Squash is an extremely fast-paced, high-energy sport, which can place a great deal of strain on the body. This short, intense nature coupled with the frequent twists, turns, and lunges of a rally, makes it a game that can unfortunately present quite a high injury risk.
This risk is typically greater for the older player, whose body has more mileage on the clock than their younger counterparts. For this reason, it’s crucially important that veteran players are more diligent and conscientious in their training to help keep them off the physio’s bed, and on the squash court.
We’ve looked in more depth on the site previously at the physiology of how ageing affects the squash player, and that’s a good article to start with as a companion to this piece. With that knowledge in mind, here are our top 3 training tips for masters squash players to help slow the age-related decline, and aid you in keeping at the top of your game even as the years advance:
TRAIN HARD, REST HARDER
First and foremost, veteran players 40+ need to be aware that their bodies are not the same as they were when they were in their 20s – they’ll tolerate less load, and won’t recover as quickly or efficiently.
This is where more senior players need to be a lot smarter in their training, and really make sure that controlled recovery is a big part of a properly constructed programme. The days of being able to go to work all day, get home and deal with the family, then head out to the squash club for a couple of hours flying around the court 5 nights a week with barely a thought for ‘recovery’, are unfortunately gone.
We’ve discussed recovery for the squash player on the site previously, and the suggestions in that article count double for masters players – eating/drinking and sleeping are our two most fundamental methods of optimal recovery between games/training sessions, and it’s important that these elements are properly addressed. We must allow our body to adapt to the training loads placed on it, and this growth and development occurs while the system is at rest, not in the gym or on the court.
There are no shortcuts when establishing a healthy nutrition plan – it takes commitment to the consumption of the right foods and beverages, ensuring adequate protein and complex carbohydrates for repair/replenishment, and the intake of a variety of nutrient-rich foods to cover the spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals.
For optimal results, you need to think about your food consumption in terms of performance and subsequent recovery, not in terms of a ‘diet’ designed around aesthetical ideals of losing weight and looking good on the beach. There are also a number of useful supplements that can potentially be of benefit to the squash player such as protein powders, omega 3 oils, and creatine.
Beyond base nutritional considerations, sleep is probably the single most important thing you can do as an older athlete to assist you in getting proper rest and recovery between sessions and keeping you energised and healthy. Much has been written about the crucial role that sleep plays in recovery, yet it is still so often overlooked within many training regimes.
Of course, with work, family, and social commitments typically taking up ever more time for the older player, getting in the generally recommended +8hrs can be a challenge. In the same way that finding the requisite time to train is a big part of being successful as a sportsperson, however, so too is making the time to sleep – be that by heading to bed earlier in the evening, or by organising and prepping morning tasks the night before to allow you the extra time in bed before getting up first thing.
Other methods of recovery/recuperation that may provide benefit, include contrast showers, massage, foam rolling, and from a mental perspective, mindfulness/meditation – meditation, in particular, can help mediate the damaging effects of stress, which is an area that tends to be more pertinent to the older athlete with their heightened work/family pressures outside of squash.
INCORPORATE DEDICATED STRENGTH DEVELOPMENT SESSIONS
The stronger and more robust your body, the less susceptible it will be to injuries. Unfortunately, one of the physical effects of ageing is a loss in muscle size and strength. Whilst it’s an inescapable fact that after the age of around 35-40yrs muscle density begins to decline, this can be attenuated somewhat by making a commitment to a properly constructed resistance training programme.
Many squash players don’t treat strength training as a priority, and it’s frequently seen as something they just can’t fit into their schedule with all of their other commitments. Strength training is arguably the most important conditioning element of all though, particularly for the masters player trying to hold back the ravages of age.
Beyond the advantages strength bestows in terms of increasing injury resistance, being stronger also confers performance benefits – strength is the foundation of all other athletic qualities, and building a good base of strength will allow you to further develop greater power, stability, speed, and efficiency on court.
A further benefit of resistance training that isn’t always considered, is the benefits it has on mobility and flexibility. Maintaining a good range of motion around the joints and keeping the body supple are very important considerations for the masters player, but the standard ‘static stretching’ isn’t generally the most optimal way to do this. Dedicated movement-based mobility sessions such as those we feature on the site are one part, but building strong, functional flexibility is ideally carried out via squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, and bending through a full range of motion across a variety of resistance training exercises.
