog – so sometimes another source for squash science information for squash coaches.


Developing a Squash World Champion: Align Your LTAD & Coaching Programs

April 8, 2009

Although squash is played in 153 countries around the world, it is not as well developed as some of  the world’s more popular or richer sports like soccer or tennis.  A small, well organized group of dedicated squash coaches (e.g. currently the Egyptians) can develop world class players, and even a world champion. If we look at the recent history of the squash world rankings, we can see that there is quite a bit of movement near the top of the rankings on both the men’s and women’s side in terms of the players’ nationality.  We also see a lot of successful solo efforts that cross national boundaries such as Liz Irving’s (Australia) coaching of Nicol David (Malaysia).

In terms of sheer numbers in the top 100, the English dominate simply because of greater numbers and government related money that is put into player development (more than any other country).  You can read this post to explore the economics of developing champions.

In order to achieve sustainable results, squash nations need to take advantage of the advances in sport science. This means using a system where the coaching certification program and actual coaching programs used in squash clubs are in perfect alignment with  a nation’s comprehensive Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) system:

An LTAD Aligned Coaching & Club Training System

An LTAD Aligned Coaching & Club Training System

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