How important do you think fitness/conditioning is to the modern game? In your opinion, have the fitness requirements changed at all with the transition to PAR scoring?
I think the tin moving down from 19 to 17-inch has changed the fitness requirements more than the transition to PAR scoring. Two inches, or 5 centimetres, might not seem like a lot but you have to move a lot more explosively to the front of the court than before. Those 2 inches translate to -let’s say- 3 feet extra distance you have to cover with your feet. Which is a lot.
How many dedicated fitness/conditioning sessions do you complete in a standard training week?
There is no standard training week. But in the off-season, I get up to four physical sessions per week. Two of them with my physical trainer, on the beach, in the forest, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. The other two would be interval training on the bike or on the stepper.
How long do you spend warming up before an on-court practice session and/or match? Do you pay special attention to any certain areas and if so, why?
My warm-ups last up to half an hour. During tournaments, I try to do the same warm-up before every match so I got less to worry about. During long training periods of training twice a day, 5/6 days a week, I have several different warm-ups to choose from, to avoid monotony.
What is your all-time hardest off-court training session? How often do you perform this session?
I’ve done many! They can be hard in very different ways. Interval sessions on the bike and/or on the stepper are never a walk in the park. Surviving a two-hour physical training on the beach is an achievement by itself. But one of my hardest work-outs was when I was injured: 60 minutes non-stop on the bike in the gym at 330-350 watts. In the beginning, I could barely do one minute at that resistance. After some time I could do sixty.
In the aforementioned session, how do you keep up your motivation to not only finish but perform well? Do you use any particular mental strategies?
The mental part of that session was huge. I would have a playlist on my iPod with the most aggressive music I knew. Then I’d first try and finish the first twenty minutes sitting upright, pedalling strong, and saying to myself it would only be 20 minutes. Then I would try the next ten minutes to do the same, trying to stay upright, saying to myself how strong I was and how easy this actually was.
I would also use my hero at the time, Lance Armstrong, in my head. I pictured him laughing at me, saying that he would pedal that resistance for 6 hours straight. We all figured out how he did that now, but back then I didn’t! The last thirty minutes I would allow myself to lean forward on the bike. And it was just one big fight from there.
My thoughts were: that I would channel ALL my energy and exert it through my legs. I didn’t care that I could hardly function for the rest of the day. ALL my energy. Find some comfort in this pain. You’re weak. You’re strong. This is easy. This is unbearable. How the hell did I finish this session last time? How tired was I last time coming into this session? Come on. Just focus on this one minute. No, just focus on the rhythm of your legs. Feel this rhythm. Enjoy this rhythm! The inner dialogue was very active.
I went to the gym nervous but left the happiest man alive.
Do you use any particular type of training session as a ‘test’ to measure your fitness levels?
No, I just do it by feel.
Do you incorporate any gym-based weights/resistance sessions into your training programme? If so, what are your main goals from this type of training? (i.e. endurance, power, injury resistance etc.)
I do some resistance work with my trainer on the beach. The elastic is tied around my waist and he’s holding the other end. I have to sprint backwards in the deep sand with the resistance on, then after several seconds: stop and sprint forward. I guess this is to increase power and explosiveness. Not only forwards, but backwards, too.
The other resistance work is with the cable machine in the gym. But this is more for core-strength.
Are there any particular items of training equipment you incorporate into your sessions that you feel especially benefit you as a squash player? (i.e. bungee cords, agility ladders, weighted vests etc.)
I’ve used a lot of equipment for strength & conditioning training. And a lot of ‘out of the box’ equipment too. But probably the most beneficial is the cone! The little cone you have to run to or run around on the court. We set up different patterns on court, moving laterally around cones and using reach to either side of the court. This is done at speed (speeeeeeeeeeed!) so it might only take up to 12-15 seconds to finish one pattern. I have the feeling that if I do these a lot, and rest well before a tournament, I’m gonna be flying.
When you get stuck into your summer training doing lots of stuff off-court, it’s very easy to forget what the most specific training for squash is. In the end of the day, that’s movement. So, doing single-leg squats and core in the gym might make you stronger, but it doesn’t make you a better mover. I guess everybody is different and we all work on our weaknesses but for me: ghosting is where it’s at. The most specific conditioning training for squash: ghosting!
Do you follow any type of nutrition plan? If not, how have you learned to fuel your body best for your sport’s demands?
Nutrition for me is important, but not that important. We are squash players, not marathon runners or 100-meter sprinters. We play a GAME. I’ve learned to eat healthily and to eat the right things to recover quickly but I also like to treat myself after a hard day of training. Sometimes I’ve burned up 4000 calories after all. There are so many different ideas out there about what to eat and whatnot, that I have no clue what’s right. I’ve never had any problems with not having enough energy during training or a match. What feels right for me is that during dinner I can switch off and enjoy a nice meal.
Do you use any supplements/vitamins etc as part of your diet/nutrition?
An hour before a tough session or hard match I take this herbal supplement which is called Sure2Endure. I used to be pretty sceptical about these things but this really works for me. It feels like you’re more focussed and it increases your endurance when times get tough. The next day my ‘heavy legs’ are nowhere near as heavy as before.
Do you utilize any recovery techniques in between tournament matches? (i.e. specific foods, drink, treatments, ice bath, etc.)
Yes, a protein shake straight after the match for quick muscle repair. Lots of water, too. Stretching and/or a massage later in the hotel room. And a beer for good night’s sleep!
Sign up to the SquashSkills newsletter
Get world class coaching tips, straight to your inbox!