Strength training in the gym is characterised by heavy resistances (80%+ of 1 repetition max), low reps (usually 3 to 6), and longer rest periods (+2 minutes). While some exercises can be adapted to use bodyweight or other weighted tools such as medicine balls, you ideally need to be getting into a properly equipped commercial facility and using an array of dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells to fully address strength training needs.
We have some great strength training workouts and programmes on the site, including some machine-based sessions for those not confident enough to move straight into working with free weights. Getting some tips from your gym instructor is also a good idea, to check up on your exercise form – bad technique can actually end up being counterproductive, and doing more harm than good.
When trying to add in additional conditioning work such as weights sessions to your training, do be realistic with your time availability. There’s no point throwing yourself into a 4/5 days workout a week plan that realistically is never going to be sustainable – plan and schedule accordingly, aiming for 2 or 3 sessions a week of no more than about 45mins.
MIX-UP YOUR TRAINING
To ensure you stay fresh in both mind and body, it’s important to incorporate variety into your training. At any level of sport, varying both what you do and how hard you do it, is important both physically and mentally.
In terms of the actual content of your training programme, veteran players should be looking to tip the balance a little more in favour of off-court sessions over on-court. While elite-level professionals in their prime will spend a big chunk of their conditioning sessions engaging in exercises based around things like ghosting and court sprints, veteran players are better served reducing these more high impact sessions and mixing in more sessions such as bike intervals, rowing machines, and swimming – save your court sessions for your matches and hitting practices.
The actual intensity of your sessions needs to be mixed up as well, to avoid overloading the body and burning yourself out. The concept of ‘periodisation’ is especially important to older players, where training load in terms of volume and intensity is varied, and not every session is always just absolute flat-out effort. Progressive overload is a key training principle to help optimise improvement and stay in good shape – indeed, one of the highest risks for athletes of any age is a sudden spike in training load, where volume and/or intensity is too suddenly increased within a short space of time as opposed to gradual, controlled progressions.
An example of a structured training plan for a masters player for example then could be something as simple as alternating between one harder/higher intensity day (e.g. match, bike sprints, on-court drills/routines), and one day where you either rest completely or just work softer/lower intensity (e.g. solo, swim, mobility). Another variant could be working a ‘1/2/3’ pattern – low, medium, hard repeated twice over the course of a week, then a complete rest on the 7th day.
However, you plot your schedule, ensure you remain diligent in sticking to the script – trying to really push hard on your ‘high’ days but remembering to take the load right down on the ‘lower’ days and not be tempted to go beyond the prescribed limits. Think about keeping a training diary here as well, to track what you’re doing and help plot your progressions.
Even when following a structured scale though, make sure to listen to your body. ‘No pain no gain’ is not a good motto – pain is never a good thing, it’s a warning from your body that something is wrong. Sessions are of course going to be very physically challenging sometimes, but it’s important to recognise the difference between a hard effort and outright acute pain. Veteran players do tend to be more in tune with this than their younger counterparts, but that feedback from your body really needs to be something you remain very much aware of.
That feedback can also take more subtle forms than just outright ‘pain’ as well. Things like your mood, quality of your sleep, stress levels, your general energy, can all act as crucial feedback as signs of overtraining. A day or two off when you start recognising these signals may be just what your body needs to nip any problems in the bud.
To finish on a positive note beyond what can often be a pessimistic outlook from some older players feeling that their best days are behind them, it’s worth looking at the bigger picture and considering how close you are to your actual athletic ceiling, and how much room you still have for improvement. While some physical deterioration as you age is, of course, inevitable, by simply committing to a better constructed, more disciplined, and more controlled physical training programme that properly addresses your individual strengths and weaknesses, you may very well find that there’s the prospect of actually pushing on to be in a better state of conditioning than you were 10yrs ago, when you perhaps weren’t quite so meticulous with your training – training smarter rather than just harder can often be the key to the most meaningful gains.
B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Conditioning Director
Sign up to the SquashSkills newsletter
Get world class coaching tips, straight to your inbox!